Answering the call

SUNDAY, DEC. 20, 2009

I glare down at my walkie talkie. Not working. Again.

I groan quietly, and move the compound bow in my hands as I shove the radio back into my pocket.

I lean against the large pine behind me, gently placing my bow on the ground. The thick layer of snow beneath me crunches as I shift my feet, trying to keep my toes from freezing in my hunting boots.

I hold my gloved hands up to my face, breathing out a gust of warm air. My eyes scour the area for deer as I try to put some warmth back into my fingers. I shiver as a small chunk of snow falls from the tree above and slips down my jacket. I gaze at the thickness of the surrounding trees. Bare, pale branches, covered with a thin veil of snow, reach toward the sky, some brushing against the heavy-laden boughs of the pines.

The rising sun is causing crazy rainbows of color to be thrown off the ice-covered trees. I take a deep breath filled with tastes of pine and snow, bringing a clear freshness to my head.

I close my eyes as I lean my head back against the tree. Nothing is stirring, not even the birds are awake yet. For that matter, neither am I usually at this time. I glance at my watch. 6:30.

I close my eyes again and picture myself in the warm kitchen up at our hunting cabin, a cup of hot coffee in my hands. I see in my mind our little cabin, nestled sweetly in the mountains, a thin trail of smoke curling into the still dark air as my dad and I headed off this morning.

A loud crunch surprises me, and my eyes fly open. My body is instantly frozen as I behold a massive and unbelievable buck only a few yards away. My breath catches in my throat as I watch it calmly picking its way in my direction.

I stare, awestruck, at the incredible rack crowning its head. Two … four … six … twelve … fourteen points!

I feel myself getting dizzy from excitement, and my hands go up, but they’re not holding my bow! My gaze slowly slides down to the bow on the ground, leaning on the tree, right where I left it.

I slowly inch my hand down toward it, freezing every time the buck stops or glances my way. Inch…freeze…inch. My cold fingers finally wrap around it, grasp it harder, and slowly pull it back to me.

I slide an arrow from my quiver, stopping dead as they knock together. The buck glances up sharply. I stop breathing. We stand there for what seems like forever, me barely breathing and not moving, him tilting his head and taking deep breaths in the air. He finally looks down, spotting something worth munching.

I breathe out in sections while slowly lifting my bow and arrow into position. The buck starts moving again, getting closer with every heart-stopping second. I draw back, ready to release at any second. My breathing speeds up, my arms trembling. As I’m about to release – my walkie talkie gives a shrill blast.

The deer and I both jump, my arrow glancing off a nearby tree, the deer bounding off through the snow.

With shaking hands I draw out the walkie talkie. “Yes?”

“Hey Hon, I think you can start making your way down towards the river, then up to the cabin,” my dad’s voice crackles out from the speaker.

“’Kay, sure,” I mumble, still staring toward where the buck had been.

If only I’d been faster, if only I’d been holding my bow in the first place, if only the dumb walkie talkie ….

I shake my head. No point now.

A single bird breaks into song as I pass under its tree, and I smile. I can see the deer’s trail leading off in the other direction as I pass the place where he’d been standing. I tilt my head back and stare at the gradually brightening sky.

Then I smile as I pick up my arrow from the ground and tuck it back into its container. I can’t wait to tell Dad about this as I set off plodding in the snow, leaving behind a trail of footprints and tracks proving a truly magical moment.

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