Heaven on earth in the deer woods

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. – John Lubbock

 

Recently I had the delight of speaking with a dear friend from Florida. Larry, has been a spiritual friend for many years, and though we don’t communicate with each other often, and didn’t see each other much even when we lived in the same city (except during a period when I was “self-employed” and seeing Larry regularly for Polarity Therapy sessions); we honor each other’s holistic journey and call each other “God Friend.”

We spoke of many things on our recent phone call, catching up and giving support; but when I shared my journey in nature here in Kansas, and my faith in G-d’s mission of service here at Fort Riley, Larry shared his feeling of awe at my story. He excitedly exclaimed that he felt inspired by my story to widen his experience in the natural world, and to get outside more often. After we completed our telephonic catch-up, I sent a video to Larry via Messenger of three bucks hanging out in the woods taken by my Moultrie game camera, as a visual aid of the joy I feel in the woods. Larry likened it to my own, private piece of Heaven on earth, stating, “You are my new standard for expanding the size of the circle of my life here in Southwest Florida.”

My friend summed up my experience in the woods perfectly; it is indeed a personal piece of Heaven on earth. Out in nature, especially in the “deer woods” at dawn and dusk, I am centered, calm and at peace. Whether I’m hunting, or just Being, I am filled with a sense of oneness with All That Is. It is this core connection to the spirit of the wild (hope Ted Nugent doesn’t mind my borrowing his phrase) that allows me to sit in wonder like a child, quite literally giddy at the sight of a deer, and to focus as a hunter within the circle of life.

In Kansas, on private property, we are allowed to bait; placing food that temps wildlife to hang out for a nosh. Although there is always the hope that the right creatures will decide to nosh at just the right time, affording a shot at a harvest, I like to provide for the wildlife for other reasons as well. I feel good providing sustenance to deer, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and the like. I imagine foraging is a difficult task at times, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate to grow the yummy greens and berries that are favored; but then it is said that G-d provides for all creatures great and small. So, what’s to say that my choice to lie food out isn’t part of that greater plan…? I also enjoy the videos and still photos my Moultrie game cameras provide when the wildlife partakes of the food I set out. I am fascinated by watching animal behavior, especially deer, when they’re just being themselves. Lastly, I consider it a form of offering; a tasty message of gratitude to Life for existing and letting me be part of it. Though we are all alive, how many of us truly live? And of those, how many experience Life outside of the world created by Man; in the natural world created by G-d…?

With those three reasons in mind, I decided to make a small food plot on my friend John’s property. I’ve been laying deer corn out, initially to tempt the squirrels (Do you ever notice that if you leave food for deer, squirrels and raccoons eat it; but if you leave food for critters, deer eat it?) for some critter hunting, but I saw that three of the buck boys, who came in a bachelor herd of 12 when it snowed this past winter, have been perusing the corn. Normally I buy two 40 lb bags of corn; at about $7 a bag, every 1-2 weeks… that can get expensive, and painful for a somewhat physically challenged almost-56-year-old. And as tasty as apple flavored corn is, and filling, it’s not the most nutritional choice of snack food. So, I ordered some clover seeds from Home Depot, and when they arrived at the store and I went to pick them up, I also purchased a hoe and a cultivator. The area I wanted to plant also has a nasty batch of poison sumac, so I bought a garden sprayer to mix up a vinegar water blend to spray on the sumac. My research indicated that vinegar water kills poison sumac.

On Saturday, June 16th, I went out with my sprayer and dosed the sumac. According to the YouTube video I watched, death should come to the plant in about 2-3 days. I went back last night, June 22nd, to pull up the “dead” sumac, and it was very much alive, save for the browning tips of some leaves. None-the-less; armed with long rubber dish washing gloves (the glamorous kind with cheetah spots), wearing surgical gloves underneath them, I liberated the entire area of poison sumac. Having developed an urushiol oil rash on my buttocks my first year of hunting, not knowing what it was, what it looked like, or that I was sitting on it, I’ve come to truly despise poison sumac and its urushiol oil. Yet I found myself somewhat impressed with its survivability as I attempted to pull one plant after another by the root, only to have the root unearthed and multiple feet long, connecting plants from one area to plants in another area. I can only guess that over time the poison sumac plant has adapted and learned how to thrive in an environment where some among the wildlife (humans particularly) want it dead.

