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Opening Morning … and Beyond
I sat in the dark on opening morning, waiting for the light.
It is distinctively different from when I was growing up.
The majority of the fences weren’t within eyesight, and
often not visible in scoping range. Here, I didn’t have the
vastness of the sky to watch or the tops of the trees
stretching out in an endless sea.
The sweet stillness before dawn allowed me to hear the whisper in the trees around me, the faint touch of the leaves as they kissed the ground. I am near the creek and the turkeys greeted the first light with their distinctive rattling call. Before full light, my mind filled with random thoughts. It ranged from how funny a turkey sounds gobbling, to my unsettled feelings over the upcoming November election, and remembering the lessons imparted to me as a child. I learned safety, to be still and fully aware, to blend into my surroundings and feel instinctively. I learned to trust and then later, I learned not to.
I remembered some of my first hunts, sitting in the dark with my rifle, waiting for the sun. At times, it overwhelmed me. The wait for the rays of pink and pale blue to feather across the dark sky seemed unending. I never shared I was scared sometimes, not to my parents and certainly not my friends in third grade when I got home. Papaw knew though, he sensed it and talked to me one day, reminding me that I was never alone. He talked about the Old Ones as well as revealing a secret about himself, my other grandfather, an uncle and my mom and dad. At least one of them was always very close to me, watching me, making sure I was safe. That continued for a few seasons, allowing me to gain experience while still feeling independent. It was rare to spot any of them at first. Stealth and camouflage is an inherent trait in our family. Nevertheless, before too long, I knew who and where my watcher was. I never felt disheartened by their presence, and each season they moved a little farther from me, allowing me to build confidence.
Opening morning a fat squirrel spent a quarter of an hour chattering at me, completely dismayed that I was not moving or paying any attention to him. The turkey’s occasional gobble along the creek kept me amused, although they stayed deep in the trees and out of sight. Does and yearlings kept me watchful, especially when one of the does began to bleat and flag. I waited for the buck, knowing that at least one must be nearby. I finally caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, over my shoulder and over the fence. Damn fences. The does and yearlings continued to graze and the buck went into the tree line at the creek. Frustrating, but all too common. Around eleven I walked back to my truck, picked up my son and we headed home. A quick bite to eat, a quarter of a football game and a short nap interrupted by the Old Ones telling me to “go now”.
As we pulled up to my gate, my son asked me “why now, there’s a lot of daylight left.” We were a good two hours earlier than usual for an afternoon hunt. I shook my head and reminded him, the Old Ones said now, so now it is. I made my way down to the creek, easing into the comfort of the mesquites. He went the opposite way to his favorite spot in a small grove of old trees. A little later, he directed my nephews to their place to hunt. Within thirty minutes, six turkeys made their way out of the trees on the creek, skittering across the short grass to indulge in the grains of corn left for them. The tom provided a show at one point, fanning out his tail feathers and strutting among the hens. Ten minutes later, they slipped under the fence. Six more turkeys appeared at the opposite fence farther down, once again ambling around searching for grains of corn. My thoughts wandered to the ‘why now’ and I found myself wondering why the Old Ones were so insistent that I go now. Perhaps for the calming presence of the turkeys and the sounds of the hawk’s wings as he flew over me. The first six turkeys circled around and were within 6 feet behind me, so I started a soft conversation with them, quietly mimicking their throaty gurgles. I think it bothered them that I didn’t move and they continued to ease closer. A rifle shot broke the silence with a resounding thud allowing me know it hit its mark. I scoped the area near where my son was at and saw a turkey fly over the fence. Soon after, he stepped out of the trees and raised his rifle into the air, pumping it up and down several times like a barbell.
That ended my hunt and I began my walk back. I spoke with the Old Ones, thanking them for a successful hunt for my son and allowing me to have the moments of peace to gather my thoughts. It was a blessing to be among the turkeys and to be there at the right time for my son to bring in a nice buck. An hour later, it was skinned, the back strap and inside tender peeled out and the rest quartered and on ice. I endured the teasing from my nephews for my attire, now liberally splattered with blood. My son shared later they mentioned they kept looking for me and couldn’t see me anywhere, so I must have really camo-ed up. I suppose that accounted for their look of surprise when I walked out of the mesquites wearing dark colored shorts and shirt with my boots. November weather in Texas, go figure. No camo except for my cap. The next morning, my son kept my knives sharpened as I ran my fingers over the meat, feeling it as I was taught, sliding the blade in to separate the sections into hams and steaks. Scrap meat will be ground with a little tallow later for burger or sausage. I handed over the first back strap after removing the silver skin and a short time later, it was in the frying pan.
As Election Day approached all too soon, my thoughts, uncertainty, and unsettled feelings fell over me like a dark blanket. The darkness engulfed me afterwards, shattering like glass. I don’t know where this will lead us and honestly is not a good feeling. What will come of the DAPL protest? Our environment, our culture, our lives, our safety? My family is a blend of blood, Native to Mexican to Irish and as a woman; a woman who has survived the harsh reality of rape and the very actions brashly bragged about in the taped recordings, I am in turbulent waters right now. I am struggling.
I went back to hunt, to find that piece of me that brings me some normality, the connection I need to the ones who have gone before me, and the ones who count on me now to bring home fresh meat. I was dismayed to see the deeply rutted out hollows where the feral hogs plundered the ground over the past few days. It was a metaphorical display of my emotions.
Sitting in the mesquites, the sounds of hawks comforted me and the turkeys made another appearance. One randy little buck was already running a doe, although she was less than interested in him. He looked to be around 2 years old with a small, but nicely formed set of horns. In a year or two he will be one worth taking as well as legal, but for now, he’s safe to irritate the does and no doubt, they will take of themselves.
That is a key element for all of us now. We need to take care of ourselves. We can’t give up on what is right, what is important, what is crucial for all of us. We must protect our lands and her natural inhabitants, our water, our air and most of all, ourselves.