I’ve been pretty surprised with how surprised I’ve been lately.
First has been the early afternoon darkness after daylight saving time. Despite growing up in Klawock and this being my sixth winter since moving back to Alaska, it’s apparently still shocking that it gets dark early. The worst part is that daylight will give to darkness for another month so again, how is this so jarring?
I guess something can be said for the elimination of useful hours for outdoor recreation, which is why we live in Alaska. You can spend daylight hours inside on a couch anywhere. So maybe it’s not so much the fact that it’s getting darker but that the season of recreation is changing. We’re entering the Weekend Warrior season which will last until spring which is so many feet of precipitation from now.
Gone are the opportunities to set some pots, fly fish the creeks, or go for a run in the morning sun before work. Gone also are the long afternoons and lazy evenings that allow just enough time for a circuit in the muskegs or beaches for a buck.
This then leads to the second of my surprises – the intensity of my weekend despair.
Friday night at book club my buddy motioned me to the kitchen to share a picture of a huge buck taken on the Ketchikan road system. He didn’t tell me where, and I didn’t ask because the big buck that used to live there is now dead.
This morning a student of mine showed me a picture of a 3×4 buck he called into a tiny muskeg. Ten minutes before that a different student showed me a buck of a lifetime – thick forks that forked again to form one of the heaviest set of antlers I have seen.
I saw rubs, fresh pellets, warm beds and exactly one doe during my two days in the woods over the weekend. I spent every ounce of daylight lurking in the forest and around muskegs for a replacement for store-bought meat and found none. I’ve hunted every weekend but one since I took my first buck of the year – in August.
The surprise comes not from the need to visit the meat department at the grocery store, but that I really thought I could throw enough hours at it and be rewarded. That the universe would respect my diligence and make a buck cross my path, or a buck itself would give up its life so I wouldn’t have to write the “a bad day hunting is better than a good day working” column.
Nonsense. I’m not owed anything. So, the surprising thing is how I allowed myself to get frustrated not only knowing intellectually that the variables in hunting make it quite possible to not be successful, but having experienced it last spring with searching for grouse with my .22, every season with steelhead, and last year with bucks.
There is a very real possibility that in spite of everyone saying, “You’ll get one” that I won’t. If my hours were at-bats, I’d have the batting average of a little leaguer leading off for the Yankees. It’s surprising that I’d waste time worrying about things like that.
I can’t wait to get out again this weekend, not because I am going to prove myself to anyone, or that I am due, or anything like that, but because I really do love being out there.
After all, missing a deer is better than missing the point.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.