It isn’t my truth any more than it was my experience, chosen and fashioned by higher hands.
I know each story is a hunt and no one gets to chose theirs, that it choses you, and it’s difficult to know at first what it might speak to someone else of all experiences and all relationships.
I believe in the purpose of hunting.
But that doesn’t mean I always do it well.
And in some pre-conscious way I knew this one was doomed from the start. I’ve taken this particular hunt several times but when I first remembered it, I still hadn’t understood it. I may never understand it. But I see more in it now.
My father wakes me so early I’m not sure I even slept, though I don’t remember him getting up.
“Time to go,” he says and it takes me a moment to realize he’s serious. It’s dark. Where is he? “Your shoes are here.” I sit up listening to his boots crunch softer and softer toward the truck to prepare the rifles.
My arm’s wet from condensation on the wall of the warm tent. Will we eat first? I won’t ask, not because I’m not hungry but because I don’t want to appear weak, only trying to delay.
Do I know why we’re here, what this really is, this weekend I’m to become a man? He’s surely noticed how my once-bold mimicry has gone subterranean, how our bond has become this razor thin line, shrinking beneath a fast-approaching horizon.
Mornings are misty in these woods, everything waking in the glow and crackle of the campfire, the bare light through the trees, air perfumed with coffee and pine and damp earth. You take your cheap thrill to water any tree you like but make it quick work as you’ve got no repellant on down there.
You remember to try to think ahead, to set goals and work toward them, to follow his cues.
It is better to learn from experience, or is it simply the preferable way?
Regardless, you will learn not to ask the whys of things, somehow sensing the most important lessons are never spoken, can never be spoken. Some untainted part of your preadolescent mind understands some things can only be obtained in silence.
You want mature ones with antlers that have grown another point with each winter survived. You walk crouched against the wind looking for cloven prints and droppings, though you don’t taste the dark pellets he pretends to chew, mock-serious like some native deer-whisperer. He coaxes my reluctant smile this way, maybe having noticed it growing more reticent as the shadows shrunk beneath our quiet steps.
You will learn you must go to where your target will be, and not to where it currently is. Even with his gaze on the dark space between the distant trees he’s undistracted, sensing. On another day not far off you may think to encourage this same heightened awareness while exploring with your own kids.
You’re looking for a depression down a ridge that affords an ample view. You follow the position of the sun so it won’t be in your eyes once it pierces the columns of trees at the sloping line of the ridge.
You find your protected spot and begin to wait. Silent lifetimes pass and slowly the truth emerges, barely a shudder in the tall grass.
Expectancy is the fragile shell of insight, thin as dragonfly wings. Insight can out-wait you in your tingling, rustling uncertainty. But expectancy it can coax you into sustained shock in disbelief that nothing is coming. It hasn’t yet, though if you wait, it will, because regardless, the potential for something is ever-present and everything is buzzing with it.
The more time slips by, the less likely it can seem anything will happen, right up to the one moment that will never change in all the recountings over the years, even as everything around it grows hazier.
A herd, slow, watchful, and not 100 yards off pads into the clearing from the thicket. A six-point buck leads, carrying in what suddenly flickers to my awareness as the glinting gun rises fluid and quick and I straighten my thin arm and stammer a cringing plea.
“Don’t shoot him, Dad!”
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t look at me. The deer stand erect, watching.
The rifle slowly lowers.
Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his gun for his son.
Some memories are mystic maps aged to amber, a length of dashes to a personal landmark in the dense forest of the heart.
In that moment, I’m so repellant, so wholly other, I know I will never be who he hoped. The unlikely moment of all our effort has come and passed and will never come again and I’ve mangled it. I’m little Fern crying over Wilbur; I’m proof of his folly at letting me watch those Disney movies. I know what was in the Happy Meal boxes and still I’ve become the wrong character in the stories.
But for that force he felt, a power held in appreciation of something greater, I may have learned a very different lesson that day. Instead, I learned to reverence a fragile charge between us, something beyond likeness, something I’d seen magnets do when they encounter a repellant charge and flip over.
Let scientists discover why relationships build intelligence and compassion. Let others sing of love that makes the world go round. I’ve seen the fearsome force of holy mystery, pure as carved crystal. And I am changed.
I’ve felt its power and my helplessness within its will to work through me, to write as witness and stay long, unflinching.
I’ve seen how the container of love is sacrifice, and how easily that’s forgotten in our too-full days. I know how we carry these familiar stories around like so much baggage and forget their affective spark to speak long-dead hope back to life.
Can’t everyone sense it there inside, this attraction to what should repel? It’s the possibility of pain that makes love so powerful. It’s the potential for disaster that makes the sacrifice for love crack the gossamer shell around our longing hearts.
Is it that universal recognition in us that makes stories always and most essentially a hunt for the hope of love?
I don’t know. But if I’ll wait as a hunter waits, the insight may emerge. So I’ll wait silent, always watching for the cues that may reveal something rustling in all these endless, unspoken wonders.