Back Into the World

I could feel it washing over me on the drive home from elk camp on Sunday afternoon.

The last day of November had dawned cold and clear, one of those sparkling mornings that come magically after unsettled days of snow and wind and plunging temperatures. On such mornings, we knew that elk would linger longer on the high open slopes where grass still pokes through the windblown and crusty snow and they can feel the welcome warmth of the sun. But thoughts of elk were fleeting for Sparky and me that morning. Our hunt was over for the year.

We did not arise in the dark and wolf down our breakfast before heading off a couple of hours before sunrise as we had on every other day that had begun for us in that canvas wall tent this hunting season. Instead, we took our time and enjoyed an extra cup of coffee, then began to methodically dismantle the camp that had been our home away from home for the preceding five weeks.

I am always surprised that we can get our entire camp setup into one pickup when the time comes to take things home. During the season, it seems to me that each week, there is more stuff in and around the tent because everyone who comes deposits a few new items to make the place just a bit homier. But, once again this year, we managed to get everything into the truck, albeit with little room to spare.

Okay, I do have to admit that this might not have been true this year had fate not intervened regarding Sparky’s very nice, but not compact, shower pavilion. The shower was fairly elaborate for a rustic camp like ours, and the pallet used for a base, the corrugated roof, and the seven-foot frame made for a bulky load. However, a couple of weeks ago, a particularly nasty wind visited our camp one day while we were out on the hunt. What was left of the shower on our return—lots of jagged shards of wood from the frame, a torn tarp flapping in the wind, and the pallet and the roof, all separated—suggested that the thing had nearly exploded. So, the parts of the shower that didn’t end up in the wood stove went home from camp earlier in the season.

A bit after noon on Sunday, Sparky and I headed down the road toward home, our hunting season behind us.

There was a time, a long time, in fact, when I experienced an acute sense of melancholy when the big game hunting season came to an end. We sometimes referred to it as the After Hunting Season Blues. I think it had to do with the weeks and months of anticipation that preceded hunting season, combined with the few short weeks of feeling the need to be out in the hills and on the hunt every possible moment, along with the intensity of paying close attention to EVERYTHING around you during those hours and days in the hills. When that was suddenly over, I faced a period of readjustment to shift gears and put it all behind for another ten or eleven months.

I said there was a time because I don’t feel that way any longer when hunting season comes to a close. Last Sunday, what I felt washing over me was something nearly the opposite of those After Hunting Season Blues. Instead, it was almost a feeling of relief, or at least of satisfaction, that I was heading home and back into the real world.

I am keenly aware of the perception among some of my friends and those who are nearest and dearest that I have demonstrated a habit of sort of checking out of daily life when hunting season rolls around. I admit that for many years I probably sacrificed much in my personal life and asked others to accommodate me to satisfy the yearning to be on the hunt.

Today, I am here to tell you that things have changed. I still have the passion to get out in the hills during the wonderful days of autumn and be part of the ancient tradition of the hunt. Those days are rich and rewarding, and the experiences shared with friends are the basic stuff of feeling alive. But these days, when the hunt is over I no longer experience that melancholy or symptoms of withdrawal. Instead, it’s a strange and delicious sense of satisfaction and calm that settles in.

That’s what I felt washing over me as Sparky and I drove home last week. In all directions, bright snowfields capped the distant ridges and the hills looked to be newly quiet and peaceful. Once we stopped to glass a promontory where a gang of elk grazed and basked in the late sun. Seeing them, I began to imagine stepping into my skis and visiting some of those high snowy places in the weeks and months ahead, where I, too, could bask in the sun and gaze off at distant peaks and valleys.

Later last Sunday, back at home, I unfolded a piece of paper my neighbor Jean had left in my door a few days earlier. It was a clipping from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader with the headline: “Good raspberry crop depends on thinning.”

Today, I am just happy to announce to friends who might have missed me over the last few weeks that I am back in the world and happy to be here. And, yes Jean, thanks for the reminder that I still need to thin my tangled raspberries.

There will be plenty of time for things like that now.








  1. Excited to have you back in the world … the blog looks great!

  2. Great post. Now I’m thinking of raspberries.

    Wish you’d post a photo of Elk camp.

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