Playing the waiting game does not come easy. My presence on this long line of extruded schist bedrock gives me a perch from which I can see the landscape around me. This makes it less likely that my scent will expose me because I am elevated above the surrounding forested landscape. The elevated position and my camouflage conceals any movement I might make. I’m hoping that my presence is hidden from wildlife.
This game of waiting, the art of staying still as a strategy to let wildlife come to you rather than you going to the wildlife, takes practice. It also takes patience; something that I have learned to utilize and appreciate as I have advanced in years. During my earlier years my maximum quiet time where I could stay in one place was about a half an hour. Over the years I have slowly added to the time that I could sit still. Four or five hours is about my maximum, but I have gone longer, particularly when in a climbing tree stand where you are 20 feet above the ground attached to a tree in a metal carriage. The tree stand business takes some effort. One must use a safety strap on both going down, getting up, and while in the waiting position. There is some degree of skill and physical involvement to play that game.
Waiting is meditative. Over the years I have learned to merge myself into the pulse of the forest by breathing slowly, moving slowly when movement is necessary, and thinking slowly. Although the slow thought process sounds dull it is actually an intentional action that puts me in a state of clarity. I am blending into the background of these beautiful woods both physically and psychologically. It is harder to detect my presence because my very being is caught up in the environment around me. It is just that simple.
It is often said that patience is a virtue. While this may be true there is also some veracity to the idea that patience is a skill. In the wilderness it is as important as your quiet skills, your tracking skills, your observation skills, and your recall skills.
On this day I am waiting for whatever may come along. It is early October. The gorgeous New England foliage, a burning bright light and artful fire that yields orange, yellow, red and bronze, is stunning. It is early morning. Wildlife activity should be high. The forest yields much food at this time of year and most animals are happy to take up the offer. The added nutrition will help them to survive the bitter cold temperatures of winter, deep snow, and a lack of food all of which are on the near horizon.
I am positioned on a curious spine of bedrock that runs perfectly perpendicular to a long stone wall. In the summer visibility from this elevated bedrock nest is minimal. In the early autumn visibility from this uplifted position is improved. Many of leaves are already falling to the forest floor. Two months from now with all of the foliage off of the deciduous trees the view from this spot is excellent. One can see great distances through the naked forest. Nearly every angle is exposed and opportunities for successful sitings are greatly enhanced.
A soft breeze rustles the stiff and dried beech leaves that remain on their stems. The rattling masks any slight sound I might make and I adjust my position. I am sitting on the remnants of a tree trunk that was uprooted during the great ice storm of 2008. I have a hi-tech cushion that softens my seat. It is a simple portable luxury that allows me to stay put for zn extended time.
The vibrating beech leaves also mask the sound of a red back vole scurrying amongst the fallen foliage and twigs on the forest floor. My eyes catch a glimpse of movement only a few feet in front of my feet. The vole has no idea I am hovering over him. His beady black eyes are focused on gathering seeds and other tiny edibles. He is so focused on his meal plan that he misses my 6’3” two hundred and fifty pound body that shadows the ground on which he forages.
The vole only exposes himself for a few seconds at a time. Being in the open is dangerous. This is when he is most exposed to those who might use him for sustenance. There is little question that his reasonably stealth behavior will result in, at the very least, a slightly longer life span.
I watch the red back vole until he disappears near the stone wall to the east. The clouds obscure what might be a glorious sunrise. Nevertheless, the forest gets increasingly lighter as the low angle sun hides behind a thick layer of clouds.
It is not unusual during these long quiet periods in the woods for my mind to do a little traveling on its own. On this day the nearby stonewall triggers a memory from my childhood. I am 6 years old and wandering in the woods alone on a cloudy, dreary autumn day after all the leaves have fallen. I am following a stonewall that marks a property line. The stone wall stops at a old white oak. This white oak is gargantuan with a monstrous trunk and two humongous branches spreading 60 feet or more in opposite directions. The sheer size of the tree is intimidating but the two branches attached to the five foot diameter trunk makes the tree resemble a monster with its arms spread ready to grab anything within its reach. A shiver runs down my spine. Uncontrollable fear results in my running away from the tree. Before I run 30 yards I run smack dab into a rusted barb wire fence that blends into the tawny brown forest floor background. I tumble over it, become entangled in the sharp wire, and fall onto the nearly frozen ground. My corduroy pants are torn, my leg badly cut from the barbs on the wire, and my immediate thought is how much trouble I’ll be in for tearing my clothes. Our family had almost no money. I feared that I would be in a great deal of trouble because I had ripped my pants.
