A cherished gift

Dec. 26, 2012 @ 09:44 PM

They were born six minutes apart. It rained that day and their mother said the raindrops were tears of joy from the forever above. He wanted a boy and she wanted a girl and they were both grateful to name boy and girl and even more thankful they were healthy.

The kids grew as kids grow. As parents, the parents grew as parents do. There were milestones and personalities and never were they far apart from each other. They lived on the family farm. There were crops in the fall and summer and hay all year and they grew into a world without walls or boundaries.

They hunted, too. He promised to his wife that if their baby girl wanted to hunt, then she would not be left behind. And so, together brother and sister followed daddy into the woods and they learned of the ways of game and nature and all of the lessons a young hunter does.

For a dozen years, they followed. For a dozen years they hid beneath blankets, squeezed into blinds, watched, learned, cheered, listened, and they became not youngsters that hunt, but hunters that are young.

Since they were nine years old, they had both found elf-built, and Santa delivered, youth hunting equipment beneath the tree. They both own youth-model shotguns and it has served them well through gun safety and hunting doves, squirrels, deer, rabbits, and turkey. Always, these activities were done together.

It was her idea and she convinced her brother that it was time and encouraged him to support her, for them both. It was one week ago, before Christmas, that they helped bring firewood into the house and interrupted the whistling of their dad.

She explained, “Dad, we just want to try it alone. I think we are ready.”

He did not say no or yes or ask too many questions, then. Instead, he listened and thought.

In the days before Christmas, they would ask him about their request. There were affirmations of responsibility and safety and promises made, too. He had seen them grow and cherished the speed for which their youth had become. They are well mannered and smart and he knows they are capable as hunters, go. Still, he thought. He pondered. He questioned.

On Christmas Day he changed his mind twice before calling them to his chair, while the smell of homemade sausage and cinnamon and cheer filled the room. They had received gloves and hats and a new hunting coat, each, and a pair of boots and other gifts requested and some not.

They also received something more cherished, permission to hunt that afternoon, alone. He trusted them and he trusted his judgment and yet he still encouraged them to be reserved, before he changed his mind.

They packed the pack together. As all good hunting packs should include, found inside was a flashlight, bag of cookies, gloves, length of rope, knife, folding saw, a thermos of hot chocolate, two pads to sit upon, chewing gum, binoculars, an extra cap, and affixed to the outside, a rolled blanket.

He observed them, closely on the porch. There were questions of safety and he posed scenarios and he checked the shotguns, again. The rules were reviewed again. He squeezed them both on the shoulder. And by his clock he said, “No matter what, be on this porch by 5:45.”

He watched them from the front yard and they disappeared behind the field, nearest the house. He knew where they were going and he believed they might have luck.

As two hours go, time was slow. He fidgeted and he looked at the open gifts beneath the tree and he thought of his first time, hunting alone, too. The sun was exhausted and its perspiration a stain of orange and violet against the Christmas Day sky.

At 5:38 he stepped onto the porch. There was silence. At 5:42 he looked at his watch, again. Still, there was silence. At 5:46, his steps were quick and soon the lights from the Jeep intermittently broke the darkness of the field.

He had heard no shot. He heard no call for his name. When he stopped the Jeep, 30 yards from the blind, he expected to see them move. His anger then turned to concern.

With his feet on the ground, he called them by names. There was no reply. He whistled and there was silence. It was cold and dark and his steps were quick to the blind.

When the beam of his flashlight intruded the darkness of the blind, he smiled. It was here that two hunters rested against each other. The blanket was pulled high and tucked beneath their chins and for a moment he paused and his look was warm and comforted.

He reached for the shotguns and checked them each. Not a shell had been loaded. He looked upon his hunters and with his hand; he touched her on the face, first. There was yawning and a deep-breath and soon her smile was wide and her teeth chattered as cold teeth do.

He helped them out of the blind and back at the house he watched them warm by the fire. No game had been seen, at least while they were awake, she said. His son said, “I guess we were late getting to the porch, dad?”

With his hand on her head and his shoulder, he said, “Son, a father will wait for many things in life. I don’t know that I waited for the day that you and your sister would hunt alone. However, I know now that it was worth the wait and seeing you and her asleep against each other, safe and warm, is a gift I will always cherish.”

Enjoy your time outdoors.

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