A Reverie On Failure Part 2: The Trials Brought by Love Thy Neighbor
It is difficult to convince those from more densely-populated areas of the country that this is not rural ground here in Western New York. If it were truly rural, neighborliness would not be a topic for consideration. But consider this: the field on the western edge of our hunting area is basically a giant rectangle of farmed ground, about 500 yards running east and west, and about 250 yards running north and south. Unfortunately for us, especially this year, this field serves as the edge of several wooded properties; several property lines intersect at various places in and around this field. Thus, it is true that deer are in several people’s woods, and they filter into this field from all the points on the compass. “Edge” is an important concept in the hunt for the elusive and wily American white-tailed deer, much desired by deer, where food is easily found in abundance near the safety and protection of wood and thicket. As such, any “edge” is going to be heavily populated, both by deer and humans. I would venture to say that, during the season, the woods around this field have a denser population than the surrounding settlements!
As a counterexample, consider what we here call “the southern tier,” which is the beginnings of the western branch of the Appalachian Mountains, appearing just south of the metro-region of Buffalo and stretching south and east into Pennsylvania, tucking the Southtowns region close against Lake Erie and the Buffalo city limits. Those who have property down there can hunt hundreds of acres without competition. That is rural. Niagara County holds the middle of the spectrum between big city and actual rural, somewhere just on the other side of suburb toward rural.
With all that huffing and puffing now completed, I present to you the trial of neighborliness.
At sunset yesterday, I spotted a hunter moving about 100 yards from my position. Later, I learned that he was basically moving from a stand located 50 yards in the north woods to the edge of the field to walk back west. That explains why the deer were spooking the day before. That, friends, is the antonym to conscientious hunting. In seasons past, that property owner has done a handful of idiotic things with regard to edge properties, and now continues to do so. In this case, it ruins a truly great hunting plan. But as it is said: the best laid plans of mice and men, eh? So, today I had to move to a different position. With respect to deer traffic, it’s not as sure a thing, but I’m still here, and I have seen deer here on occasion.
Back to yesterday, that black cloud moved through, and after it was gone, the wildlife settled into its normal harmonies. It tickles me that the crickets remained unchanged. Nevertheless, their monotony is comforting.
Mike shot an 8-point buck (small rack) which was in full rut. It’s very early for mating. I don’t think the doe are in season, especially any late-drop females. We’re puzzling over that: maybe his buck was elderly and is just “off.” Otherwise it was a very meaty, healthy buck.
I was just beginning to complain to him via text about the other hunter when he texted me that he had “arrowed a buck.” I was genuinely excited for him. It’s a true thrill. It was also grand to track the animal in the darkness. I’m envious of his headlamp. It’s much brighter than mine. There is that sense, though, that he got his: a specimen, if not a trophy, and a good supply of venison. It is a joy mingled with melancholy and hope. It is not envy. It is proof that one can experience true happiness and simultaneous longing without hating your neighbor.
I’m sitting nearer the road, and without an acre of woods between me and it, I can hear more traffic and fewer birds. The crickets? Yes, they are undaunted. Mediocrity has its benefits.
Fastly (as Lars of Survival Russia would say)—I got into the woods late and noisily after letting anxiety get the best of me earlier in the afternoon—this other hunter is killing the entire western edge of our hunting area (eastern edge of the field) with really bad behavior. He crashed into the open again on Friday (October 9), spooking four deer I was trying to ambush. I saw a huge buck; I hope I see him again. It is too hot for hunting his zone. No shooting lanes either. Smart animal.
It seems apparent these days that people trade in indignation and outrage. I imagine we justify ourselves while using this currency by appealing to the evil deeds of our neighbor. My dear bride chastised me gently in my own indignation at this poor, lost, soul, who didn’t know enough not to crash out of the woods and into a clearing just as the sun was setting, that oh-so-crucial moment of truth, when the gray ghosts magically appear in the range of a bowshot, with only seconds remaining between the arrow’s flying and another failed hunt. Mike had identified the other hunter: “That’s not the property owner; that’s his young relative, and judging by his behavior, this is his first time bowhunting, and there’s no one there to teach him.” Upon considering this report, my wife said, “You were new at it, once.”
My indignation had not yet cooled, so I threw a devastating counterpunch, “Yeah, but still…” And I stormed off. My first time bowhunting was with John, who had me next to him in a two-person blind. “Be perfectly still; whatever you do, don’t move, and if you have to move, move very slowly.” I heard a squirrel behind me! Thinking it was a deer, I snapped my head around, spooking the deer which had been quietly approaching from John’s side of the blind, out of my field of vision. John didn’t offer a single recrimination. “I had to learn it the same way,” he said. “Squirrels hopping on the forest floor sound like what you imagine would be the giant bucks you see on the covers of outdoors magazines, when the giants move through the forest like a gentle whisper.” He said “when,” I remember, as a teaching word, that the two things are simultaneous: squirrels covering the approach of large game as part of a coordinated ecosystem.
If I envy anything besides Mike’s headlamp, it’s John’s patience, and Mike’s as well. Their patience is born of love for me, and they show it every time I hunt on their properties, because no matter how much experience I accumulate in hunting, I will remain a novice, by comparison to their own vast experiences. See, I can be joyful for Mike and his successes, but that’s easy: he’s my friend and mentor, and he provides for me land and much-needed advice. Who wouldn’t learn to love? But for him to love me? What endears me to him? Not anything: he and John are entirely unreserved; both of them give freely from within their respective persons.
I wonder about this: to me, every step is a potential failure. Turning your head at the wrong time or in the wrong direction is a failure. Taking up a position against a tree is potentially the wrong side of the tree. How can you forgive your neighbor when it is already so difficult to succeed on your own merits, the required body of knowledge so vast, bringing the discipline of experience forward so painful, to eke out one little victory for yourself? How? That unreserved nature is not within me, that’s for sure, and so my treasury of indignation increases.