High in a tree, I’m waiting. It’s a windy day and the tree in which I sit is swinging to and fro and not for the faint of heart. The climbing stand where I will spend the next several hours is secure. At least that’s what I tell myself. A twenty foot fall, especially at my age, could prove to be disastrous. In all my years of hunting I’ve only fell once from a tree stand. About twenty years ago a stand came apart, apparently as the result of some bad hardware, and the metal brackets that held the base on which I stood collapsed under me. Fortunately the stand was comprised of two major parts that were independent of each other. The top half remained in place and as I fell I dropped my weapon and grabbed the arms on the top half of the stand as I dropped towards the ground. The bottom half of the stand did not fall all the way to the forest floor, in fact, the two sharp stabilizers that were supposed to dig into the tree were now pointed up. I realized that a thin rope meant to keep the lower part of the stand attached to the upper part of the stand was now a major impediment. I was dangling from the upper part of the tree stand. My hands gripping the top half of the stand. The sharp stabilizers had dug into each one of my thighs. If I let go I would have resembled a human shish kabob. The fact that I had been weight lifting for years allowed me to hang on for a while. I had to tell myself not to panic. And I began to yell for help in hopes my hunting partner who was some distance away would hear me and come to my rescue.
Yelling in the woods when you are desperate is a strange experience. I’d yell, stop and listen for a response, and then yell again. I could feel blood dripping down my legs from the sharp metal digging into my inner thighs. I tried to pull up with my arms in hopes of getting off the sharp hooks. The lower stand came with me as I pulled up adding extra weight to my already over sized load. This would only work if I could bend at the waist, pull my knees to my chest, and get my feet and ankles upward towards the sky and wrap them around the inside of the frame of the upper part of the stand. The lower part of the stand remained attached. The blood continued to trickle down my legs. I was in big trouble.
I yelled louder and longer. I waited. There was no response. It had now been about five minutes and I could feel my grip loosening. My arms ached from the weight they held. I yelled again. And again.
My hunting partner, Smitty (I call him the Marine), has lost about three quarters of his hearing. The combination between shooting lots of guns while in the armed forces, and listening to super high pitch electronics as an avionics expert while in the Marines had done his hearing in. I often teased him about his poor auditory abilities. He’d respond by saying he would rather be deaf than ugly. We both laughed at these exchanges. All part of our lifetime friendship. As I hung there I wondered if I could yell loud enough for anyone to hear me. Anyone.
As my arms began to lose their strength and my hand grip began to whither I wondered how bad it would hurt when I let go. If the rope of the lower part of the stand did not break the pointed forks would rip into my legs even more. I would likely pivot off of this part of the stand and crash to the ground. If the lower part of the stand did fall as the result of the rope breaking and I landed feet towards the ground the sharp forks would rip into my legs and possibly open up an artery. Either way the options didn’t sound very rosy. The mere thought of this allowed me to scream out something in order of a lion’s roar. The sound filled the void between the trees throughout the entire forest.
The Marine, sitting some distance away in a tree stand identical to mine, had been hearing a faint noise. He had no idea what it could be. Coyotes? Perhaps a bobcat? He listened intently and could not decipher the origin of the sound. He wasn’t particularly concerned. His life was full of misunderstood audibles. But then he heard one long, unmistakable roar. He knew something happened to me and yelled as loud as he could that he was on his way. I never heard his response.
I hung on. It was now dark. I knew that I didn’t have much time left before I lost my grip. My legs were numb from pain. My arms ached from holding the weight of me for the last fifteen minutes. I was sweating bullets and in agony and I kept telling myself not to panic.
The marine had to climb down the tree he was in with the climbing stand. Normally this takes about five minutes. Smitty later told me he only climbed down about half way and then jumped out of the stand. He could hear my screaming and knew that I must be in big trouble. He yelled back as he ran towards me from several hundred yards away.
I was just about to let go of the upper stand. I had no hand strength left. I wondered, again, what was going to happen. And then I heard the marine yelling. At first I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but then I heard “I’m coming, I’m coming!” The sound of his voice gave my hands a new grip. The adrenaline surged again through my body. I could feel my weakened arm muscles stiffen with resolve. And I yelled back “Hurry, hurry!”
It took the Marine only a minute to cover the distance from his stand to mine. He followed my voice and cast fate to the wind as he ran through the woods in the dark of night. When he got close I could hear him crashing through low limbs and brush. The quick adrenaline rush was over and I could feel my arms weakening and my grip loosening. I wasn’t sure that I could hang on.
And just then the Marine appeared in the dark. Like the charge of the last brigade he broke through some branches and stopped. He wasn’t quite sure where I was in the inky night. For the first time in the last twenty minutes I spoke in a normal voice, trying to be somewhat nonchalant.
Smitty didn’t waste a second. He quickly surveyed the situation, found a long fallen branch on the ground and hoisted it up in my direction. He instructed me to pull with my arms and he would dislodge the lower stand from my legs. He could see the blood dripping form my pants legs. I wasn’t sure I would have the strength. I was really spent. But with one last effort I pulled with every ounce of strength I had relieving the pressure off the lower stand and the Marine pushed it aside. The blood flowed from my thighs but I knew from its pace that I had not clipped an artery.
The Marine looked up and told me to let go of the upper part of the stand. “Don’t worry” he said, “I’ll catch you!”
Before I let go I wondered what would happen. I weighed in at 250 pounds and the Marine, soaking wet in those days, tipped the scales at a buck fifty. I was nearly twenty feet in the air, although my dangling feet were more like fourteen feet off the ground. I did, indeed, let go. And he did, indeed, catch me. Sort of.
I landed on him like a sack of potatoes and we both crashed to the ground. The Marine did break my fall. We both lay there. His neck was aching from me landing on his head. My privates were aching from landing on his head.
The good news was that I was finally on the ground. Bleeding a little, and hurting quite a bit, but capable of standing up and brushing myself off.
The Marine stood up. He looked me over in the dark. And then he said “You’re gonna have to lose some weight the next time you do this. You looked like a *@#** cannonball dropping out of that tree and you felt like one too!”
Together we gathered up our equipment and hobbled back to the safety and warmth of his house. We patched up my legs, they probably needed a few stitches, but we thought some butterfly bandages made out of medical tape would do the trick. We then proceeded to have a few drinks. We laughed and laughed as we reviewed the story and knew it was one that would be told far into the future.
And now, all these years later, I still am in the pursuit of venison. I chuckle while thinking about this story. A gust of wind blows hard and I hold on to the tree. There would be no one to rescue me if my tree stand broke now.
I am alone and deep in the woods. I am waiting.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in November of 2012.