Last night I filled a 30-gallon garbage bag with poison sumac and assorted weeds, cleared most of the fallen limbs and twigs out of the area and prepared it for my farming this morning. Mid-morning, after a hearty breakfast, I tasked my hoe and cultivator to get rid of the rest of the weeds, more of the sumac root, and to level out the small area I planned to plant. Then, with John’s antique push tiller, I tilled the area twice. Finally, after over an hour of sweating, I laid down the seeds. Having watched The Bucks of Tecomate, I naturally had purchased Tecomate seeds; King Ladino White Clover for summer and Brassica Banquet seed mix for autumn. Other than knowing one must work their tush off to prepare the soil, I don’t know the first thing about food plots (I glean just enough from Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel to think I can do it) but knew I wasn’t going to go through all of this again seasonally; so, put the autumn seeds down first, and the summer seeds on top of them. Then I covered the seeds with dirt in the hopes it really does rain tomorrow and Monday. My thought, accuracy unknown, is that the white clover will grow first while the autumn clover germinates, and then it’ll pop up as the summer clover dies down. Honestly, I have no idea if that’s how it goes… but any way it works out, as long as clover grows, and flourishes through September and maybe October, it will have been a successful adventure. And if the deer genuinely hang out because there’s thick, healthy clover to munch on, then my mission to provide healthy sustenance to the deer, to watch them eating from my game camera, and to possibly have a target during hunting season will not have been in vain… albeit after hours of “farming” it has been in pain.

As I side note; I’d hoped to battle the poison sumac unscathed, yet the insidious sumac found some way to dose me with urushiol oil. I’ve yet to figure out how; but I ended up with a rash on the inside of my right leg, almost to the ankle, which I noticed as a small spot this morning before I left for the woods, and quarter-sized rash by the time I returned home. It seems I also may have a spot on my left leg, on the outside down toward the ankle. Of course, everywhere I itch now, makes me paranoid. The baffling thing to me is that I was wearing my tall rubber hunting boots, from Field and Stream (I got some last year like Melissa Bachman touts), with my BDU pant legs tucked into the boots. Between the boot, the pant-leg and the sock – I have no idea how urushiol oil would have gotten on my lower leg! With courage I entered battle against my mighty foe poison sumac, and though I believe I won, I proved not impervious to harm.

As if to bless my efforts at producing a food plot for my deer friends; I spied two bucks and a doe last night while leaving the area, and then after completion today around noon, I observed a doe running toward the woods beside the highway. I’m not kidding when I say deer sightings make me giddy! Two nights ago, I felt my spidey senses tingle and looked across the apartment complex parking lot to the woods up against the post air field. There I saw two does feeding. I quickly grabbed my Nikon D3200 and started taking photos. It was the strangest thing; but after one doe left, the other doe seemed to develop her own spidey senses and she stopped grazing to look up in my direction before running off. Keep in mind, there was easily 400 yards between us, I was on my third-floor balcony, and the parking lot between us had cars driving past, car doors slamming, and people out milling around – yet she appeared to know I was there “shooting” her with a camera. Amazing!

Since relocating to Kansas over six years ago, and since starting to hunt almost four years ago, I have been blessed with an incredible journey of the soul; one that has taken me into nature to where I discovered my core self and come to experience Heaven on earth and within. And poison sumac aside (and be damned), I feel so blessed to be able to work the land to the benefit of my whitetail friends, and so fortunate that my friend John allows me to care for his property as if it were mine.