Reliving this incident in my mind brings an uneasy feeling. It’s as if I were instantly able to relive not only the actual experience by the emotional stress as well. My mind sorts through a stable of information and determines I am, in truth, physically in a different era where there is no need in my life to relive these stressful events. As my mind slowly returns to the present two things occur to me. The first is that I have no memory as to whether I got into trouble or not after tearing those pants on a barbed wire fence. The second is that it takes patience to grow up. These fears that we have left from our childhood may still linger in the recesses of our mind. Years and years of new experiences, growth, learning, and changes in both attitude and body result in a new way of looking at things. Yes, patience is a virtue.
The cool breeze from the northwest refreshes my outlook. I am in the woods. It is peaceful. I need to stay in the present. Hardwood branches make a clattering noise overhead as the breeze strengthens to a gusty wind. Swirling winds may carry my scent downwind, lessening my chances of going unnoticed. Even though I am wearing scent proof clothing the chances that I am carrying a tell-tale scent is good. Completely removing all scent from yourself is nearly impossible.
Given the wind direction my best chance of encountering wildlife is to focus my attention to a cross-wind direction. Most animals will move with their noses into the wind. By looking cross-wind I may be able to experience wildlife that have not caught a whiff of any scent I may carry.
The wind blows. The trees and their branches chatter. I am alone in the woods blending in to a world where each and every moment is significant.
There is no notion of time passing when you are in the state of blending in. Each moment seems transcendent. What may appear to be nothing is everything. The lack of time passing translates into sheer joy. It is an amazing place to be and yet I am not cognizant of this feeling as I am experiencing it. It is later that I am able to interpret all of this; sort of a memory gaining substance.
At some point there is movement to the south in the cross-wind direction. The dark form in the distance morphs into a red fox as it nears. It is traveling on top of the stone wall. The fox stops along the way to investigate scents in little nooks and crannies that the wall provides. Predators foraging for other animals that are foraging for plants is the norm in these deep dark woods. An old forest has many secrets. The secrets are unintentionally kept. Not to hide anything, but simply because few notice or understands the unwritten code of the woods. It is nothing more and nothing less than natural law.
The fox is brilliantly red. It has a amazing white chest and perfect white tip on its tail. The contrast is startling even though I’ve seen it a hundred times before. The fox dances from rock to rock along the stone wall with a ballet-like quality that displays a wonderfully artful and athletic form. The fox suddenly stops, not 20 yards from where I am perched. It lifts its nose into the air. It turns its head. My camouflage hides my outline. The wind is blowing in the wrong direction for the fox to catch my scent. Despite this the fox has a sense that tells him I am there. It doesn’t run away. Rather it turns around and deftly saunters off in the direction from which it came. I watch it trail away parallel to the stone wall. It is soon a memory that I can recall whenever I please.
The fox gone I stand to stretch my aching legs. I try a little stretching to see if I can get the kinks out of my back. My hips are tight from staying still for so long. I am at the age where I need to move to stay loose. With this thought I laugh out loud. There is a true irony here. Twenty years ago I had too much energy to stay still. To improve my field skills I had to learn to be quiet and still: an effort at staying within the environment given to me. Now, some 40 years later, I can stay still for hours but I need to move to keep my joints loose. One can only laugh at these turn of events.
It is late morning; a time when most wildlife settles down for a few hours. It may be time to head back towards or home in the woods. On the other hand there may be another adventure to be had over the next ridge. I stand looking at the next hillside.
I’m a little slower than I used to be. It will take time and patience to climb into the valley and onto the next mountain. That’s OK. I’ve got the time.
And finally, after all these years, I’ve found patience.
So much, in fact, patience and I have become new found friends.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in October 2013.