The cold air slapped me awake. It was frigid but calm with no wind. A perfect morning. I looked around, searching for movement, but saw and heard nothing. Walking briskly in the twilight, I headed for the garden shed where I’d fashioned a blind behind the garden cages and tomato stakes. I sank heavy into my chair, pulled up my collar, and placed my rifle on my lap. I looked up at the dark sky, pierced with a single bright star above me, and waited for the sun to rise and reveal something that I was not sure would actually appear.
Such has been my morning ritual during these past ten days of Advent. And each evening, I have repeated a similar version. I have hunted since I was a young girl: squirrel, grouse, dove, but never deer. Never, that is, until these past ten days.
When I was younger, I never wanted to hunt deer for one very simple reason. I hated to wait. All the other animals I’d ever hunted didn’t require the kind of waiting and patience that deer hunting requires. For years, the thought of sitting day after day in one spot, remaining nearly motionless, seemed torturous. I didn’t have time for that. I didn’t have the discipline for that. Let other people deer hunt, I thought. Patiently sitting in the cold for hours at a time, waiting for something that might not happen, was definitely not for me. So instead, I walked under trees to spook a squirrel, bashed through the brush to jump a grouse, and paced the corn rows to stir up flocks of dove. Back then, movement defined my style of hunting. It defined my style of life. In those days, I took pride in making things happen, not waiting for things to happen, and that included how I hunted.
But today, I am content with sitting quietly in the darkness, waiting. Perhaps it is because I am older. Perhaps it is because I have learned that a lot of life happens while you are waiting for something else.
During this past week, in those hours of stillness while I lay in wait for a deer to cross into my sight, I’ve had the privilege of watching another morning ritual unfold in the forest. Spurred by the first rays of morning light, the crows would fly from their perch and circle above me with their raucous wake-up calls. Back and forth they’d fly, circling just above the trees so than none would oversleep. I watched as the bundle of dry leaves in the crook of the large oak tree next to me shimmied and shook just before a bushy-tailed gray squirrel popped his head out and scampered onto the closest limb to greet the day. He would sit there for a moment, preening his fur, and then he would follow the limbs to another tree nearby, where he would roust his friend, and together the two of them would leap from tree to tree, playing tag until they reached the forest floor, where they searched for acorns and played keep-away under the hemlock boughs. The Carolina wren would awake and take over where the crows left off, singing his incessant piercing rattling chorus of buzzes and trills as he bounced nervously from branch to branch in a nearby brush pile. In the distance, I heard the haunting “whoo whoo whoo” of a great-horned owl, and I spotted the first brown creeper I’ve seen this season stealthily climbing up the trunk of a poplar tree, hoping to go unnoticed. So much life around me, and yet, I would have noticed none of it were I not waiting for something else.
As I sat during those many hours, watching this forest scene unfold, I reflected too upon the many other Advents that I have spent waiting for something, not knowing if it would ever come. The things I’ve always wanted most in life are the things I’ve had to wait for the longest. Sometimes they came. Sometimes, they didn’t. One year, it was a visit two days after Christmas Day from the man I’d fallen in love with for which I waited. I’d been waiting for ten years for him to come into my life, and that particular Advent before his visit was filled with anticipation. And there have been many Advents during our years of marriage, during which we have waited for an answer to our ongoing prayers for children, including two Advents during which we waited to see if the life growing inside of me would live or die. So much waiting.
As the sun went down tonight, deer hunting season here closed for another year. Ten days, morning and evening, patiently waiting, and I had nothing to show for it. There would be no venison tender loin for Christmas dinner this year. No deer meat in the freezer to enjoy on the grill this summer.
I stood up, folded my chair, and walked back toward the house. The smell of wood smoke drifted in the air and I knew that it meant a warm fire was burning in our woodstove. The night sky wrapped around me like a blanket and I could see the golden glow of the Christmas lights shining from the windows of my home, beckoning me. I walked toward them, feeling defeated but finding comfort in knowing that what I once hunted for was inside. Waiting for me.