Some photos just call for a story.
The sun dips towards the trees, the water still, the insects not yet biting.
I've had my best success whitetail hunting right at dusk, often after being in a blind since before dawn, only venturing down for nature's call and a peanut butter sandwich during the time of the day that the deer are hunkering down.
It's a time not suited for the impatient. A small window of opportunity that might arise after a day of chattering squirrels and small deer too little to be disturbed in their growth. Minutes it seems, in which you sit upon a plank of coldness, waiting to stumble upon the chance of a shot, carefully calculating in the settling of the dark, the rapid and imminent shortening of the allotted span in which we find the treasures hidden in the woods.
Nothing good comes easily, or quickly. You learn it tending the land. Watching the seasons pop up like a wheel spring, corn rising like the tide, then being swept away in a tsunami of combines, leaving the land laid clean. Rain and drought come and go, as you are unable to do much more than sit against the fence rail and watch. Like much in our life, there are times we can only sit, knowing what we wanted to do, and couldn't and knowing what we could have done, but didn't, nature pressing on regardless of our choice.
Such things are reinforced in the blind,where you have been all day, hunting buried secrets, within yourself and there in your surroundings. Watching, inwardly and out for those minute changes in life that tell you when to sit quietly and watch and when to release the safety and act. Changes that most people miss, lost in the sound of a television set, a video game, the rush of traffic. Lost because they simply failed to look.
The wind shifts imperceptibly, the woods grow quiet as the sun sets down. Small creatures hop into grassy fields, risking a meeting with a predator for one last chance to put food in their belly before the darkness blankets them for the night. There along the tree line, a blur of soft movement, a whitetail buck. I hope he doesn't scent me, the smell of warm flesh, flame of hair and that odor of gunpowder and glory which seems to me to be the mark of the hunters garb.
He moves from behind a small ridge of earth, seemingly rising out of the earth itself as my Browning rises from my lap, a synchronization of fate. A 10 point buck, emboldened by the late hour as well, believing he has the woods to himself and a shy little doe, the rest of the hunters all having long retired to a television set and a cold beer. But I am still here, waiting. He moves on down a slope of earth that dips like a hard swallow, seeking. He stops, sniffing the air for the one that he seeks, leaving the familiarity of woods and bed, to wander after love, no sense of reason, walking willfully into hope and doom.
With the last drops of the sun leeching from the sky I have only this one hesitation, this moment, this one shot. As he moves away, quickly sensing perhaps a darkness that is final, I squeeze the trigger, a sound of profound meaning and fatal touch. The buck bounds up and forward, flinging the dirt as he darts away, quivering upright, in labored heave and surge of form. Dead, but not willing yet to quit the earth though in this moment his flesh has already been returned to it.
It was a fatal shot, one through the heart, and I found him yards away, down, the light having passed below the horizon of his iris, stare fixed into eternity. I take my hat off, and give thanks, for the day, for the bounty, for food for the table for a long winter. I mouth that prayer of thanks, as I look down on his still form. My breath assumes the air that his body had vacated, my eyes seeing the objects, fence and field and trees, that his eyes had lost, a glimpse of thanks for life and the ability to sustain it through the coming days.The light is all but gone as if the dark had slipped up behind me, my back exposed to the creep of time, so enmeshed by the sound of the rifle that I scarcely heard its whisper. The moon is out, the shadows diminishing to its curve, until even the shadows are drenched in black. For a moment, there was no movement, the deer's still form barely visible, its outline growing weightless and faint, the night itself mesmerizing me with it's own primal inertia. Too soon it will be my time to leave.
A light comes through the trees, a neighbor, hearing the shot, coming to help me bring in the game, for which I will share with his family."I'm over here", I shout, but my words are still, my small voice already lost in the woods infinitude. I can only stand still, my shadow long departed, running free somewhere with a whitetail buck, into the darkness, seeking the sun.