By Larry Whiteley
It sure is getting foggy. I’m not sure I could even see a deer sneaking through the woods in this stuff. Oh well, I just love being out here sitting in my stand, even if I don’t see a deer. It’s a great time to be alone with God and thank Him for the opportunity to be out here in His great outdoors.
I wonder how many sunrises I have seen coming through the trees while sitting in a tree stand? After over 50 years of deer hunting, it has to be a lot. I have watched a lot of sunsets too, while up in a tree, but sunrises are my favorite. There’s just something special about being in the dark watching the sun gradually bring light to the forest.
Hearing the first bird songs of the day is music to my ears. I even love the smell of decaying leaves on the forest floor. The first movement I see is usually a squirrel gathering nuts for the long winter ahead. It’s amazing how much a squirrel sounds like a deer walking through the woods. Then there were the times I have watched a fox, a bobcat or some other animal traveling through and they had no idea I was even there. There was also the time an owl thought the fur trapper’s hat I was wearing on a cold winter day was breakfast and, with claws raised, dived right at my head.
It’s funny how we deer hunters tend to name our tree stands too. Over the years I have sat in stands with names like Northwood’s, Papaw Bear, Dad and Me, 23, Pond, Kelly, Red Neck and even one called No Name. Just thinking of the names brings back a lot of memories.
Most of my years sitting in those tree stands have been by myself, but the absolute best times were the years I shared them with my grandson, Hunter, while my son hunted with my granddaughter Anna. Hunter got old enough to hunt in his own tree stand and I am now once again sitting alone in the deer woods. It won’t be too many more years and he will be hunting with his son or daughter and continuing to pass on the tradition. Just thinking about the good times when it was just him and me brings tears to my eyes.
When you sit there waiting for a deer to come by your secret hiding place thinking of all these things, you see them in your mind. Speaking of tears, as I sit here this day, for some strange reason I am seeing my wife crying. The fog is lifting enough that I can now also see my sons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids crying. What’s going on?
Honey, I love you. Why are you crying, I say to my wife? Can’t you hear me? Hunter, I know you have always had a tender heart, but what’s the matter Bub? Don’t cry Sis, your Papaw’s here. Ty, Sam…come here and give your Papaw our secret hand -squeeze and let me wipe away the tears. Kids, I am right over here!
Hey, I also see some of my cousins and friends from church. There’s Pastor Scotty too! What are they all doing here? I try talking to them and they act like they can’t hear me or see me. Why is this room filled with all these flowers and pictures of me with my wife, kids and grandkids plus pictures of me with fish and deer?
I hear someone ask my son how it happened. How what happened? My son Kelly chokes back a tear as my son Daron puts his arm around him to comfort him and he says, “Dad was always telling us to wear our harness and attach our lifeline when we got into a tree stand. He was hunting out of a ladder stand and for some reason, I guess he thought he didn’t need to do what he always told us to do. He even wrote articles and did radio shows telling other people how important it was to do it, but that day he didn’t. A ratchet strap broke; the stand slipped and he fell out.”
Did I fall out of my tree stand? I’m dead?! You’ve got to be kidding! I have hunted that stand for years. My harness and lifeline were in my truck. I guess like most hunters, I thought this could never happen to me. I made a bad decision.
I say I am sorry to my wife for the times I have hurt her, tell her I love her one more time and that the boys will watch over her, but she doesn’t hear me. I want to hug and kiss her but I can’t.
I stand right in front of my sons and tell them how proud I am of them for being the good husbands and fathers they are, but they don’t see or hear me. I reach out to touch each of my grandkids, tell them I love them and I am sorry I won’t be there to watch them grow up and have families of their own, but they don’t hear or see me either. I pray they won’t forget their Papaw. I hope they tell their kids about the memories we made together.
I feel a hand gently on my shoulder and a voice says, “I know this is hard Larry, but they will be alright. God will watch over all of them for you. It’s time to go to a better place. There are other people waiting for you when we get there and I bet you have a bunch of fishing, hunting, kids and grandkids stories to tell them.”
We turn to go, but I look back over my shoulder at my friends and family one last time and say goodbye.