It's only you and a few other adventurous souls on the road this morning. At 5 a.m. you were dressing to stay warm in the crisp autumn air. The excitement you wore while putting on your new pants and coat could have been clearly seen, if anyone were up to see you, despite its camouflage print.
You did a quick rundown of your gear and grabbed a snack for the road as you headed out the door. It's archery season in Minnesota and your first time hunting with a bow. Ever.
After months of practice at the Calhoun Outdoor Public Archery Range and an embarrassing amount of money spent on bowhunting gear, I was finally getting to go hunt. After an hour of driving, a few minutes to get my kit in order, and that snack I mentioned, I was headed out into my parents' 30-acre plot of perfect deer habitat, bow in hand. It wasn't quite morning and the final dredges of night clung to every surface; silence covered the rest. Even the air had a muffled feel to it as I carefully walked across the damp hay field and into the woods.
Those first steps into the dark purple and blue soaked world of a fall dawn, with the faint sense of adventure that accompanies the circumstances, are unlike any other. What appear to be shadows at first glance turn out to be secret alcoves hiding worn game trails beneath groves of young ash trees. To your strained ears, hoping to pick out sounds of movement, twigs breaking beneath your boots are like gunshots echoing through the cavernous halls of a wooded parcel. I've walked through my parents' land many times, but it had become an entirely different world under morning's first light. And it changed minute by minute.
So, after reaching my stand and getting comfortable on the cold seat, I listen to the whisper of leaves brushing against each other and wait for the light to slowly bring details of the wooded meadow before me into focus. Only a few minutes go by when the sonorous blast of an owl, a hoot more akin to a baritone in a brass band, announces the end of night. And as if this were the cue for morning, the forest and surrounding trees erupt with bird chatter. New voices join as others bow out, their morning announcements having been made. Bird song fills the air with intricate melodies, distinct and yet harmonious.
No animal with any semblance of care could have been heard walking through the woods, not amid this racket. Even snapping twigs would be hard to discern. But just as quickly as it began, the chorus of chirps, caws and unfamiliar calls, was over. Silence returned, except for the faint brush of grass against fur. Snap. And the breaking of twigs on the forest floor. I crane my neck and body to the right.
A little doe, graceful and alert, bobs her head left and right, up and down, looking for danger between the trees. Seeing nothing, she moves with a rare carelessness seldom seen this close. As if no one were watching.
Big mistake, little lady, you should have been moving while the birds were still singing. But I don't fault her, and don't bother notching the arrow I'm holding in my hand. If her experience were reflected in her size, she was certainly wanting. On this morning I'm content watching her float through the streams of light pouring into the woods through the tall natural windows, not unlike those found in a cathedral, made by the confused and tangled layers of trees. I watch until she's well behind me and I can no longer hear her movements.
The sun is rising higher now. A small peach-colored orb, not yet done with its morning stretches, starts to kindle its flame as the lilac in the sky recedes into the horizon. Lighter blues and warm tangerine hues take its place. The whole world is aglow.
In a few more minutes this orb will cast its light deeper into the woods and make visible what lay hidden in the shadows. Piles of sticks, dried ferns and more tree trunks. Darn. But again, that's all right. Months of mornings like this are yet to come, and the birds are singing again; I listen to one last chorus before I go, leaving them in silence as they rest their voices once more. I take my time heading back to the house and admire the dew, like a warm frost, making all the greenery glimmer.
Even though I didn't get a deer, I'm just happy to be where I was, see what I saw, hear what I heard, feel what I felt. Which, in the case of the latter, you'll have to go discover for yourself. I can promise I'll be trying to go find it again tonight. But for now, what a morning.
Matthew Fritz lives in Minneapolis.