Below is a story that Tony wrote during his freshman year of college that tells his side of the story I recounted in The Best Season, Part 1.
Now I Know
“Dad, I’m hot! Why do I have to wear all these clothes?”
“It’s going to get colder, much colder,” he says.
“Dad, it’s 75 degrees! How cold could it get?”
This time he wouldn’t answer. I’d seen that look on his face before when he was thinking: not as a salesman or a father, but as a predator. This is when the real hunting begins. He signals for me to stop and I wait. I now know that he was “feeling” something I refer to as hunter’s intuition. I’m mesmerized by his sauntering back and forth, the autumn leaves crunching under his feet.
“Do you know where we are,” he asks in a low voice.
“Vaguely,” I instinctively volley, surprised that he spoke. We’re predators now, and predators don’t speak. Sure, sometimes they communicate when working in teams, but we’re bowhunting. Bowhunting is you against the brains, senses, and survival instincts of one of the most beautiful, intelligent animals on earth. The white-tailed deer is no ordinary prey. Its sight is rivaled only by that of hawks and eagles, and its hearing is far greater than that of our canine friends. But a deer’s nose is the hunter’s worst enemy. A deer can see and hear something and still not know exactly what it is, but its nose never lies. If it smells something out of the ordinary it leaves, easily running 50 feet per second. Bowhunting is also a sport against the individual. A true hunter must have confidence in his knowledge of the prey, the outdoors, and the weapon. I am ready. I haven’t scouted the area enough though, and I’ve yet to make a tree stand. Being up in a tree adds many small advantages for the bowhunter.
“Where are you going,” Dad asks.
“I’m going to that big apple tree in the corner of this old field, I guess.”
“OK. I’ll be over there,” he says pointing the opposite way. So I walk on slowly, and it is hot! Before I get to the apple tree, I spot a smaller one. Apples are the staple food for deer this time of year in southern Vermont. Any deer headed toward my original destination would probably stop here too. I see an appropriate white pine to make my stand in and climb it. I pull my bow up to simulate shooting, but the branches hang too low in front of me. All that work for nothing.
We are already two hours later than usual because of my Hunter’s Safety Course exam. It’s 3:30 now, leaving only a few hours until sundown. I lower my bow carefully. Then I climb down making sure I don’t land on it and move on to my original destination. I look around to see a tall scotch pine. I climb up, saw a few branches, and realize that this just isn’t my day. This tree is shaped in a way that I could never stand in. Once again, I climb down and then up the tree next to it. While climbing, I notice some dark clouds rolling in, and I think this could be a really bad night. Once again I cut a few branches, putting them behind my head to break up my silhouette from ground level. I test my bow again to see that I can shoot it. I hang it on a branch to put some makeup on my face to cut down the shine that might catch a deer’s eye. It’s starting to rain, and I realize that the makeup won’t be on for long. Due to the heat, I’m soaked with sweat on the inside, and I’m waterlogged wool on the outside from the rain. I realize the temperature has dropped to 32 degrees as hail stones bounce off me, and my wet skin freezes. The branches I’m standing on turn to ice, so I throw a rope around the tree and myself for safety. I think that all this has been a waste when I check my watch to see only an hour of light remains due to the dark clouds.
With nothing else to do, I put my hand in my pockets and count apples. I imagine what this “field” looked like a hundred years ago when man shaped it as he wished. A black spot is moving under the tree that I can’t identify. Suddenly and quietly a skinny doe with a black spot for a nose appears below me. I stay motionless only half noticing the snowflakes falling between myself and an animal that would never survive a Vermont winter. I must get my bow without letting her spot my movements. Luckily the grass is long, and when she bends down to pick up an apple, she can’t see me. Each time she does this, I make a move. When she picks her head up to eat, I must freeze. Eventually I’m in position with the bow at full draw. I see my opportunity when her should blade moves forward exposing the heart, and I release. A solid “thud” is heard, and the deer runs. It falls out of sight as I realize that all my hard work and determination paid off.
In what seems like one motion, I climb down and run as fast as my feet will carry me towards my father. My adrenaline screams and so do I, “Dad!” I trip and land flat on my face. Not even feeling it, I get up running. As I find my father climbing out of the tree, I tell him the whole story. Getting down, my father shakes my hand and congratulates me. We run to where the animal is, and I kneel before it.
“She’s so beautiful,” I say.
“Now the real work begins,” my father says handing me his knife. I take it and do what I had read bout so many times before. Again my father shakes my hand and says, “She only ran 75 feet and at 50 feet per second. That means she only lived for a second and a half. She never knew what hit her: no pain, no fear, just peace.”
As I drag the hundred pounds behind me through the now two feet of snow two miles back to the car, an inner peace settles over me. It’s very dark now, and physically I’m blinded by the wind-blown snow in my face. Yet I “see” better than I ever have before. I think back to that moment, reliving it all over again. There were so many synchronized small details that fell together like a pre-solved puzzle to help me accomplish something barely in my grasp. I was successful through hard work and focused desire, but there was something more. For the first time I feel close to a higher power. I had always believed that God wasn’t in his “house,” but inside of us. We just have to let him out. Prior to this moment I had been told what God is, but now I know.