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Jonathan Wilkins | 7.16.2021

Handprints on Cave Walls

“I value tools that I can trust to be used reliably over and over again. In this way proficiency is developed. It has allowed me to focus on the task instead of the tool.”

What makes us human is longing, the innate desire to know, to experience, and to understand. We climb mountains because they are there. We cross rivers for no other reason than to know what is on the other side. We pursue game not just to feed our bodies, but to test and nourish our spirit. We wrestle with our own thoughts and desires because we endeavor to know ourselves, and in doing so better understand those around us. We make families and have children. We sing songs and tell stories. We make art and add to the tapestry of sentience every time we do.

At its best, hunting is the intersection of all of these righteous ideas. It binds us with the natural world and affirms that we are intrinsically part of that system. We are given the opportunity to do all the things we are designed to do. First, we indulge in the longing. We give space to dreams and to imagining what we are capable of. Then, we learn. We read books and seek out mentors. We become conduits for generational knowledge about flora, fauna, and place. We practice. We move. We run, jump, squat, crawl, wait, breathe, hold our breath, get out of breath, observe, compute, decide, act. All have their place whether stretched across hours or run through in seconds. Then, there is the aftermath, the reckonings with morality and ethics. The juxtaposition of elation and winces of regret. One could call it reverence without being precious. Then, more work making meat out of what was once alive. There will be meals and there will be stories. Always there will be stories, because the actions must be paired with words to become part of the ether. It is art. It is an expression of the human condition.

I came to hunting as an adult and willed my way to adequacy with hard work and help. I understand that becoming a hunter has changed me. It has helped me to trust myself and convinced me that there is nobility in that endeavor. It has challenged and centered me. It has connected me to others. It has made me more resilient, and I’m better because of it. Hunting is a place for these heady notions. It’s a place for physicality and cooking and learning. Most importantly though, it is a place for people who believe that thinking and doing only produce growth when done in tandem. It’s handprints on cave walls and it’s part of the human continuum.

Acknowledging that continuity insists that we also submit to notions of seasonality. Winter will inevitably release its grip and yield to spring. Summer will succumb to Autumn. Winter will come again. My waterfowl season doesn’t start on that hallowed opening day in November, It’s already begun.

When everything is green again, there will be work to do. I’ll grow greens, okra, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and peppers. These are plants suited to the climate I live in and foods that have sustained generations before me. I’ll pair the food I grow with the birds I pluck from the sky. My family and I will tend the garden and harvest throughout the sweltering summer heat. We’ll eat the things we grow and share with others when there is an abundance. Tomato sandwiches and air conditioning will give way to fire pits and warm, filling dishes. We’ll make gumbos and tell stories. We’ll leave the garden for the woods. The caches will be filled.

Always, there is work to be done. Last year my family moved to a new house with a yard that had been left fallow for many years. To plant a garden, almost an acre of privet and bamboo has to be cut back and hauled off (not before some of the bamboo is turned into bank poles for summertime fishing). Raised beds have to be built and dirt has to be turned. The work is comforting. I’ve started many gardens before, with varying levels of success. The transferable repetition has allowed me to refine my methods, but it hasn't lessened the hard work required. It’s about endurance more than ease and there’s a direct correlation with hunting. Season after season I add to a base of knowledge, but the hunting doesn't get less rigorous. I become more adept.

Submitting to the idea of seasonality has also strongly impressed upon me the value of preparedness and all of the different ways that it can manifest itself. I value tools that I can trust to be used reliably over and over again. In this way proficiency is developed. It has allowed me to focus on the task instead of the tool. I depend on gear that endures and can be repaired when I push it beyond its limits. I know it’s easier to slog through flooded timber in waders when you’re in shape than when you aren't. I trust that I can, because I have before. Preparedness breeds confidence and confident people try. Putting in that effort stretches a person into more than they were.

I endeavor to find my right balance in all of this. I yearn for the dexterity that comes with wisdom. Like some quick-footed lumberjack in a log rolling rivalry who manages to stay upright and dry. There’s no quick way there though. No shortcut to experience. There’s only the inevitability that the seasons will change and with it, the chance to apply what was learned on the last go round. I welcome the chance to again, endure the cold. I’ll trade hands that crack and bleed for days spent looking to the skies with expectation. I will embrace the challenge. I will hunt and the cycle will continue.