The scene was one of utter destruction. The attack had come under the cloak of darkness, most likely during one of the recent nights when the temperature had dipped into the 30s.

I stopped to get a better look and, as I sat there, one lone survivor hovered over the ruin just below the branch that only days before had been home to the thriving hornet nest he had called home.

Bits and pieces of the nest stretched out in a trail toward the nearby wood line, a trail that traced the path the attacker or attackers had, no doubt, used during both their advance and their victorious retreat.

“What enemies do hornets have?” I pondered, as I sat there on the lawnmower surveying the scene. A quick Google search told me that the list includes mice, rats, skunks, raccoons, weasels, badgers, wolverines and bears. I hoped for a bear, although I was fairly certain that a raccoon was the more likely suspect to have raided the nest of its succulent larvae.

I continued to watch as the hornet surveyed the devastation. Other than the pieces of the nest strewn between the lake and the old fencerow that marked the edge of the woods, nothing remained of his lifework. He was left with but one choice — starting over.

How is that reality processed in the insect world, the animal world and, ultimately, the non-human world? Does worry only exist for our species? Certainly dogs can have anxiety. I know this firsthand as my German shorthair, my “velcro” dog, experiences anxiety both when I am away and when he has to visit the vet. However, does he worry about those things from time to time before they actually happen?

It's amazing what you can think about while mowing the yard! I couldn’t get the idea of “starting over” off of my mind, thinking about it in both a “circle of life” kind of way in relation to the upcoming deer season as well as “life milestones” kind of way in relation to the events of the work week I had just endured. Allow me to elaborate.

My thoughts and feelings about hunting have shifted as I have aged. According to the hunter-ed “Five Stages of Hunter Development,” I have matured. The ultimate stage of development within the hierarchy is the “sportsman stage,” during which “success is measured by the total experience — the appreciation of the out-of-doors and the animals being hunted, the process of the hunt, and the companionship of other hunters.”

The “appreciation for the animal being hunted” was what was foremost in my thoughts. Each season, when I take a deer from our farm, what does the “starting over” process look like for the deer? I assume the dominant buck, if I am lucky enough to harvest him, has his role usurped by the next in line or, in the case of a doe, another steps in to begin the process anew with fawns, hopefully twins, arriving next June and July.

These were not the thoughts I had as a young hunter. In his recent essay in Gray’s Sporting Journal,” Rick Bass speaks to his maturation as a hunter aptly, writing, “I still like hunting. I’m not so consumed by it as I once was. But it means more to me now, if that makes sense.” For me, it makes perfect sense. I now find myself pondering the deeper meanings and implications of hunting before each hunt, each season.

Ultimately, I am left with this: The venison that I will hopefully harvest this season will provide food for my family, and how and where that food comes from is of the utmost importance to me in a time when buzzwords like “organic” and “free range” are often used but rarely hold water on close inspection and without the use of much imagination.

Revisiting the notion of “starting over,” my thoughts shifted to the anxious days I had spent the prior week waiting for the results of a reorganization within the company where I am employed. It had been a week of sleepless nights filled with disquietude. The uneasiness leading up to the day had been palpable, and at the forefront of my fears was the fear of having to “start over,” especially in the midst of a pandemic.

However, much like the lone hornet surveying the remains of his once strong fortress, beginning anew would be my only choice and the thought of that was quite daunting.

Thursday came and went and I retained my position, and while I am thankful for that, I am saddened by the fact that many good friends lost their jobs and will now face the realities of starting over. They will remain daily in my thoughts and prayers.

I have come to understand that within the circle of life, amidst the beauty and majesty, there also resides a harsh and brutal reality that all of us, hornet, deer and human, are bound to experience — the good, along with the bad. That understanding brings with it the knowledge that, for me, the outdoors is a sanctuary where I can retreat to both experience and cope with that reality.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing your out there in our great outdoors!

Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at braddye@comcast.net.

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