The cold, grey November woods

by LW Oakley
(Kingston, Ontario)

You are often alone, silent and still while hunting in the cold, grey November woods.

Being alone with your thoughts in a dark secretive place gradually heightens your sense of awareness.

You see leaves flickering gold and red and yellow as a gentle breeze passes through the trees above you. You hear leaves rustling as a gust of wind ripples across a swamp and moves unseen into the timeless woods around you. And you smell leaves rotting in the wet earth beneath you, returning to it, as you will one day, to rise again, which you will not.

Eventually you focus on your own existence. You hear yourself thinking and breathing and moving, and see yourself standing still and blending in, as if you’re looking on from a distance because the woods and the world no longer have a hold on you. Now you hold them. Just like in the palm of your hand.

Then you wonder what makes you think and see and feel this way. It’s not because you are in the cold, grey November days of your life. It’s because you are responding to the big woods that surround you.

The old woods were there long before you entered them. They are indifferent to your presence because they will be there long after you are gone. Despite that indifference the sacred woods can become a source of strength and inspiration.

At first you didn’t realize the impact that the changing woods had on you. But from the beginning you felt something inside the way others did before you.

Then you figured it out. It was simple really and it made you smile. You realized why the great woods were so important – because they made you feel alive.

At that moment you knew you would always return to the vanishing woods. And when you disappeared deeper and deeper into them other thoughts emerged from deep inside you.

There are some thoughts that are so elusive that you can’t just think them. Those thoughts are inside us all. They’re waiting to be discovered. You have to sink down and coax them to the surface. You have to feel them first.

When you feel a thought like that it speaks to you. It speaks in your words with your voice. And you hear it too since you say what you’re thinking out loud. Because even the sound makes you feel good.

This is what it sounds like. “I feel alive and I feel free because I hunt in the living woods.”

Hunting makes you feel alive and free when it becomes a way of life. You understand wild animals, respect hunting rituals, enjoy camp life, and are at home in the primal woods.

Hunting makes you feel alive and free when it becomes a state of mind connecting you to the past, all the way back, to the beginning, when our first great ancestor climbed down from a tree, stood upright, and walked out across the grassy plains, hungry and afraid.

A friend once told me about his father who hunted and shot wild boar illegally in Hungary with the gamekeeper on the estate of the former Prince Esterhazy. That was during the darkest communist years of the early 1950s when it was a crime to own a gun and hunt. “That’s why the first thing he bought himself in Canada was a shotgun.”

Hunting is an expression of freedom. That freedom has taught me to remember, and be grateful to those responsible for the right to choose.

Hunting has taught me to remember that millions of young men and women poured out their blood and tears in two world wars so people would be free to think, speak, and write what they feel and believe.

Non hunters will be happy to know that many hunters fly Canadian flags at their hunting camps. They also wear poppies on their orange hunting hats and coats in the cold, grey November woods.

Unlike other countries around the world, in Canada, I am free to hunt, though many, if given the chance, would gladly take away my right to be free inside the unforgettable woods.

LW Oakley lives in Kingston and is the author of Inside The Wild, which is available at the publisher’s website www.gsph.com

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