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On Becoming a Kansan

It’s a beautiful, albeit humid, summer Saturday in Kansas. This morning my labbie-girl, Daisy, and I headed out fairly early for Milford Lake in order to do some fishing before the temperature got too hot. Personally, I don’t like hot summers but will stay outside if I’m having fun despite my discomfort. Daisy, however, has a thick coat of yellow Labrador fur which keeps her heated up even when the temperature hasn’t reached uncomfortable for sweating bipeds.

While it seemed the fish opted to ignore my bait all morning, I still enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings. The lake was fuller than when I last visited (just last weekend, I think), so the water lapped against the rocks as boats passed by, creating a hypnotic, relaxing sound. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, dappled with puffy white clouds here and there. On the shore across the inlet from me I could hear a heron screeching for fish, and at one point a fisherman aboard a small watercraft yelling for all to hear that he had “big Bertha” on the line.

Although I believe the personal is political (a modicum of sense from my days as a Liberal), I endeavor not to mix politics with my outdoor adventure writing. They are connected to me, but separate to most.  But recently I have been thoughtful about living in Kansas since reading Flyover Nation last weekend (written by Dana Loesch). The book is a perusal of what makes the Heartland, a.k.a. Flyover Nation, special from the coasts. It focuses primarily on the politics of Flyover Nation as opposed to the East and West coasts, yet I suspect Ms. Loesch recognizes the personal as political as well. Whereas folks in the Heartland may be Democrat or Republican, they tend to share similar values with regard to religion and faith, caring for and living from the land, and embracing the spirit of the second amendment.

I have known for quite some time that I enjoy living in Kansas, being a transplant to the area for my job working with soldiers who have substance abuse issues. My roots are Californian (San Francisco-Bay Area), and much of my adult life has been lived in Florida (Orlando), so I’ve got legitimate Coastie energy, but I have also lived down South (the real south, not the Florida version)  and spent time in Ohio. All in all, I think I’m an acceptable blend of environments and ideologies. Reading Flyover Nation clarified for me, however, how much I have become a Kansan, and how I have grown into myself, found myself, since moving here in 2011.

Kansas re-introduced me to fishing; something my father and I did when I was a child, but that I walked away from for decades. It is in Kansas where I finally fulfilled my desire to hunt; having now spent two, almost three, years filling my autumn mornings and evenings with deer hunting and turkey hunting, and turkey hunting again in spring. I’ve grown from a wimpy disabled chick, to a crossbow wielding, rifle toting hunter; from a designated hiking trail gal to a woman excited to spend hours in the woods pretending to be a bush or tree; from a environmentalist attending Earth Day festivals to a conservationist having real-life encounters with deer, coyotes, turkeys, and myriad other woodland creatures (including ticks). And I’ve gone from a suburban grocery store shopper to a rural harvester of much of my animal protein, be it an assortment of Kansas fish (which I gut and prepare myself), or Kansas game which I harvest, field dress, and cook myself. Very important as well; my spiritual encounters with animals aren’t just in meditations anymore – they’re up close and personal. I’ve written previously that my connection to G-d has grown in my time outdoors; and though I’m spiritual and not religious (perhaps part of my coastal upbringing), my faith has been nurtured by my presence in G-d’s natural creation. Being in nature lets me re-create myself. After-all, isn’t that what recreation is all about…?

Though my position as an Army civilian affords me some fluidity in my career, I have come to realize that Kansas is now my home. I am a Heartlander; an American by birth, and a Kansan by the grace of G-d. I don’t think I could ever return to the concrete jungle. There is no art in a museum more beautiful than a Kansas sunset, or more breathtaking than being hidden five feet away from an 8-point buck or seven feet away from wild coyotes who want to walk on the berm I’m sitting atop while hunting.

My labbie-girl and I went fishing yesterday and today and walked away without a single fish. But the experience of being connected to the water and the land far exceeds the momentary thrill of having a fish on the line (yet having that struggle while reeling in is an awesome experience). Weekends were made for fishing, and I will continue to pursue aquatic game… until September 12th, when archery deer season begins!

