That's how long it had been since I'd gone hunting when Hank and I joined our friend Evan to go turkey hunting Sunday in the emerald hills of Amador County.
Evan had warned Hank that turkey sightings had been minimal at the oak-studded cattle ranches where he had permission to hunt. "I don't care," I told Hank. "I just want to go for a walk with a gun in my hand and know that if I see legal game, I can shoot at it."
That sounds way more bloodthirsty than it was.
I've just been feeling really hemmed-in by my city life. I mean, I love my weekly hikes at the lake. If I stick to the deer trails, I can avoid humans for most of the trek, and as a result, I tend to see a lot of wildlife. Very good for the soul.
More importantly, I'm getting to know that place. I know exactly where the fat jack rabbit will bolt at my approach, and what cover he'll run to. I know where the small herd of deer lives, shrinking by the week as its members get smashed by cars on the nearby busy street and left to bloat in the sun. I know where the hawk will fly, screeching, low over the tree line as I cross a normally-dry creek bed, now swollen with water that oozes from the hillside, soaked by the incredible rainfall we've had this year. I know where I'll see turkeys, and why - a homeowner adjacent to the park dumps seed to attract wildlife.
But of course, I can't hunt there.
Evan seemed as frustrated by city life on Sunday as I've been. He was born and raised in Amador County, but now spends most of his waking hours stuck in an office an hour away at the Capitol. For the first time since I met him, I heard him speak with bitter envy about the people who've made their life back home in the hills: They can finish work for the day and spend all their free time scouting for game, and just get up and go hunting, practically right out their back door, when the weekend comes.
Evan's career success - he's really good at what he does - doesn't allow him the same luxury. It strikes me as a prison, of a sort.
My prison is a different one. My job affords me plenty of freedom - I have almost complete autonomy, I love my students, and I get summers off. My prison is a house in the city - normally an excellent investment, but now worth about $100,000 less than we owe on it. Good lord, how will we ever move out to the country? How will I ever live in a place where I can get to know the land intimately, and hunt on it?
The turkey hunting was wretched on Sunday. I think we saw a grand total of four turkeys, none of them in range, and the sightings - and soundings - stopped not long after sunrise. But we kept jumping from ranch to ranch anyway, stalking absolutely nothing under the watchful eye of hundreds of cows.
"Wanna try another place?" Evan would ask.
I'd think about what I could be doing if I were at home: cleaning the house, weed-whacking the yard, working on a project. Then I'd weigh that against what we were doing: soaking up the spring sunshine, walking all over creation, pursuing food without the comfortable guarantees of the supermarket. This is how we're supposed to live.
"Yeah, let's do it."
© Holly A. Heyser 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011