Sap sticks to hunter's mind, fingers, too

Dec. 23, 2013 @ 07:49 PM

He is walking the old roadbed and the leaves are soft beneath his feet.

It is cold on this morning and the sky is blue and the woods are mostly silent. This place is familiar to him and he knows its callouses and turns, and he knows where the rocks litter the west-facing slope.

From this path, he has hunted and scouted. He has rested here and built a fire here, and he has found turkey feathers here, too. He is a flannel shirt and his brown hunting coat and warm gloves and his breath smells of coffee and jelly. Long ago, he stopped explaining this annual labor of nostalgia. His wife no longer asks and his children have accepted and the family knows where he is this day before Christmas. He told them it began many years ago and, like the sap he will encounter, it refuses to be washed, even though he ages.

It was his grandfather and a chain saw that was temperamental when it was cold. The smell of fumes, the aroma of mud and the pheromones of fresh cedar and the search are as fresh today as they were then.

He remembers the day they were looking for a tree, and, while standing by a lone cedar, two bedded deer burst from a tangle of briars just a few feet away. He recalls looking for a tree and occasionally a rabbit would scatter from beneath his feet. He recalls felling a tree just as the first of a day’s worth of snow began to fall. And he recalls the silence and the buffer of life and that deep inside this place where cedars grow he could hide and never be found and be found while hiding.

And so he is here again to search. It is soft and quiet. He walks among them and he studies the shapes and he inhales their elixir, allowing it to penetrate his soul. He is careful to be deliberate and to hunt with purpose and not to choose but instead be chosen.

Just beyond where a wooden fence of decades ago is overcome with weathered decay, an oak tree succumbed and its trunk fell alongside a lone cedar tree. Upon coming close, he holds the tree and he gently bends it to feel its strength. It is deep green and it exhales a familiar scent and it is tall enough and filled enough to be the tree he found.

When he bends to retrieve the saw, there is movement against the felled oak. Pausing, he looks beyond the briars and the empty branches and he sees the deer. The old hunter looks into the eyes of the young buck and he feels a sense of peace.

From a kneeling position, he takes hold of the saw and he turns to face the tree. The buck watches him, eyes and ears are still and he is ever alert. With his hand, the man brushes against the tree, then turns to walk quietly away.

That night, he tells his grandkids of the buck and how close he was. When asked about his tree, the man feels the tackiness of sap on his hand and he says, “It is just like hunting — there are times you bring home, and there are times the lingering sap and a remembered encounter are enough.”

Enjoy your time outdoors.

You may email outdoors columnist Jason Hawkins at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.