Valentine’s Day; A Love Inventory

Valentine’s Day is one of the holidays lost on single folks with no partner to snuggle with, dine out with, get flowers from, or dress up for. But always one to seek the positive; I’ve grown accustomed to taking an inventory on Valentine’s Day of who and what I love.

As a mom I have to start out with my son. He is truly the only person I have ever been “in love” with. From the moment he was placed in my arms for the first time, I knew we would have a special connection as parent and child. Of course, he’s a ‘grown-ass man’ now (his words, not mine), and engaged to a woman he wants to spend his life with, but as any mother knows; he will always be my son, my Angel Boy.

Now, as a service dog handler/dog mom, my sweet Daisy holds a very special place in my heart. A couple of years ago I read a book written by Caroline Knapp, Pack of Two, which gave voice to the fact that we can be “in love” with our dogs as well. My sweet labbie-girl accompanies me to work, spends every waking and sleeping moment with me, looks after me when I’m hurt (inside or out), and is always nearby if not by my side. Daisy is my snuggle lab, and is the beautiful spirit I get to spend my Valentine’s Day with.

Getting past the personage of love, the dictionary definition includes passionate affection, warm personal attachment, to need or require; benefit greatly from. So on Valentine’s Day, for several years, I’ve dedicated myself to being in love with my country; with freedom and independence, with the Bill of Rights and my inalienable rights. This year I add nature to the mix, although my love of nature was mentored from childhood by my father. Yet this year, as last, I have come to create a special, intimate relationship with nature due to my time spent hunting.

In previous essays I have described my relationship to outdoors Kansas as that of a lover; growing intimacy in the woods, as the pre-dawn breeze caresses my face, as the stars twinkle from a barely-waking sky like a field of diamonds, at dawn and dusk as woodland creatures create a symphony of sounds no orchestra could ever duplicate. As hunters can attest; hunting is not just about harvesting an animal for food, but includes sitting in awe of wildlife as it goes about Being. My love of nature, deepened by my time hunting, fills all my senses and my soul with Eros and Agápe; appreciation of beauty itself, and the love of G-d for humankind and of humankind for G-d.

Which brings me back to my love of Country and freedom; because Americans are blessed to live in a Country founded on the principles of independence and liberty, where our rights are bestowed by G-d, not man, and therefore cannot be taken away by the will and laws of politicians. Although hunting exists in other countries around the globe, I believe none have the freedom of hunting that we have here in the U. States. For the most part, anyone can hunt here, if properly educated and equipped; it is not a sport only for nobility. In fact, it is those who fancy themselves noble in this country who generally do not hunt (but rather spend overpriced amounts of money on “free range” and “organic” farm-raised meat).

Hunting speaks to me of living the American ideal; self-responsible, free to embrace life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing quite fills me with happiness and peace like being out in nature (except spending time with my son and my service dog – especially when in nature). When I hunt and fish, I embrace the bounty of Earth and of this great country. Like those who came before me, be they courageous souls heading west through the Great Plains, or members of the tribes of Kansa, Osage or Pawnee; I feel a great connection with the environment when I’m out in it, and I feel freest as an American when I’m in the woods, the forest, or by a lake, owning my destiny if only for a few hours.

On Valentine’s Day, though I may be without a mate or life partner, I am full of love; love given and received: Love of family (human and canine), love of Country and the freedom at the heart of it, and love of the Divinity in nature.

Valentines2016

Kansas Outdoor Activities: My corner of Kansas expanding

Recently I joined Whitetails Unlimited as a Lifetime Member (for which I have two payments to go) and then purchased a ticket to their Capital City Deer Camp for January 23rd. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet some other hunters and maybe make some connections, or dare I say – friends. The Kansas Monster Buck Classic was the same weekend, so I thought I’d peruse the Monster Buck Classic and then head on over to the Deer Camp.

