Like many other winter nights I find myself leaving the woods alone, long after darkness has enveloped the forest. As I walk with quiet strides it soothes my soul to hear the coyotes and owls begin their nightly routines. Their sounds are like the voices of old friends as they carry far through the timber on the cold thin night air. My breath appears before me in the dark as millions of foggy crystals visible only by the moonlight that washes over this field.
My lungs savor the fall air. On the frosty breeze I catch wind of a distant fireplace burning. It stops me in my tracks and instinctively I inhale deeply and purposefully. The mixture of the cold air, the smell of a wood burning fire, and the scent of the woods filling my lungs invigorates me and generates a new bit of energy that quickens my pulse as I stand perfectly still taking it all in.
As I walk across these woods, fields, and dirt roads that lead me back to my truck I wonder with some small bit of sadness how long this will last. Every year I see the crops planted. I walk through high beans on summer scouting trips. Then during hunting season, after the crops have been harvested, I walk unhindered across those same fields that are now bare. The yearly cycle of harvest has been completed. It is a stark reminder to me that time indeed marches on.
The deer I hunt know these same fields. They use them for sustenance. They watch the same cycle as I do year after year, growth and harvest. I too rely on these fields for sustenance and if I'm lucky I'll take a deer from these fields; a deer that will feed my family. A deer that will have completed its own cycle of growth and harvest.
So here I am, stopped in my tracks on a chilly autumn bean field remembering hunts from my past. Captivated by my surroundings I reflect on friends and family that I've hunted with and the wonderful times we've had pursuing game over these very fields. Frozen in the moonlight the memories rush through my mind as fluidly as the air into my lungs. The tree line in the distance is nothing more than a jumble of dark shapeless shadows, black upon black set against a clear dark-blue sky...but my memories run in color and I can recall every detail of every animal we've taken here as if it happened only moments ago.
I catch wind of that fireplace again, it snaps me back to reality and I realize that I've grown old hunting these fields...and that eventually my own cycle will be completed. Yes indeed it saddens me to think that eventually I will no longer wander these woods feeling very much alive and free. The thought of death itself doesn't bother me...it's the thought of losing this feeling of peace...of freedom...of solitude...of life.
Ultimately I decide it's just part of the grand scheme of things. So I start my walk back to the truck feeling strangely reassured as I shrug off the cold. I'll go home to my family tonight and thank God for the life I've been given. I'll also cherish every day that I get to spend in these woods for I know that eventually...it will end.