Hiking the Long Trail meant living outdoors for twenty-five days. During that time, we had rain, thunder, heat, humidity and frost. We slept inside shelters, in our tent or under the stars, and we cooked, dined and bathed out-of-doors. We spent all day every day hiking, averaging eleven miles a day and eleven hours on the trail.
But back home, I took to my desk. An injury ten days post-hike forced me off my feet. I was living a sedentary life indoors, and it didn’t feel good. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation helped me heal, along with physical therapy, sturdier shoes, and a fairly high tolerance for pain.
While I was sidelined, I was also preparing for my first-ever deer-hunting season, which included finding a suitable rifle, practicing using it, and then scouting where I was going to hunt.
It was learning to read the landscape, to see nature in a new way, which was driving my interest in hunting. The potential for filling my freezer with organic, locally grown meat was secondary to learning how to be in the woods without blazes marking a path.
Let me be clear: I’m terrified of getting lost in the woods. After leaving Manhattan in 1984, I’ve either stuck to well-worn, well-marked hiking trails, or followed my husband into the wild.
Actually, my husband is part of my problem. He has both landscape literacy and good orienteering skills. He can
bushwhack his way through the wilderness and still find his way home. Over the years, he’s pointed out ridges, slopes, and bowls in an attempt to teach me this language. I never have, and I never let him out of my sight.
In the woods, I’m like a visitor to a foreign land dependent on a guide to show me the way – until I left Tim at home and started to learn about deer.
Before opening day, I scouted a patch of woodland thick with deer sign. A friend who’s an experienced hunter gave me an arm-waving overview of the lay of the land and some advice about where to find buck. Eight of the sixteen mornings of rifle season, I woke at 4:30, gathered my gear, and climbed up a logging road by moonlight, so I’d be in place before dawn.
To say it was lovely to be in the woods as day broke would be a gross understatement, even the morning it rained.
To sit at the base of a hemlock or oak and listen and watch was a revelation in awareness of the natural world. I heard birds before I saw them: owls, crows, chickadees, and jays. I sat so still, a golden-winged warbler landed a foot from my face. I watched a pair of pileated woodpeckers drill a dead tree, and I saw several antlerless deer. I’m sure I also heard a buck on several occasions. I never saw him, but I saw his hoof-prints. I know he was there.
On cold mornings, I moved every hour, just to stay warm. On rainy mornings, I sheltered in brush. One morning, I wandered so deep into the woods I became disoriented, sure the sun was in the wrong place. I pulled out my compass and blundered my way out.
Hiking the Long Trail, I learned how to follow a path through the woods; hunting for deer, I learned how to navigate the woods without one. Without ever firing a shot, my first-ever hunting season was an unqualified success.
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