I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 10-years-old, struggling with the concept of life. We were living in Germany and I was having a tough time in school and at home. I hated myself, I hated the situation I was in, and frankly, I hated living. Day after day I contemplated ending my life, and Lord knows I tried. But then, there you were. I had previously thought nothing of your time spent in the woods, only that it was your way of escaping the hustle and bustle of the secular things. I thought it was exclusive to you, until the day you asked me to join you. To this day, I am still unsure if you knew the effect that the woods would have on me. Perhaps it was just coincidence that you asked me to join you during the most troubling time in my life. Or perhaps it was God? I’ll assume the latter.
That first day in the woods, I sat catatonic, not a single movement or sound escaping my body. I was rendered speechless as we sat side-by-side just listening and watching, perfectly content with the unusual silence. For the first time in my life I prayed without being forced to. I sat there and had a conversation with God about the life I hated. That day, I became the reflective, introspective, and analytical person that friends know me as today. That day, I decided I wanted to live. We didn’t see a single animal out there….and I was hooked.
Over the course of my adolescent and teenage years, we came home empty-handed more often than we came home with dinner. When we were lucky enough to get a kill, you made sure that I understood what the kill was about. Providing food was our end game, not bragging rights, and certainly not mounts on a wall. You taught me to appreciate hunting for its entirety, not for the end result. You taught me to be thankful for each day we were able to sit out in the woods, enjoying nature around us and taking in the serenity of it all.
Here we are, 15 years later, and we don’t agree on much. We have our battles of who is right and who is wrong; you still say I’ll understand when I’m older and I still say you’re just an old man. But, there is one thing we will never disagree on. We will never disagree on the matter of what hunting is all about. It’s personal, spiritual, and it’s a way to connect with God, family, and the earth. Your dad just recently passed away and it was he who taught you how to hunt as a small child. I thank him for passing that love onto you, and subsequently me. It truly is a tradition that is meant to be passed on through the generations.
“If it flies, it dies. If it’s brown, it’s down.” –Wayne Vail, father, grandfather, and hunter. RIP.