The leaves rustled around my footsteps as I followed the flags marking the path to my stand. The sun had not yet begun its day and the light from my flashlight could barely pierce the early morning’s darkness. The delicate steps that my brain told my feet to make were translated into raucous stomps through the otherwise silent and sleeping forest. Each step was cautious and deliberate but my feet were cold and no longer part of my body. Silently I damned the seemingly defective hand warmers that were tucked into my gloves and boots. Through several layers of clothing a stocking cap and scarf the breeze created by the pace of my walking was beginning to make my cheeks and chest burn and my nose run.
After several minutes of laborious trudging I made my way to the base of the tree where I would spend the next few hours. Some twenty feet above me, lashed to the tree, was a rickety contraption made of wood and metal. I took off my gloves so that I could tie my rifle to the rope that was hanging from the stand. My cold fingers twitched as I fumbled with the rope. The ladder to the stand was made of staggered pegs on either side of the tree. I hate those kinds of ladders. So much room for error. The cold steel burned my palms and fingertips. I gripped each peg tightly; paranoid that my numbed fingers would lose their grip and I’d fall to the ground, no one to hear my cries as I lay there with broken bones. Once I made it to the stand I sat for a moment to catch my breath and say a quick thank you prayer to God for not letting me fall. I cupped my hands and blew into them in the hopes that feeling would return. Hope failed me.
A few moments later I began pulling my rifle up. The thin rope dug into my hands but I couldn’t feel it. I soon had my rifle in my hands and was ready for my last difficult task before I could begin the hunt. The rifle cartridges felt like icicles in my hands. Each one stung my fingertips as I loaded them into the magazine; scrape, click, ouch. Finally I was prepared. My gloves were so warm when I was able to put them back on. The comfort was short lived.
Cold and miserable I sat there in silence. Within minutes the squirrels and birds realized that I was no threat to them and began their day. The sun had begun to crest the treetops and there was light. As the animals foraged I watched. Before the fog lifts there is a completely different light than that of midday. Colors are crisp and it is like seeing life for the first time, every time. The sounds of nature are so calming and therapeutic when they are all that can be heard. Tweets, grunts and the sound of cracking twigs travel great distances and are clearer than can be understood without firsthand experience. There is nothing more beautiful than nature at sunrise. I had forgotten about how cold and miserable I was. My mind was clear and I was thankful for the beauty that God had created and shared with me.