Friday night marked the end of 2010, along with it came the official end of deer season here in North Carolina. This was a tough season, as I hunted more this year than ever before Although the land we hunted was overpopulated with camera-loving deer, only DU's 6-point ended up in the freezer. My fateful thanksgiving hunt yielded a frustrating blood trail that went nowhere. Hence, my poor Hoyt went a full season with no harvest to show for it. I succumbed to frustration and barely hunted in December, opting for duck hunting, as a nice heater comes along with it.
While deer hunting in North Carolina isn't known for the target's overall size or big racks, I'm still disappointed that after over 3 months of hunting, I harvested nothing to feast off of. But as I sit, leafing through the pictures from hunting season 2010, it's ironic that such an unfruitful season has been so fulfilling. Many believe that time is wasted when one sits for days on end, seeing nothing and not really doing anything at all. However, hunters are a special breed. When faced with a seemingly endless stretch of deer-free hunts, the non-hunters of the world generally give up, take down the stand and never return. On the contrary, hunters see the world through camo-colored glasses. We don't see empty landscapes, we see fields full of opportunity. Crack-addled squirrels turn from annoying rodents to amusing entertainment on slow days when their antics make even the most disheartened hunter crack a grin. Waking up far too early on freezing mornings mean big opportunities, not a tiresome chore. The entirety of hunting is one big, confusing venture that I'm happy that I've committed so much time to. And even though this season turned my tags unfilled, I will return, ready for more next year.
My innate sense of resilience through adversity was cultivated early. When I was growing up, I fell in love with hockey. (Or as I pronounce it, Haaackey) I started playing shortly after my brother dubbed himself a goalie. Of course, being the little sister, I wanted to be everything my brother was. I immediately wanted to be a goalie as well. However, given that I'm practically a midget and one goalie in the family is stressful enough, my ingenious parents deemed that I'd play up. (Up= not in goal. ie- left wing, right wing, center, defense, bench warmer.) Their decision, while I originally objected, could not have been better for me. My short stature is perfectly suited for the quick, lithe movements of a center or wing. Best of all, I was fast. Really fast. Well spent power skating lessons taught me to get low, straighten out my back, and bend my knees to maximize my stride.
Once I moved here, I abandoned hockey all together. I went to one open skate but it felt wrong. My best friend, Heals, didn't have her equipment with her so I, for the first time ever, went solo. The entire skate wasn't fun and I quit early. Months passed, consumed with hunting, puppies, and DU. I felt there was something missing but couldn't put my finger on it. I hunted more, hit the gym more, hung out with DU more and still, something felt lost.
As a Christmas present, DU flabbergasted me by securing prime seats for a New Jersey Devils game on New Year's Day. I felt guilty that besides the occasional glance at a game here and there, I had not followed my team nor even thought about playing hockey. We went to the game and I had found what I felt to be lost; my love of the single thing that helped me during the most difficult parts of my life. Sitting behind the bench, I felt a part of the game as the monstrous players easily flew over the benches after the commands of the coaches sent the troops to battle. Just seeing the first couple of skaters carve their way through the freshly zambonied ice gave me chills. During the course of the game, I shouted line changes, reminded defenders to play the box during penalty kills, reprimanded them for passing in the high slot, and urged the offense to crash the net. As the seconds ticked town and my team faced yet another disappointing loss, I told myself that a good ol' skate and shoot was much needed.
The next night, Heals, finally reunited with her equipment, and I set off for the rink. You may not know this, but rinks hold a certain olfactory pleasure for those of us who have spent our child/adulthood within the confines of the buildings. I always come home when I smell a rink.
A locker room full of laughter and good-natured jabs really brought me back as I tried to remember how to put my equipment on. The process went smoothly until I realized that I had all of my upper equipment on but no skates. Properly suited up, I was the first one on the frozen pond.
Hearing my edges swiftly cut through the ice sounded like a shotgun going off. My adrenaline started to pound the moment that I extended my legs for the first few strides. I got low, took off, and made it around the rink in just a few seconds. I felt good. My heart felt full again when I picked up a puck and sent it flying, smashing into the glass above the net.
An hour later, my entire body was sweating and I was seriously exhausted. I slept heartily and woke with a strong urge to call in to work for a personal-I-can't-get-out-of-bed-day. My body used muscles that lay dormant in conjunction with one another for the first time in an eternity. As I sit here typing, my leg, ab, arm and back muscles still tingle with the reconstruction of their damaged parts. But, I'm calm. I breathe easy and the work that generally seems like a truck load of unpleasantness seems like nothing.
After college and the whirlwind of 12 years dedicated to a sport that gave so much back to me, I didn't think that hockey would still play a significant role in my life. I've heard people say I am the person I am today because of the years I dedicated to various teams and the passion I held for the game. I never believed that statement to be true until I took what I learned on the ice and applied it to the stand.
When I lost a game, got hurt, ended a season, scored a goal or lost a championship, I always got back up to battle once more. I never backed down, refused to continue or quit. Likewise, I will look to hunt strong again next season. I will get up early, shoot my bow daily, and no matter what, keep trying.