Sadly, I received a message that the Whitetails Unlimited event was canceled as not enough tickets were sold; so I had decided I probably wouldn’t drive the hour to Topeka for the Monster Buck Classic either. But a friend of mine, whom I used to work with, said she had a friend from school who was at the MBC and she thought he and I should meet. Since my initial goal was to make connections and possibly build friendships I opted to make the drive. My service dog, Daisy, and I had gone last year and Daisy had been spooked by the sound of firearms at the event (competitions and games), so I packed extra treats to keep her mind focused on me.

After a couple of hours of walking around the event, perusing vendors, chatting with folks, introducing Daisy to many wonderful scents, and spending money, I was able to meet up with the friend of my friend, Phil Taunton.

Phil is a passionate outdoorsman, yet a very soft-spoken guy. Retired from his railroad job he now spends all of his time empowering people to get outside; especially children who, in this modern age of technology, have given up the tire swing and fishing pole for video games. Phil was at the Monster Buck Classic educating young folks and their parents about the joys of fishing and introducing people to the healing effects of getting “Outside for a Better Inside.” Through a partnership with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism (KDWPT) Phil will be one of several instructors on February 20th presenting a Fish Kansas Instructor Workshop, which certifies participants to become instructors in the hope that adults will pass on the joys of fishing to youth. One of the activities Phil participated in at the Monster Buck Classic was an educational fishing booth where young people could practice their casting with a pole that had a small plastic fish on the end where a hook would be. Then while reeling in, the fishermen (boys and girls) would endeavor to get the little fish into bigger plastic fish, of various colors, on the floor. Once reeled in, the bigger fish had a picture and description of one of the species of fish found in Kansas. The children appeared to have great fun, and each successful catch was rewarded with a Frisbee!

Phil and I chatted for about an hour; about fishing, quality outdoor experiences, the love of canines, and how time spent in nature just might be the glue needed to bond families together. He shared with me his belief that being outside can be spiritual, and healing to our insides, hence the motto, “Outside for a Better Inside.” Phil also shared his affection for veterans and his belief that getting in nature may also help combat veterans release some of the inner demons causing them so much heartache. To that end, Phil walked me around the event introducing me to people and connecting us together, and sitting me down with a veteran from Wounded Warriors United so we too would connect in our mission to help folks heal. As Phil and I chatted, it also came up that I write about my hunting and outdoor exploits, and he invited me to join the Outdoor Writers of Kansas, an organization with its own mission to send underprivileged children to Outdoors Adventure Camp.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip to the Monster Buck Classic this year. I was delighted to meet Phil and spend so much time walking around with him, meeting other like-minded folks. And I learned that there is far more happening in Kansas than what has been on my radar! Along with Wounded Warriors United which was founded for combat wounded and combat veterans with the mission, in part, of increasing public awareness of the effects of the outdoors on the mental and physical disabilities of wounded warriors (and then engaging veterans in outdoor activities), I also connected with a group called Vets4Vets (Veterans 4 Veterans) which also has the mission of engaging veterans in out-door activities.

Something tells me my little corner of Kansas is about to get much larger!

Links to the organizations listed, and those I connected with thanks to Phil Taunton:

http://www.fishingsfuture.org (and to register for the Instructor Workshop – fishingsfuture.org/node/459/register)

http://www.kswildlife.org

http://outsideforabetterinside.org/

http://www.outdoorwritersofkansas.com/

http://www.woundedwarriorsunited.com/

www.hodgeman.ksu.edu

https://www.facebook.com/vets4vetsoutdooradventures

Fishings Future is also hosting a Youth CPR Fishing Contest June 01 2016 – August 6, 2016. CPR stands for “Catch, Photo, Release.” To get more information, visit www.fishingsfuture.org or find and like them on Facebook.

Preparing for Spring Turkey Season

As I write this, I am so sleepy. But it’s that good kind of tired that comes from staying up late preparing for the next day’s “hunt,” and then arising at 0500 to be in the blind by 0600. I suppose you could say that it’s the kind of tired depicted in modern art of a relaxed hunter asleep under a tree.

