Hunting, I’ve discovered, is mostly meditation.
I’m reminded of this when we head out to our spot above the upper field. When we’re walking on the road I try to roll my feet as much as I can, wearing my sister’s boots, and I try to make the layers of my body as quiet as possible, from the clothes laying on my skin, through the ripple of my muscles and down into my bones. Quietly, quietly, we make our way up to the stand of Mountain Mahogany we like to sit under.
And so we commence the waiting, the watching. We glass through the forest, looking for anything out of place: a dark leg, the curve of a hind end, the gentle movement of snout. When we don’t see anything, we settle in for the sit. This is where the similarities to meditating start: I try to empty out the dusty bits of the day (snatches of a song I can’t quite remember, I think of a joke I told that no one laughed at like four months ago, I ignore my tailbone already falling asleep, I wonder if mosquitoes are out, I think of the part I just read in my book which was about how ravens sometimes tell predators where prey is and maybe that’s why that crow is cawing above us???, I wonder about what day it is, I think of four questions to ask my Dad when we’re back at the ranch, I think about maybe going skeet shooting next week but then I’d have to leave Cedar so maybe not, I think about eating dinner…and on and on and on). As it turns out, it can take a while for the brain to settle down with the body. But it does, eventually, so that soon there’s a calm up there I find almost nowhere else. My head becomes full with the view of the forest, and I think with my ears and my eyes and my nose instead of my brain. A three-toed woodpecker lands in the tree just a few feet away from us, still as we are. He pecks a little at the bark, cheeps a little, then takes off like a feathered missile down below us. I can feel the night cooling as the sun sets (so natural and so foreign after the eclipse), I can hear the soft rustle of birds in the trees below us, I watch as the shadows lengthen across the field. It’s time the elk should be coming down if they’re coming at all.
The sun sets behind a smoke screen that turns the sky technicolor, and we get up and brush ourselves off. We’ll go glass the adobe road field before we leave, but the hunt is over for now—it’s too late to really shoot an elk anyway, the dying light taunting us as we search the surrounding ridges for any flicker of movement. There are only a few deer out there, blending into the brown, so we walk back to the ranch empty-handed but with clearer heads.
In a few more seasons, I want to hunt for elk under skies rendered narrow from the height of the ridgelines. I want steep country I have to walk all day in, I want to really earn my meat. I want to stalk, not ambush. I am heady and impatient, my father’s daughter through and through. Don’t get me wrong, this is meditating too, the same way chukar hunting is. It’s moving meditation, the brain lost to the effort of the body. Emptied out by exertion. I like my thoughts when I’m out like that, I like the way they all become about my motion and the motion of my dog and the motion of the birds.
But you know, I like this too. I like watching the small changes of the landscape as time inches by. I like turkey hunting, for the stillness. There is something about the practice of patience that expands me somehow, forces me to focus. It is good for me, to sit with myself. To flicker through all my thoughts until there’s nothing left. Then the hunt begins.