Time in the tree stand is about more than deer hunting
By Tim Sullivan
"But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:7-10).
Twenty-five feet. It’s not so very high up, barely even a third of the height of the mature male red mulberry that holds my tree stand. It grows along the edge of the South Cottonwood River not far from the farm of my friends Maynard Knepp and Carol Duerksen. Many days in the fall, from late September to the end of December, that’s how high I’ll be as I sit and wait and watch.
Bow season for deer has three distinct segments. Early season is green. Leaves are bright emerald, especially with the early morning sun filtering into the creek bottom or late in the evening as sunlight offers farewell to the woods.
Mid-season is gold. Leaves begin to yellow and loosen their grip. The trees give up their summer garb and strip to the nakedness of late fall. Eddies of wind play through the trees in the bottom, shaking the leaves loose in intermittent showers. I love to watch the glittering golden cascade. The quiet is broken by the frequent plunk of a hedge apple hitting the ground as osage orange trees grow tired and release the weight of the green knobby fruits that have been growing all summer.
My favorite is the late season white blanket into which God tucks his creation for occasional winter naps. I am amazed at how quiet swirling flakes and a downy soft coverlet of snow can make the world. Motors cease to hum and whine. Traffic noise is muted. The cattle on the Knepp farm either can’t be heard or have quit their lowing. Birds and mammals are hushed, waiting out the storm. It is a peace that I can’t find anywhere else.
From my tree stand, 25 feet up in that mulberry tree, I can see so many things. Brightly colored wood ducks quietly paddle along the creek. Turtles move upstream to the deeper holes where they will winter, buried in the mud. Raccoons and opossums forage in the leaves and shrubs, putting on a layer of insulation for the coming cold. A bobcat and her bob-kittens noiselessly stalk through the creek bottom, looking for an unsuspecting squirrel. Most have already spotted her and bark incessantly until she and her kits are long gone.
Oh, yes, occasionally, I see deer. But some years, like this one, that’s a rarity.
I hunt because we use the bounty God provides to sustain us through the year. But even if I didn’t, I would still love the quiet and peace that my little hideaway affords. It’s where the noise of my life—the phones, televisions, e-mails and faxes—can’t reach me. Those fade away and I am left with the silence and beauty of the creek-bottom woodlot.
It’s not a big wood, maybe 20 acres total snaking along the course of the creek. But it is where God comes to meet me, to sooth my hurt, encourage my heart and give peace to my restlessness. It is where he walks with me, talks with me and tells me that I am his own.
We need the meat for our freezer. Perhaps I need that woodlot even more desperately for my soul. Thank you, God, for my 25-foot hideaway.
Tim Sullivan, the Southern District Conference minister, enjoys hunting, fishing, bicycling and showing his six grandchildren the wonders of God’s creation. He and his wife, Donna, live in Wichita, Kan. This essay first appeared in Purpose, a publication of Mennonite Church USA.
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