This is my first Spring turkey season. I bought a tag during Autumn but didn’t have the first clue how to hunt for turkey, so I’d bring my Illusions box call out with me sometimes while hunting deer, and when no deer showed up, I’d fiddle with the box call a couple of times. Hence, my Thanksgiving turkey was store bought.

I set out to do turkey hunting correctly this season; so I bought a video on turkey hunting from Walmart –Primos Truth 25 Spring Turkey Hunting. First I bought a hen decoy, a Primos Gobbstopper Hen, and then after watching an hour or so of the video, I bought the Gobbstopper Jake as well. Added to my arsenal was a Primos Crow Call. Much to the chagrin of my neighbors, I’m sure, I practiced with my box call and crow call at night while watching the hunting video.

As I’ve never called turkey before, I wanted to experience a dry run, to build confidence. I was on the road to my friend’s property by 0545, bringing my Nikon CoolPix L110 camera to shoot turkey in a non-lethal way. This was also my first use of the Ameristep blind I purchased. My goal was to situate myself in the blind, learn what my mobility and visibility would be, and make sure that I could duplicate the results I watched on the Primos hunting video.

Sunrise isn’t official until almost 0800, but I noted that the Primos hunting team were calling turkey as early as 0700. I also had hopes of spying some deer coming out to feed first thing, as they seem to cross my Moultrie trail cam between 0600 and 0630. It was still quite dark in the woods this morning as I walked to the blind. I had my flashlight on so I wouldn’t trip over any fallen branches, and I’d never been to this part of the woods in the dark. Ironically, even though I took the path I always take, I still got momentarily lost. The woods can be disorienting, and I kept looking ahead for the blind, using that as my focal point. Alas, the blind had collapsed in recent Kansas winds, so I had difficulty locating it. Once I did, I set my gear down to reposition the blind until standing, at which time my camo phone case fell off my BDU pants and onto the blind. That was frustrating in the dark, as the camo cover got “lost” on the camo collapsed blind, laying on the leaves and twigs.

Once inside the blind I set up my tripod and camera, and retrieved my box call and crow call from my bag. Apparently I made just enough noise, or shone just enough light, that the deer vetoed breakfast. I could hear short bleats from both sides of the woods, and foot fall in the brush, but the deer never showed.

At about 0650 I started calling for turkey. At 0720 a heard a response and saw a hen walking toward my decoys. I was thrilled to capture her curiosity for five minutes as a MP4 movie on my camera. If that would have been the end of the pre-hunting trip, I would have been happy. But I had the opportunity to play with the wild turkey for another two hours almost!

Once the hen left, I continued calling for about 30 minutes, to no avail, so I grabbed my Mossberg Plinkster and decided to set my sights on squirrel. I had seen some in the trees while I’d been in the blind working my box call, but once I had rifle in hand there wasn’t a squirrel to be seen. Then I heard hens… so I popped back into the blind and picked up calling again. At one point, there was a flock of hens with a couple of jakes in the woods and brush to my right. I’d call, they’d respond. I was on the edge of my seat – literally – just waiting for them to emerge from the woods into the clearing. My camera was poised for action. Instead they taunted me for at least five minutes, giving me only a glance of brownish body feathers passing by in the bushes. Without so much as a goodbye, they were gone.

After a bit more calling, and waiting, I decided I’d exit the blind and tie one side off to a tree as an anchor; to decrease any chance of another collapse. Just as I stepped one foot outside the blind, I heard turkeys in the woods near my location. Back in the blind I went, bringing my camera and tripod to the back of the blind, where the turkeys were, and naturally facing that way. I waited, with my camera ready to capture the moment, but they didn’t show up. Instead, the two jakes walked to the side of the blind entering at the front, near my decoys. I twisted my body to see them, causing me to fall partially off my camo seat, while at the same time grabbing my mobile phone and turning the video function on. I repositioned myself to the front of the blind, holding my mobile phone as a camera with one hand and holding up my actual camera with the other, trying not to surrender to the severe lean of my cloth stool. By the time I managed to get my Nikon and tripod to the front of the blind, and operational, the jakes had walked off. Thankfully I captured them with my phone!

