While bow hunters have been in search of deer in Wisconsin’s woods for months, the state’s gun deer season kicks off this weekend.
For some people, hunting is more than bagging a buck. It’s also about being outdoors, appreciating your surroundings and making connections with the land….including the trees. Ron Weber tells us about pair of cottonwoods…two trees he considers his hunting partners.
It was a route I’d walked a thousand times. Time had erased the pictures hanging in my mind and replaced them with new scenes. I was on my way to visit with a couple old friends after 25 years.
The trail passed through a stand of aspen and red maple that were no more than teens the last time I’d seen them. The forest before me abruptly ended in a sea of ten-foot tall aspens, products of a recent clear-cut. Picking my way through the thick aspens, I thought back to when I first passed this way.
I was 13 when my older brother Gary asked me to go up north to hunt. As the roads became smaller, bumpier and less frequented by houses, I knew we must be getting close. We climbed into our camo clothes, slung our tree stands over our shoulders, grabbed our bows, and set off.
Gary guided me to a 16-inch thick cottonwood, which stood near an exact replica of itself. I secured my stand around the slightly furrowed trunk.
As the dark relinquished its hold on the forest, I could hardly contain my excitement. My senses were in overdrive as I swiveled my head to every leaf rustle only to see, at best, a squirrel. At 7:30, I heard crunching and knew it was definitely something big walking. As the deer materialized out of the swamp, my whole body shook. Though the two does slipped quietly away without ever realizing my presence, I knew that Gary would always have a hunting partner.
The swamp edge was now visible through the saplings. Then, almost magically, there they were: twin cottonwoods on the edge of a vast swamp. I was elated to find them so seemingly well.
I ran my hand over the deeply furrowed bark looking for initials I’d carved one glorious October day during my college years, but found nothing. Remnants of green paint hinted that perhaps the forester who set up the clear-cut also sensed their special character and marked them as leave trees.
“Why was I here?” suddenly popped into my mind. Maybe I was just trying to revisit my past or hoping to find that some things don’t have to change. No, I was there to visit two old friends. It was that simple. They could never be “just trees.”
These two had shared so much with me.
Their stout trunks had cradled me and protected me from icy winds and driving snow.
They’d watched hundreds of sunrises and sunsets with me.
They’d listened to my thoughts and help affirm decisions.
They’d seen me grow from a gangly novice to an accomplished hunter.
The day before my wedding, I’d spent the morning with them dreaming of what lay ahead.
In my book, that is a friend.
I pulled my knife intent on leaving a mark as I’d done long ago but realized there was no need. What we shared was much deeper than any mark I could make. Like Gary, who had since passed, they were my hunting partners. They were old now and I knew that age or wind could make this the last time we gathered. That realization comes at some point for all old friends and hunting partners.
As I turned to leave, I thought of Gary and wished he was there. Maybe he was. I hoped whatever heaven was, that trees be there. If so, I knew of twin cottonwoods that would be waiting for me.
Song: “Careless Morning” by Glacier Quartet- Araby from Blue Dot Sessions