Meridian Star


April 12, 2013

Treasured Outdoor Times

MERIDIAN —    For thousands of years, a segment of our human kind have been awestruck by the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoor environment. I am one of those lucky ones. Other living creatures are all part of this splendor, but Homo sapiens alone can feel deep reverence and appreciation for its incredible beauty and find meaning in nature beyond the physical human life.

    That beauty and meaning is available to anyone who can get into the outdoors and watch and listen and wait and be still. Many of the fortunate have such opportunities. Their work or their play is done outdoors, and sooner or later they are struck by the wonder of the natural world. My work in a biological field called for activities both in office buildings and meeting rooms, as well as in the mountains and prairies and woodlands of this country. It will come as no surprise that I preferred to earn my pay in the latter. I came to revere a thousand things outdoors.

    But there is one special thing that is my favorite; although I hasten to reserve the right to change my mind, as there are sights yet to be seen and sounds that I haven't yet heard. And it really isn't a thing, this favorite of mine, rather it is a time. And, in a general sense, a place. Let me explain.

    The time part is easy to identify. It is the time of day just before the night creatures stop their proclamations, and just as the day creatures begin theirs. This coincides with the period of the last total darkness of the night and on through sunrise. And it happens during the time of year we call spring.

    The place is a bit more difficult to pin down. So far in my life, it is anywhere in this country where there is big, big hardwood timber and where wild turkey season is open. Now hold on a minute. Don't rush to judgment here. This piece is not about turkey hunting, although it is about being where turkey hunting is going on.

    You see, spring turkey hunters are ideally postured to experience the creation of a day, which is the meat of the "thing" which is my favorite. Bird watchers, and other nature lovers, often enjoy this too and I recommend it. The spring turkey hunter gets up earlier and earlier, as the season progresses and the days get longer, to beat the earlier rising sun. After several days of this, I lie in bed a minute each morning and ask myself "Why am I doing this? It's 3:30 in the morning, for Pete's sake!" But I get up and go anyway. And I can't remember a single time I have later wished I had stayed in bed. And my turkey hunts go back over forty years.

    So as a spring turkey hunter, I am there at the right time.  And I am camouflaged so the wildlife doesn’t notice me. And I stay in one spot and stay quiet and watch and listen and wait. And I remain a silent observer on and on, until the east begins to brighten and the barred owl and whipoorwill make their last calls of the night. As the great show progresses, I realize I am holding my breath, so I release it very slowly and hold it again. I look up and see the easternmost stars start to fade. A cardinal makes the first day call, and then a second one answers and then a brown thrush. Nearby trees start to take form, but ground fog hangs like a pale sea about their trunks. Dogwood blooms are shining from the blackness like a scattering of pearls.

    Distant trees take shape and a hundred small birds seem to have started chirping and then singing before I am ready. I feel a lump in my throat. It is happening too fast. Colors now are discernable. A hawk screams suddenly. Shafts of light touch the treetops. There is a rustle in the leaves. One more beginning; as beautiful and thrilling as the first.

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