Thanksgiving Morning

November 26, 2009 at 10:10 pm 2 comments

The first light of the rising sun cast long slanting shadows through the leafless trees as I stood on the small hillock observing my surroundings with care. Dew that had gathered on branches during the night slipped from large branch to twig, gathering into small round prisms that refracted the sunlight until they finally gathered enough mass to break free from the tree tips and fall onto the leaves on the forest floor below. In the stillness of the forest at dawn, the combined falling of thousands of dewdrops at random times made a constant sound that kept my senses alert.

I stood upon sacred ground. Less than two hundred yards to my left, atop a small embankment, lay the family cemetery, with stones so worn with time that only family memory recalled who lay beneath them. Thirty five yards behind me was an old chestnut tree, one of the few to have survived the chestnut blight intact.  When we plowed the adjoining fields, we still pulled up rifles and buttons from both the Revolutionary War and the War between the States. My family had made this land their home since at least 1700; and the land retains the memory of the battles fought, the harvests reaped, and the singing laughter of generations of children as they played. For generations, we have drawn sustenance from this land, and it has drawn sustenance from us in turn.

A round was chambered in my Marlin model 336 30-30, but the hammer was still forward. I wouldn’t pull back that hammer until my sites were aligned on the wily whitetail. The whitetail deer is not usually considered a wily quarry. In reality, its superhuman senses and caution can make him difficult to spot. And I had one particular buck in mind this Thanksgiving morning: a magnificent six-pointer who had been leading a small herd of does into our garden for a rather impressive midnight snack.

I had scouted carefully for the past couple of weeks; and knew that unless someone threw off his routine; he’d be stopping by the chestnut tree on his trip from the nearby creek to higher ground any minute. My task was simply to be as still and scent-free as possible so I wouldn’t throw him off. To that end, I had laundered all of my clothing with a bunch of spruce needles in the old wringer-washer; and had bathed myself similarly. I had improvised some camouflage to break up my outline; so as long as I didn’t move or make an unexpected noise; that wily buck should be along.

And so he came. Folks used to hearing the sound of human footsteps might not have noticed because of his cautious approach. He almost seemed to float in, like a ghostly presence as the dew was starting to evaporate from the leaves on the forest floor. A truly majestic creature of creation, to see him barely thirty yards away was awe-inspiring. He would take a step, look around, smell, and then take another. He looked past me several times, and I stood still as stone hardly daring to breathe. I kept waiting for him to settle down and start pawing through the leaves for chestnut burrs; as I knew he had done on previous mornings. Perhaps what little scent I had was making him nervous.

Finally, he gingerly re-oriented his body to get a better look at his trail; I moved my rifle into position, sited, and pulled back the hammer. Because of his angle, this was going to be a neck shot. At longer ranges, I wouldn’t have considered it. But as close as he was, and with the Marlin’s reliable lever action giving me a fast followup if needed, I was ready. I took a deep breath in, held it, and then let it out slowly as my sites settled perfectly where I could break his neck with one shot. Slowly, ever so slowly, I squeezed the trigger until the hammer fell, igniting the primer and sending a 150 grain flat-nosed bullet hurtling toward the buck at 2,100 feet per second.

There was no drama. The sound of the shot still seemed to be reverberating from the surrounding hills while he crumpled in one smooth motion and lay still in instant death. There was satisfaction in a job well-done, but no joy. There is never exuberance in the taking of such a creature; but it was necessary. The damage he was doing to our other food sources combined with the vital nutrients he would provide at the table left me free of guilt, but nevertheless somber as I laid my hand on him and thanked him for his sacrifice. And I assured his spirit that out of respect for his sacrifice, nothing would be wasted and all would be returned back to the land to continue the cycle.

I heard someone approaching loudly, slipping and sliding down the hill from the cemetary, and glanced over to see my father. He, too, had been hunting and came to see the results of the unmistakeable discharge of a high-powered rifle. We unloaded our rifles, laid them on the ground; and he took out his hunting knife so we could field dress this fine animal before carrying him back to the farmhouse. All in all, our traditional Thanksgiving morning hunting had proven productive indeed.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized, Western civilization.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark  |  November 29, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Very nice story about respect for nature and the circle of life. Far too many times people never bother to realize their place in the cycle, and they take, take, take without bothering to think about what, if anything, they are putting back.

    Again, very nice story.

  • 2. Winston Smith  |  December 13, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Man and nature, together as one. Just beautiful.


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