Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Outdoors Renews the Spirit

            Sometimes I think hunters use hunting as an excuse to get into the fields and woods.  If they said, “I think I will spend day after day out-of-doors,” many of their less outdoorsy friends and family members would wonder exactly what goes on in the woods or fields.  They might jump to incorrect conclusions just because they do not understand how time outside renews a person.

            The day after opening day of pheasant season reminded me of this.  At our house that weekend promises grueling workdays for my husband.  He leaves early in the morning and does not show up again until after dark.   While the girls and I do enjoy a pheasant hunt, as rank amateurs, we need an experienced hunter along. As a result, we entertain ourselves that weekend every year.
            This year’s opening weekend harbored beautiful skies, wonderful temperatures, and just enough breeze to dry sweat, but not enough to create problems.  Now, a die-hard pheasant hunter would have prayed for a light skiff of snow and chilly temperatures to cause the birds to bunch.  But, since I was not a die-hard pheasant hunter, I considered the day perfect.  My daughter and I joined all those folks marching through field after field in search of game.

            Not wanting to intrude on someone’s serious hunt, we followed the banks of Big Creek as it meandered away from the house.  Though it reached flood stage in August, it now flows gently toward the Smoky Hill.  However, signs of high water clung to trees and shrubs on either side of the bank.  I had seen it raging and foaming after that August week of heavy rain, and it was interesting to see what the waters had left behind as they receded.

            Denuded limbs and branches, the bark stripped away by the torrents, rested high in the forks of larger trees.  Their paleness stood out on such a bright day.  It looked like the first warm day of spring when folks shuck their winter duds for shorts and bathing suits at the lake. Tendrils of grass and other plant matter twined in and out of the marooned limbs and logjams, looking like an insane tailor had made a bad attempt at mending.

            Since it has not rained for a while, the creek waters sparkled clearly, revealing an underwater world I do not often see.  The moving waters have shifted the light colored sands at the creek’s bottom until they look like dunes in the Mojave or in Oklahoma or Eastern Colorado.  Or maybe upon more reflection, they look much like the layered hills bordering both the Smoky Hill and the Saline Rivers.  The erosive forces of water and wind offer amazingly similar results.  I imagine deep-sea divers find the same thing when they examine the bottom of the ocean. 

            Moving slowly in the current, tree roots assume a life of their own.  These thick and thin, short and long tendrils thread their way along the sandy bottom, sucking nutrients from the water and anchoring the tree to the earth as surely as any darning job holds a patch to an old pair of britches. 

            On the opposite creek bank where it had washed away in the last high water, I saw the lattice-work of tree root stitchery holding those trees and bushes on that side in place.  In a few locations, the cottonwoods and hackberries held on by only a root or two. The interlacing root system that I could not see added an amazing strength to the few I could see.  I felt like I had peeled back a layer of membrane to see the inner workings of the underground world.

            A few white sand beaches line the creek bank, making it look a little like a tropical island might in my imagination.  I like to pause and rest in these spots and listen to the slow moving water, the birds, the rustling of fallen leaves and dried grasses.  A few hardy crickets played a tune or two to add to the mood.  With the sun warming my skin, the hypnotic movement of the water and the roots swaying in it and the relaxing natural sounds, I could have melted into the sand and stayed in that spot forever.  All my concerns eased.  Surely my pulse slowed and my blood pressure dropped.  

I know why those hunters head for the fields every chance they get.  They enjoy the hunt, but I suspect they enjoy even more those moments when everything comes together in one place, where for just a minute or two nothing else exists in the world.  Humans and nature merge, and in that instant, unexplainable peace occurs.  I realize once again, sanctuary is not always found in a building. The outdoors person returns renewed, physically and spiritually.

Hunter or hiker, head for the fields.  You will not be sorry.

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