hunting · motherhood · Travel

The Fifth Day

People associate emotional healing with bad experiences. It turns out, though, that the positives can require recovery, too. The accomplishment of something enormous, or the overwhelming relief and gratitude of a spiritual tank refill — not just a pitcher, a TANK — are like beautiful, indelible tattoos.

The experience initially brings excitement, joy, but then: soreness. Oozing. Peeling. Itching. It requires care and tenderness, but eventually there it is, this etching of the seismic shift that has taken place within us.

For me, that realization came as a shock. After my transformative experience, I oozed, I peeled, I got red around the edges. I felt isolated and impotent. I wanted to speak, but words of any significance wouldn’t come. I wondered if they ever would, and wasn’t even certain if I cared.

But time worked its magic. I woke up one morning and went for a run. And each step I took scraped away the lie that I was all alone, that this discomfort was permanent.

I realized that sharing is healing. Healing is sharing.

So here is my sharing.

**********

The alarm trilled at five a.m. The past four days had felt ordained by God. We — myself, my husband Adam, our two daughters, and our dog — had arrived at our rental cabin in Ruidoso, New Mexico safe and sound, as had Adam’s parents. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly two years, and the reunion couldn’t have been sweeter. I knew that our girls would be in more than capable hands while Adam and I chased mule deer bucks.

We were there to hunt.

The weather was phenomenal. Clear, calm, cool. We hunted morning and evening. Hiking up and down ridges, along trails, through oak brush, the scent of pine needles permeating the air, I felt something open inside me. The cord that is the responsibility of motherhood, that can get so tight at times, began to loosen. Boots on my feet, pack on my back, rifle on my shoulder, wilderness around me, I felt strong. I felt buoyant and capable. Like I had just molted old, tired skin.

Adam and I returned every evening to our cabin happy to see our family, and they were happy to see us. Every time we went out, we enjoyed each other’s company and our surroundings.

The only thing those four days didn’t yield was a legal buck for me to shoot. We saw does aplenty, a couple of bucks that were too young, even some elk. But that was it.

On the fourth night, our girls had trouble sleeping, and that five-o’clock alarm was not welcome whatsoever. I felt like I had wet sand in my brain. But Adam, God love him, said, “Let’s go get a deer,” and led the charge into the morning.

A short time later, camouflaged and caffeinated, we were climbing a trail in the shadows of first light. I’d be lying if I said I still felt that first-day eagerness. My legs ached and I was prepared to call this a fruitless but great hunt.

But then.

Adam paused, and motioned for me to be still. He whispered, “There’s deer up there. About 60 yards.” Sure enough, there weren’t just deer but a legal buck. Barely so, with exactly one fork in his antlers, but legal nonetheless.

Ever since I started hunting a few years ago, I’d wondered how I would react if given the chance to actually shoot a deer. I hadn’t ever done it; the biggest game I’d shot thus far was a squirrel. Would I hesitate?

In the end, there was no uncertainty. Putting in the work of the hunt those first few days, dwelling in it, made me want. To. Do this. To accomplish the task I’d set out to do, to succeed.

There were also the immediate logistics. There were no trees close enough to lean against or logs to support me. The terrain dictated that I would take this shot from a standing position, pack remaining on my back so as not to spook the deer by removing it. Not ideal, but there wasn’t time to complain — I was too busy looking through my rifle scope to ensure I was looking at the right deer, that he was legal, and that I could take a good shot.

By the grace of God, those deer just kept on grazing.

I aimed, breathed, steadied myself. I’m not sure how many times I did that.

Finally, I exhaled and squeezed the trigger.

And nothing. I had left the safety on!

A succinct, soft curse, maybe a grunt of amusement, and I corrected that.

I repeated the process.

This time, the gun fired. I saw the buck leap and, per my training, immediately chambered another round. There was no need for it. I had shot him through the lungs.

“You got him!” whisper-cheered my husband.

**********

And slowly, ever since, it has been tattooing itself into me. The overdue quality time with my husband, with nature, with my incredible in-laws. The challenge and the beauty. The build-up and realization of harvesting my first mule deer, of procuring meat for my family.

The tattoo hasn’t fully healed yet. But I know it’s a good one.

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