Thursday, December 15, 2011

And Darkness Fell

A sniper mission, alone in the cold and dark.  No back up, no buddy, just a hunter and his tools under the stars.

I'll shuffle out of the bunk at 3am tomorrow morning, and rub the sleep from my eyes.  Donning camouflage that has been cleansed of human scent, I'll make my way through the night to match wits with the ever-cautious and intelligent coyote, my headlamp filtered red to safeguard my night vision and position.

There's an intensity to it that you cannot find in any other type of hunting in this part of the world.  Calling a predator in, with those fangs and sinister eyes, that demeanor of a killer, will make your hair stand up a little and make sure the ticker is in good working order.

I'm no expert coyote hunter, but I sure enjoy getting out there.  I like it because it is often a cold and solitary endeavor for me.  A test.  Can I force myself to get up and out in the dark, minimize my presence, and convince a wild carnivore that I'm a delectable morsel of bunny or mouse?  I like it because I see so few others doing it.  Anytime I can feel I'm just a bit on the fringe is fine by me.  Mostly, I like being out in the dark.

Darkness changes everything.  I've deer hunted out of the same tree stand location for two seasons now.  That walk in to it in the dark is still a little adventure every time.  I don't use flagging tape or reflectors because I can simply walk along the creek, but not being able to see more than a dozen feet adds a bit of mystery.  Things go bump in the night.  Your sense of direction can go a little sideways when creeping your way slowly through dense understory.  There is a quick moment when just a tiny creeping doubt sets in.  I'm never going to get lost walking in to that stand, it's easy enough that if I ever did I could never show my face in camp again, but that quick second of indecision in the dark still happens sometimes.  It's a welcome rush.

Distances grow in the dark.  It's easy to estimate where you are and how far you've come when the sun is out and the world is alive.  At night, with few visual clues, the trail can stretch and meander in ways you didn't think possible.  Familiar stumps suddenly take on the form of bears.  The stream that is supposed to be right here isn't.  Unnoticed initially, the wind sweeps around the compass, suddenly convincing you that you're walking in the exact wrong direction.  It all takes more patience and steadiness to get through than walking in the light, which is exactly why it is often more fun and rewarding.

Wade fishing a stream at high noon can be tenuous at times.  Moving water obscures deep holes, rocks and boulders lurk unseen, waiting for that one misplaced step.  Currents slink and flow in seeming harmony, lulling you into false confidence until they are suddenly tearing at your legs.  Now do it with a blindfold on.  The topwater fishing can be downright outstanding, but again, fortitude plays a role in dealing with falls and tangles in the dark.  One thing remains the same, however.  When the fall does come, and it will, get that rod up in the air.  A broken tailbone heals, absurdly spendy mangled graphite does not.  I know.  While sitting on an inflatable doughnut for a few weeks can be demeaning, replacing a fly rod is worse. 

The exact same stretch of water, a beckoning beauty in the daylight, becomes a dangerous, if intoxicating, mistress when the sun goes down.



Night has been driven from our lives for the most part.  A lot of us sometimes forget that at home or in town.  The sun goes down, street lights come on, and we carry on our merry way.  Traffic and signage, nightlights and the warm glow of the TV, all lead us down a path to thinking that night is simply a continuation of day.  Not too long ago people didn't live like that.  Daylight broke, we labored away to scratch out an existence on the land, the sun went down, and we retired to our sod house or teepee or log cabin to sleep the sleep of the dead. 

When I find myself out in the wilds at night I make it a point to enjoy the things I can't see or hear in my illuminated nighttime life most of the time.  A novice camper or night fisher is often taken aback, mouth hanging agog, at the number of stars that are up there once you get out from under the quilt of mercury vapor lamps.  Add the chorus of crickets often hidden by traffic noise or the ephemeral drapery of the northern lights, and the city dweller will often become suddenly still.  Mesmerized and quiet for the first time in too long.  Spellbound.  I'm a little jealous of that, and try to remember to force myself to take in the beauty, even when I've seen it before or I'm on a mission.

I will be on a mission tomorrow morning.  I will creep through the darkness.  I will melt into the landscape, and let hunter become prey.  And I will take in the subdued beauty of it all.

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