It’s a wonder they stayed by the decoys at all, what with my leaning, and falling, and twisting (and I’m sure there had to be a grunt or two). It was at that point I decided it truly was time to call it a day and pack up my toys. My mission was accomplished, albeit with some damaged grace; I called turkeys and they came! I saw a hen and two jakes, videographed them, and learned some turkey communication skills.

I also had the opportunity to feel the temperature change subtly in the woods as the morning drew longer, to hear the myriad bird songs that greeted this new day, and to watch as the woods change in appearance and hue with the shifting light. As I sat in my little blind, in my little (borrowed) corner of the Flint Hills, I sat relaxed and at ease; without the noise of politics, civilians, or home-grown terrorists (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/04/10/kansas-man-accused-plotting-to-detonate-bomb-at-fort-riley-military-base/). It was just me, a gazillion singing birds, a few flying insects, wild turkey, and G-d.

Only five more days before I do it again; but with my Mossberg shotgun instead of my camera. My senses tingle in anticipation… or that could be my body’s way of telling me to take a nap….????????????????????????????????

Peace Through Hunting

One of the benefits of being part of the Army family, even as a civilian, is having access to the many tools the Army provides for soldiers, families, and Army civilians. One such tool is the GAT 2.0, part of the Army Fit program. The Army is big on resilience, and endeavors to empower with guidance and education. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I took the GAT 2.0 last April. The test measures emotional, social, family, spiritual and physical health through a series of questions. Last year when I took it, my actual age was 51.6 years, but based on my answers my “RealAge” was 49.3; a whole 2.3 years younger than my chronological age. That’s a fine outcome, I think!

To assess how I’m doing one year later, I took the GAT 2.0 again yesterday. All areas showed “improvement”. My actual age is 52.6; but now, my “RealAge” is 48.9 – a whopping 3.7 years younger than my chronological age!

I contemplated what might have made the difference over the past year, and then I realized… hunting! Over the past two years I’ve done a significant amount of fishing; more since relocating to Kansas than the rest of my life combined. But even with my calming experiences with pole in hand, I spend most of my time fishing on post where I am still in contact with other people, inappropriately discarded garbage, vehicles, noise, etc. Hunting, however, takes me into the woods; into solitude.

One of the questions on the GAT 2.0 measured my sense of calm and peace. Becoming intimate with the woods in this part of Kansas has brought me serenity; a chance to commune with nature, to see/hear/smell G-d’s presence in the wild.

Even though I am currently not hunting, as spring turkey season has not yet started here in the Flint Hills, I have become so focused on it that my weekends include trips out to the woods; to set up a blind, replenish the feeder, check on the trail cam. When I stand amongst the trees and tall grass I feel whole. Hunting has given me the opportunity to develop some detection skills as well, and seeing fresh deer tracks, and deer droppings as I did today, energize me with anticipation!

Having spent my life as an avid outdoor enthusiast and animal lover, I have always been excited to see wild animals in their natural habitat. But now I find myself almost just as excited see the tell-tale signs of their presence. My respect for deer has increased since I began hunting, and I seek to understand them in a new way. There is a rhythm to nature that most people don’t experience. For me, it is a cadence that I long to be in-step with; and when I can participate and observe it, even if only briefly, it heals my mind-spirit.

Simply looking at the woods as I drive past, whether on post or on the interstate, brings me a feeling of peace… because I know the woods now. This shift in perspective has made all the difference in how I feel about Kansas, and how I feel about being here. It is this sense of intimacy with nature here that has empowered my ability to let go of those things I cannot control, has aided in my development of patience, and has provided me a closer connection to G-d.

According to the results of my GAT 2.0, hunting has made me younger by bringing me peace. What a great gift and a true blessing.Woods20150328b