Monday, November 26, 2012

30th Year Reflections/25: In the Woods

“For sounds in winter nights, and often in winter days, I heard the forlorn but melodious note of a hooting owl indefinitely far; such a sound as the frozen earth would yield if struck with a suitable plectrum, the very lingua vernacula of Walden Wood, and quite familiar to me at last, though I never saw the bird while it was making it.”— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I am not worried about catching up on a blog entry if, perhaps, I miss a week or two. I figure everything will even out in the end. All the same, I missed a spot a couple of weeks ago and now have time to fill in the blank. I do so with some slight hesitancy as my absence—which I’ll speak of in a moment—was due to the pleasure of an avocation, one probably not enjoyed by a large number of librarians. I was in the woods hunting white-tailed deer.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the library literature about professional hobbies or avocations. A casual search turned up just a few articles, one directing me to a list of websites with interesting titles. Anything having to do with hobbies, so the literature has me believe, also has to do with our “image.” Frankly, I’m tired of discussions about librarians’ image. They don’t do anything for me and I think do very little for the profession—except to confirm that we have an image problem or suffer low self-esteem. Following along with the stereotype I’m sure many folks believe librarians’ hobbies include (or are limited to) reading and gardening and cookery. And they might be right. Librarians like to read and garden and cook. I like to read. I like to garden. I like to cook. But I also like to hunt. Other librarians like to do other things in their free time. We’re not all cut from the same cloth.

I like to be out in the woods before the break of day, to sit quietly and watch the world come alive, to find myself moving from darkness to light as the indistinguishable gains shape and form with the coming of the sun. I am pleased by a skill, gained over many years, of sitting still—absolutely still—to the point at which I am confused for a tree or the stump of a tree, as a chickadee lands on the barrel of my gun, mistaking it for a branch. I am thrilled to sit in such silence, senses on edge to movement and echo and smell, as the sound of wind under wings swooshes above me or the crackling twig or rustling leaf announces a new arrival in the woods. I have heard Thoreau’s owl in the distance and the dawn. Sometimes such sounds announce my quarry, the steady crunch over ice-glazed snow or dried leaves coming nearer. Most of the time, in such circumstances, I meet with success and in so doing experience a holy moment know mostly to those native to this land. It is a moment of respect and of thankfulness. There is no joy in a blood sport but rather a testimony to the woods themselves and those who created them, to a circle of life.

There is something mystical or divine here and perhaps hard to explain to a non-hunter. Those few days I have in the woods are the most restorative of the year. Plunk me down on a stump or stone in the middle of a wood, give me two or three quiet days, and once back in the office I’m good to go for another year. I have been a hunter since the age of fourteen or fifteen; I started fishing when I was three. Much of this time has been spent in the company of my father. Now into his ninth decade, he’s put hunting to the side; my sons and daughter fill the vacuum. It is a tradition passed on from generation to generation. It is a time bursting with memories.

Part of this, frankly, involves research—something librarians are good at. You need to know your prey, know your woods, know your limits. For the past fifteen years I’ve hunted on private land with family and friends. I knew the land; scouted it; walked its paths, watering holes, and resting beds. This year I hunted on public land, in one of the many wildlife management areas operated by our state department of natural resources. Before I headed into the woods I studied maps and aerial photographs. I knew where trails led, what the terrain offered, what vegetation I would encounter. It was a new adventure, in a new place, but linked in so many ways to memories and places past. This new experience allowed me to take a well-developed skill set and apply it in a new way, in a new time and place.

In the end I saw few deer; there is no new venison in my freezer. But the sound that greeted me mid-morning of the first day, a thunderous romp that materialized from the west into three large does bounding majestically through the woods is a sight and sound that will stay with me to the end of my days—and get me through those times in the office when I can only dream of the woods.

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