"The past is never dead, it's not even past."
“The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”
It’s shocking that January sneaked up as quickly as it did, much less that it’s over. January, the betwixt-land, the portal, is named for Janus, the Roman god with two faces, one looking ahead to the future, the other behind to the past. Perhaps more than any other time, it simultaneously conjures nostalgia and great expectations.
Hunting season is always a sort of “January” for me. I’m always reminded of seasons past and memorable (or even mundane) hunts. A certain flash of a wing, a hunting horn echoing across a cypress bottom, the silent flicker of a white tail always roots up some buried memory. But hunting is also oddly marked by the tension between being completely submersed in-the-moment yet tingling with the anticipation for what excitement lays ahead—the tranquility of nature violently rent by the flash of a muzzle.
The older I get, the more I understand the sporting life not as something that transcends time, rather the binding that straps time together, gives it shape, makes it more human and less machine (“Clocks slay time,” as Quentin Compson observes in The Sound and the Fury.) Passing from one hunting season to the next (even those seemingly interminable days in between), and on and on, reminds us that despite our own individual transitoriness, by merely participating we leave our own indelible stitch on a magnificent tapestry that began the moment it dawned on Ogg that he could hurl a sharpened stick at a woolly mammoth and won’t be finished (I certainly hope!) until mankind, in his bumbling addiction for efficiency, has managed to chop down the last tree or pave over the last field.
I shoot doves on a plantation on Wadmalaw Island, just outside Charleston, with a company of excellent gentlemen. My father goes as my guest whenever he and Mother are visiting from Alabama during the season, which they were on the second Saturday of this new year. This time was different for a very significant reason: my eldest son, Henry, who is four, sat in the field with us for the first time. It was almost surreal having three generations of Hunter boys out in the field together, a moment I've dreamed about since I was old enough to entertain the thought of having a son of my own. Best part was that Henry absolutely loved it (despite his DNA, I could never be quite sure until the moment the first shots were fired)--I mean, every minute and every aspect of it. He even "shot" a dove himself (actually Daddy shot it but gave Henry credit) with his cap gun, and Tilly, my eight-year-old Brittany and constant hunting companion, made a picture-perfect retrieve and Henry got blood on his hands and jacket (which he refused to let me wash off). He even had the grace of a true sportsman to assure me, “Don’t worry, Daddy, you’ll shoot better next time.”
So afterwards we gathered back at Black Betty, my old battle-scarred Bronco, who at the end of each season I wonder if it will be her last. Towards the end of the shoot, a front had rushed in from the west, accompanied by plummeting temperatures, so I poured Daddy and me a stiff bourbon and Henry a splash of apple juice. Now, I had right on the tip of my tongue this toast that I'd recited in my head for years for just this moment when it finally arrived, and I'll be if before I could get my mouth opened Henry pipes up, "Here's to us Hunter men! We're HUNTERS!" I managed to join him and Daddy in raising my glass moments before my shock from what just occurred caused me to spill my drink all over the tailgate. Out of the mouths of babes.
When at last I buckled Henry into his seat he burst into tears. I asked, "What's wrong?" and he replied, "Daddy, I don't want to leave." After plying our way back across the muddy fields and through the wood, we pulled onto the hardtop and were crossing the bridge onto Johns Island. The sunset off to the west over Bohickett Creek held us spellbound until Henry sagely observed, "Isn't that splendid!" That's Henry—four going on forty. And I know he’s hooked. “We’re Hunters.” Always have been, always will be, I reckon, full of nostalgia and expectation and the ability to fully appreciate both.
Contributing Blogger for Wm Lamb & Son
Writer, Father, Hunter, Friend