Learning to follow instead of lead

Sep. 16, 2013 @ 03:44 PM

We had walked through the knee-high grass toward the stretching moon with darkness chasing us.

Instead of leading this subtle charge up the hill, which rises from west to east, I was following. In front of me and below me was a properly fearless 7-year old whose hands I know well. His eyes are stoic and absorbing, and his lips are pursed just so.
We had come here to hunt deer, yet for some reason that I do not know nor will I ever ask, only he was allowed to bring his bow and his single arrow.
Normally, we would be up a tree and both have a bow and at least two arrows each. Yet this was how it was to be, according to him, and since I was in an obligatory mood, my bow and arrow were left behind along with my guidance.
Through the grass we walked, slowly and quietly. Even the mature cottontail rabbit waited to flush when we were seven steps away.
It is not often that I follow him or his brother, but these two boys are beginning to lead more as they age.
Up this hill we walked. In his left hand is the riser of the bow, and the arrow and string are between the middle fingers on his right hand. He is poised as a hunter might be when stalking quarry with a bow and arrow. He is ready, eager and slow.
He takes four steps and then turns to look at me, twisting his head and nearly fogged glasses upward and to the left. I have seen smiles, grins and happiness.
He whispered something. I was close but not close enough, and I paused to assess the scene and to follow his next steps. Seeing that I was farther behind him than he wanted, he turned and frowned and said, “Come on” in his best whisper.
Eventually, his size-one boot, his 18-inch legs and his immeasurable ego crested the hill. If this had been 200 years ago, I would have envisioned lying on our stomachs and planning the next move while our quarry traveled below.
For us, the other side of the hill was empty. Near darkness and the final moments of the day were upon us, and when I was about to speak and suggest our course be reversed, he said, “Let’s keep going.”
Again, the mysteries of fatherhood and the virtues of following both were vague and unfamiliar. Out of character, I said, “All right.”
We continued into tall grass, down this slope. He must have sensed the darkness, too.
He must have been inspired to show his father, tightening his grip and drawing his arrow as we stepped faster. With every third step, he turned and looked to me. His steps were bolder and louder, and I know the old cottontail would have long run away.
We walked from the meadow, into the woods, then to a field road where the gravel is soft. We had come here last week to look, watch and plan, and now he is here and wants to hunt and find his quarry.
The anticipation builds. I, too, am curious to see if the field is barren or if the darkened images are here as they were. The moon is higher, the sun is gone and darkness has chased and now it has caught us. When we see the field is empty, he says, “Well, I tried.”
As a parent, we naturally are pleased, humbled, proud and enthusiastic when our children tell us they have tried. These feelings of being pleased are multiplied when we witness effort for ourselves.
Without much of a fight, we allowed the darkness of the night to surround us. He stood closer, and his arm pulled tight against my waist. I will not repeat what he said for personal reasons.
I will only say that it is one thing to hear and another to witness and even more to feel.
When we began our steps towards the truck, he walked a few in front before settling alongside me. He paused for a moment and looked back.
“Son, what is it?” I said.
“I don’t know what’s behind us dad, because I cannot see it,” he said while looking behind us.
I don’t know if he understood my metaphor, and I dare not mature his understanding sooner than nature intended.
“You go forward, and I will always be behind you every step of the way,” I replied.
We had walked through knee-high grass to the stretching moon that day.
Enjoy your time outdoors.

You may contact Jason Hawkins at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.