Everybody who has hunted any length of time has unforgettable memories and stories seared into their mind and heart. Maybe these experiences were in the duck blind or deer camp, and maybe with loved ones now gone from view.
A few years after that ‘inauspicious’ introduction to deer hunting described in last weeks blog entry, Jackson and I had learned quite a lot about deer hunting, and had matured into Louisiana Bowhunters. We had taken a number of mature bucks as we grew in skill and experience.
Even as a very young guy Jackson had a gift for killing mature deer. ‘What you learn early you learn best’, right? We attributed it to beginners luck the first few years, telling him he didn’t yet have that “grown man stink”. We told him ‘he still smelled sweet like a young boy’! As you can imagine he loved hearing that.
By the time he was about 14 he was in full competition with me about everything, not just hunting. It was the classic way a young buck harasses the big 8 point, constantly needing to prove himself equal if not better. At 14 Jackson knew everything about everything and certainly didn’t want or need any further instruction from me, thank you very much! So this was all a little amusing if not irritating and sets the stage for the most memorable and intense experience I have ever had in the woods.
Jackson and I arrived mid-afternoon for a long weekend at our family property and camp near Angie, LA. We quickly scooted into the woods as you do to check for deer sign under the white oaks and pick our trees and place our climbing stands. He picked his tree and we walked another 400 yards and I picked a spot and put my climber on the tree, so we could sneak in quiet in the morning.
We loved to get into the woods and up the tree well before first light, to let the woods settle. So we got an early start the next morning. We walked together to the place where we would separate, Jackson going his way and me the other. We said our goodbyes and wished each other good luck and each went into stealth mode. I had at least 400 yds to walk along an overgrown logging road and crept along very slowly in the pitch black as quiet as I could be. I didn’t care if it took 30 minutes to cover the distance, I did not want to crack a branch and alert the deer of my entrance into their woods. I got to my tree and as slowly and quietly as I could possibly move, I ratcheted up the tree. Finally I got up and settled into the blackness. I felt like I had gotten in as quietly as possible. Ahhhh… all was calm, all was quiet, my favorite time of the morning.
All of a sudden, the black silence was shattered... from a distance I heard Jackson’s faint voice, ”DADDY!!! HELP!!!” My heart stopped. To this day the memory of this shatters me. In those same woods where I had just methodically crept along, silently avoiding even crunching a dry leaf, I stood up and leaned his way and screamed into the blackness, hoping he could hear me….”JACKSON!!! I’M COMING!!!”
I flew down the tree without regard for anything but getting my feet on the ground and managed not to kill myself. I turned on a light and took off bounding. I can still remember how scared I felt. I’d stop every few feet and scream, “JACKSON I’M COMING!!!” I couldn’t imagine what had happened but I knew it wasn't good. I assumed he had fallen out of the tree. Half way to him I stopped and screamed, “JACKSON!” He screamed back, “DADDY!” I could now zero in on the sound.
Finally I got close and then got to him. Jackson was standing in the middle of a thicket turned around and lost. That panic, that can and does happen to any of us when we get sure enough lost in the woods, had gotten in his mind. I grabbed him so relieved he was ok. He was embarrassed as he told me he had lost his way and had gotten turned around and couldn’t find his tree. “No problem Jackson. Thank you for calling for me, so happy you called for me Jackson” – those words didn’t even begin to convey how grateful I was that he would call on me like that in his time of distress, and that I could be there for him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming Daddy”, he said, a little sheepish. Being vulnerable and needing me like that was definitely not part of his teenage persona of false bravado and emerging independence.
(That word “daddy” is such a powerful word to me….having lost my dad early and traumatically, I could barely utter the word, it would get stuck in my throat. When Jackson would call me “daddy” it would thrill me and for a moment the grief that was always present in me would be diminished and I would feel full and happy and blessed.)
Together we found his tree and I watched him ratchet up as first light was ascending. All was well. We said our goodbyes again and so I headed back towards my stand. However, this time I went without any regard for stealth or silence, plus it was plenty light. I just clomped through the woods aware something big had just happened and that I would not be the same from this point forward.
I got back up my tree, sweating. Then the tears and snot came as I considered how happy I was, how moved, how relieved, and what a big deal it was to be called on by Jackson, to be able to answer the call, and to share that moment of trust and vulnerability and intimacy. There is no way Jackson could know then or now what it meant to me to hear that scream and to be able to be there for him. He couldn’t know how far and wide I would go for him. He blessed me and honored me in ways I am sure he cannot comprehend. The feelings I sat there with in that tree considering all this were overwhelming to me and remain so to this day.
Though not a religious man, the metaphor of Father and Son, and God and His Creation, was not lost on me and as I sat in the tree. I considered was it possible that God felt just as happy to be called on by us, His Creation, in our distress, as I had when my son called on me? Who was the more blessed, the father or the son? Both equally? In that moment, alone in the tree, I understood these things, and more. Doors opened for me. There have been a few times in my life where I have been lost in the brambles, calling out,’Help me, I’m Lost!’ I think I understand more now about how the Creator responds to our distress.
Hunting and Fishing has provided Jackson and I a context, a setting, an opportunity of time and place to experience and know each other, and the natural world. To learn respect and reverence and balance, and observe the perfection in all things. You just never know how things are going to go. By some miraculous twist of fate it turns out we both got deer that morning. I don’t know how, as we had surely lit up the woods, but you truly never know.
Mark A. Wilson Baton Rouge, LA