Learning what I'm capable of, the hard way.
At age 33, I decided that it was time for a new hobby: bow hunting. This is how I found myself decked out in what amounted to really expensive floral-patterned pajamas, skulking around in the woods of the northern Bridgers, looking to pick a fight with some innocent animal. Now in Montana, there's a requirement that all new bow hunters, of any age, pass an extensive course before they’re allowed to get tags. And this is why I was skulking around the woods of the northern Bridger’s in really expensive floral-patterned pajamas looking to pick a fight with some innocent animal without a weapon.
I don’t really know why I decided to take up bow hunting; probably a mix of wanting to provide for my five-year-old son and frustration over my demeaning department-store job. For some reason, I figured I might as well pursue it in its most difficult form right off the bat, so I bought myself a recurve bow with a 50-pound draw. That’s the equivalent of taking up basketball and only shooting three-pointers. To shoot a recurve bow with any accuracy, one must be almost on top of the animal, 20-30 yards tops, unless you’re incredibly good. The holes in the wall of my garage surrounding my target indicate that I am not incredibly good.
Now since I couldn’t actually shoot the bow at an animate object until I was licensed, I decided to master the art of the stalk, or, hunting. Hunting really is its own beast, its own form. It's different than all the other outdoor activities I partake in. With biking, hiking, or climbing, I have the sense that I'm in an environment. With hunting, I'm attempting to become it. To be absorbed by it to the point that I become unnoticeable to it, knowing that only then will anything actually reveal itself to me.
So there I was, moving through the woods excruciatingly slowly. I accounted for each step, each movement. I found myself almost hypnotized by my surroundings. It was as though, cheesy as this sounds, I was outside myself, or rather fully enveloped within myself. All I know for sure is that I began to feel as though I was being allowed in, reluctantly.
The hidden world of the forest came to life around me. If I had been biking or hiking I would without question have gone right by the moose without even noticing her. But I was hunting, so I didn’t. She was a big ol' girl, just lying in the long grass about eight feet away. Immediately my entire body seized up. A small, baby-bird-like sound, barely audible, escaped my lips. "Eeeeeep."
The moose just laid there looking at me as though she couldn’t really figure out what I was. In that moment, all my ambitions about entering the woods to do battle with the mighty beasts of the shadows and leaving the concurring hero escaped on the wind of that meager little “eeeep.” Instead, visions of me lying in the shrubs with a collapsed lung invaded my hubris and an embarrassing reality occurred to me. Even if I had had a weapon and the legal right to pick a fight, I most certainly wouldn't have had the gall, because neither a weapon nor my enormous frontal lobe could change the reality that my keester being stomped by this creature was high on the list of likely outcomes, and this terrified me. When my mind finally allowed my body some movement, I slowly edged away from the moose. She watched me all the way out of sight, that confused look never leaving her face. I got back to the forest-service road and spent the remainder of the morning wandering its relative security.
When I divulged this story to a few hunter friends of mine over a couple of beers, they were very understanding. They informed me that moose are big, dangerous animals that should be feared. They didn’t go as far as to say that moose should be capable of making grown men involuntarily emit sounds resembling those of baby birds, but they were understanding just the same.
Now that I know I can't kill a moose, I have absolutely no idea what I am capable of, and that’s a hard way for a 33-year-old man with a five-year-old son and a demeaning department-store job to live.