Faith Works 11-27-10
Meditation By Any Another Name
An overheard comment led to this column, when someone said that they couldn't understand hunting, because it was just a walk through the woods punctuated by gunfire.
Well, starting Monday at dawn the gunfire part would be correct. Over the next week, and for one more weekend in December a bit further along (18th & 19th) Ohio is in deer gun season.
Approaching a half million folk will tromp the woods of the Buckeye State, looking for bucks and taking not a few does. Those 420,000 hunters will harvest around 125,000 deer, and the youth deer gun season brought in another 10,000 last week.
The point I wanted to make in a "Faith Works" perspective was the gibe about "a nice walk in the woods," and the implication that hunters stroll along, idly taking potshots hither and yon at rustling bushes.
Full disclosure: I've never hunted, myself. I've been along on some hunts, and count many hunters my friends, which is the basis for what I want to share. But I'm not defending an activity of my own.
What is not well understood by the other 11 million or so of the rest of us Ohioans who don't hunt is that there is an element of hunting that is very still, quite reflective and thoughtful, that is often recounted as downright meditative, even prayerful.
Like most spiritual disciplines, when around 3.5% of the state has tried it directly, the other 96.5% of the population may have more misconception than information in mind, but let me try to balance that picture out.
To hunt, almost all deer gun hunters, let alone bowhunters with broadhead arrows and compound bow, have to find a place to wait and watch from. The tree stands which seem to cause as many casualties most years as the weapons themselves are an expression of that.
But your first step is to, yes, walk the woods you will hunt, and scout out a place where forage and shelter and animal sign mean that the desired prey will walk by.
These familiarity and research walks can happen multiple, even dozens of times. When your "stand," tree or otherwise, is selected, the goal is to come back on your intended hunting day, and bring with you no scent, no tell-tale indication of human clanky or jingly presence.
The preparation for hunt day itself can be downright ritualistic, but that's not my main point.
What has to happen for hunting to occur is usually this: when your clothes and gear and self are ready to roll in the predawn hours, and you drive to the pre-selected parking spot, then walk with minimal flashlight to your stand (ground or tree), the next step is to settle in and be still.
If you do that correctly, what happens next is what many hunters say is the main reason they love hunting: the forest comes back to life. Your movements having stopped, and the human scent or equipment odors not in the air, the creatures all around you return to their usual activities.
Small mammals scurry about, birds drop onto nearby branches and sing out, and each slight breeze becomes a moment of dramatic interest. You are both a more included part of nature, and you stand (or sit, more likely) at one remove from the dynamic environment around you.
This personal pause, your hunter's freeze, may last for hours, but even when it's just fifteen minutes: there are no phones, no TV, no boss, no other interruptions, just where you are and the moment you are in. A quick shift of a leg, and the woods suck in their breath, with all activity suddenly coming to a halt . . . then you watch everything slowly shift back into regular activity, into life.
A different sort of shift in tone comes when a large creature, a deer, or a bear, or . . . something! . . . starts to move.
Without turning your head, your eyeballs track it. A buck, tall and strong, not quite at an angle where you can bring your rifle to bear. Once it moves a bit more into your field of view, and of fire, you wait for the deer to look away, then to lift your weapon in stages.
The aim is set, in a way, and if the deer chooses a different way out of the forest, they will not be yours today. If the buck starts to walk across your gently cleared and subtly marked field of fire, then your finger starts to tighten on the trigger.
You are aware of your breath, the stillness gathered around you, and the detonation you are about to unleash. The deer draws closer, closer, and your finger starts to tighten.
Pulling it will change everything.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio. Tell him about your spiritual disciplines at email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.