Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
The celebration was over for the day and the reality of blended family had set in as our now adult aged kids headed their separate directions to spend the rest of the holiday with family and friends. The gloomy sky and low hanging fog added to the somber mood that always seems to accompany the end of the holiday.
Wrapping paper and empty boxes cleaned up and full from far too many cookies and treats, I was in desperate need of a hike. I peered out the window and the rain had slowed to an afternoon mist on the unusually warm Christmas Day. I slipped on my favorite wool and a pair of duck style boots, took my longbow off its peg and headed out. It had been several weeks since I sat in the woods and today just seemed right.
I walked across the rain-soaked pasture, boots squishing with each step. I climbed the fence at my familiar crossing and soon was sitting in my stand, 15′ up with my back resting against the trunk of the old poplar tree. From my vantage point, I could see the neighbor’s Christmas lights shining through the gray, din of the late afternoon.
The late December woods look much different than the still green of early October and the autumn colors of a November archery hunt. The end of the year woods is stark, full of brown and gray, drab and muted aside from some unknown red berries growing close by and a handful of deep green cedar trees scattered throughout my fiancee’s Jennings County farm. The woods are damp and musty, smelling ripe with decaying leaves on the ground. That deep earthy smell and I take a long breath.
A gray squirrel skins down the side of a large pignut hickory to my left, glances at the blob of me sitting in the poplar and then goes about his business without a thought. A flit of red in the bushes and thorns along the fence row as two male cardinals fly about. I glance around and sigh as I survey my spot…
It feels good to be back in the woods.
As I look at the brightly fletched arrow on my bow string, I have a particular kind of deer in mind that I’d take if given the chance. A dry old doe, one past breeding age or a fat button buck. Taking either of those choices won’t hurt the local herd for next year’s season and since I’d already taken an antlered buck back in October, anything with horns would be off limits. I sat and waited.
The minutes ticked by as the mist of rain ebbed and flowed. A light shower one second and an floating mist the next. The water droplets beaded up on the sleeves of my wool pullover and slowly trickled down to my wrist. The clouds grew thicker as the afternoon wore on into evening and light faded early along the treeline.
As I watched and listened for any sort of movement, my mind drifted and my thoughts were with past Christmas celebrations and of family and friends.
Some still here, near and dear, others long since departed. I think of my own childhood and the early Christmas mornings. I grin at the memory of opening the gifts under the tree as a kid and reflect on the first bow my parents had given me. I’ve had many “firsts” in hunting and fishing on Christmas mornings as a kid. My first real hunting knife, my first 12 gauge shotgun, a baitcasting rod and reel, arrows and broadheads and on and on…
I whisper to myself how grateful I am to have been raised by parents that saw my passion for the outdoors and hunting even as a 12 year old boy and did what they could to fuel that fire.
The light had crashed and the woods have went from gray to nearly black as night had fallen hard. I climb down from my hiding spot and cross the fence once more. The neighbor’s Christmas lights shine brightly against the backdrop of darkness while I march through the pasture and towards the house and I’m reminded of another Light that shines the way home for all of us.
I hope that all of the followers Along the Trail had a Merry Christmas and look forward to a wonderful New Year.
– David Hewitt