One of my blog friends wrote a fun piece about “peeping”, where you drive around when the foliage changes and take in the gorgeous colors and drying air of autumn. In the high Colorado Rockies where I was reared, the only ones you heard use the term peeping were transplanted yankees working or studying at the local college, famous for taking students who couldn’t get into a better college.
We had ‘turning’ season where the groves of quacking aspen would all turn golden yellow at the same moment. The exact time was a combination of dryness, shortening of days and cooler temperatures. Aborealists say it has more to do with the available daylight than it does with the temperature, so some years the first frost came too soon, and the turning was disappointing. The leaves would turn brown and fall. But in other years, it was mystical. You could hear the soft applause of leave as the morning winds would rattle the leaves, and a hushed peace would settle on the land.
In rare years, hunting season would arrive at the same time, and so many of us equated the turning with hunting. In later years, the ever-wise legislators decided that hunters and tourists was not a good mix, and moved deer season a bit further into the year. But then, there weren’t so many tourists and one could stake out a good hunting ground quite easily.
The last time I went deer hunting was one of those magical years when walking into an aspen glad was like walking into gold. I found a small meadow where I could sit on a rock outcropping and observe the entire meadow, and silently huddled into a small ball for warmth, and waited as the sun climbed rose. Then he silently appeared. A six-point buck.
I smoothly raised the 30-06 to eye height, found him in the reticule of the scope, and picked a spot just back from the shoulder blade, and fired. The buck gave a hop, then stopped, and I debated taking another shot, but he didn’t move for a long time. Then he laid down and rolled over. I rose, oddly shaking with excitement and stiffness from sitting still, and cautiously approached him, using the barrel to poke at his eyelid. It was a clean kill.
I stood there in the golden glade, letting the adrenalin dissipate before starting to prepare him, and a question arose in my mind. “Why did you do this?” The bucks lifeless eye seemed to stare at me for that eternity.
“Great kill!” Orrie shouted as he broke through the underbrush. He had heard the shot and came to help me dress the buck out, and we got started on it. But the gold had vanished from the woods, the clapping hands were silent. It was just a meadow in the woods and the magic was gone. It never came back for me, and I see the accusing eye of that buck in my dreams.
I am not against hunting. If my family needed food and I needed to kill to get it, I could, and I would. Without hesitation. But I knew this buck was a senseless kill. I didn’t need the meat. At that time, I didn’t even own a freezer. As it turned out, I never tasted the meat of that buck. I gave it all away, sold the rifle, and left the country for city life.
Today when I look at a picture of a golden glade, the numinous feel is gone. I killed the unicorn.