In a recent letter to a friend, I described the aspect of hunting which makes it engaging as 'contingent action.' What I mean by this is that hunting involves walking out into the woods in the dark to sit still under a tree, listen and look, until something either happens or doesn't. The more apparent defining element of this experience is the ease of being in the moment, the ease of being attuned. The less apparent, but no less profound, element is uncertainty.
The desire to eliminate, or limit, uncertainty is natural. I am thankful that we are not reliant on our field corn crop to see us through the winter - of the 1400 kernels I planted in the spring, only a dozen or so matured into actual plants, yielding enough for perhaps one meal. But I nevertheless think uncertainty itself can be affirming. The willingness of the cows to go where I tell them or of plants to grow as well as I would like are correctives offered by an objective world to the almost purely subjective dynamic of choice and fulfillment, or at least expectation and follow through, that define most of life, from media consumption to work. It's one reason, I believe, that professional sports consume such an outsized portion of the public discourse - they are one of the few remaining areas that routinely offer genuine surprise, however overwrought and melodramatic their staging and execution may be.
This turkey season - which ends today - has been a pronounced example of this. Ed got one almost immediately, and several times over the next few days we came close. And then they simply vanished, and for weeks we did not know where they were. In past years they have always come out to eat our neighbor's corn, but heavy crops of beechnuts and apples have kept them in the woods this fall. Once I had found them again, up above the waterfall, Ed and I started going up morning and evening. but though we saw them occasionally and heard them regularly, they never came close enough for a shot.
Finally, two days ago, both of us went up so that he could use the turkey call while I shot. I had heard them roost the night before, so we knew exactly where they would be. As the woods grew lighter, I could see them hunched all around on branches, and I could hear them talking to each other and to Ed. The first few flew through the hemlocks uphill from us, but a second later on landed in the clearing about thirty yards away, and after a few breathless moments walked out from behind a patch of saplings and into clear view.
So I'm thankful for all the time sitting in the woods doing nothing, and I'm thankful that we get to have turkey for Thanksgiving.