Backroads: Any Old Excuse Will Do

Lynn Coffey, squirrel hunting in autumn, 1980

Yes, any old excuse will do to momentarily shed my responsibilities at home and head for the solitude of the mountains. The excuse I use during the autumn months is squirrel hunting. Somehow, when I have a gun in my hand and camouflage clothes on my back, it makes loafing look more legitimate. Whether I actually bring anything home is not the issue. If I happen to have good luck and shoot a few, it’s just the icing on the cake and not the sole reason I head for the hills.

One time I had walked way back in the mountains at dawn and was sitting on a huge rock waiting for the squirrel population to wake up and emerge when I got to thinking of all the things I am thankful for. That’s the best part about sitting idle; it frees your mind to roam within itself with no barriers or distractions. And sitting alone in the woods beats sitting idle at home where all the little jobs you know need attention are screaming your name. And on-the-job idleness may cause a boss to get the impression you are wasting time and thus not worth your paycheck. So, under the guise of “hunting,” you can make your escape and enjoy the inward solitude that every person needs. 

I know I am different in this aspect. There are people out there who need the company of others on a full-time basis in order to have inward pleasure. I knew a man who had to have the television or radio going every second he’s by himself. I asked him how he stood all the noise and he replied, “Noise I can take. It’s the silence that kills me!” That type of thinking is so foreign to me because my soul requires an extraordinary amount of silence to function properly. Doesn’t it say in the Bible, “Be still and know that I am God?” I am blessed enough to have married a man who thinks the same way, and our home is a quiet refuge where one can unwind and have a conversation without anything else competing for our attention. When our granddaughter Renea was a child, we were sitting on the back porch shelling peas when she suddenly said, “Grandma, you know what I like the best about coming to your house?” Intrigued, I asked her what it was. She replied, “I can hear the birds sing!” 

Going back to the woods, one day I was sitting on a big rock alone with my thoughts. The first thing I noticed was the sky. I wondered why the October sky is such a vivid shade of blue. Maybe it appears bluer because of all the other bright colors that surround it. If I tilted my head back and looked up into the leafy canopy of the trees, I saw a myriad of changing colors. Red, gold and yellow now replaced that which was green only a few weeks ago. And I love the way the leaves drift down silently and cover me with their patchwork of color. 

I am always more aware of my senses when I’m in the woods. When I see a red-tailed hawk riding the thermals overhead, it touches me deep inside. Maybe I envy how he flies free from the pressure and daily grind we humans have to contend with. And so, I am thankful for my eyesight. Also, for some reason, the earthy fragrance of plain old dirt takes me back to my childhood and I silently thank God for my nose, no matter how many freckles are upon it. And what if I couldn’t hear the pesky chatter of chipmunks that announce my whereabouts to the entire wildlife population? I am thankful for all these gifts throughout the year, but during hunting season, sitting alone in the forest, I can really reflect on them. In the quietness, there’s a chance to go over past mistakes and see where I went wrong. My mind is a reservoir of old acquaintances, past loves, and recalled experiences that somehow get lost amid the everyday bustle. I am at peace here; it’s the place I can talk to God one-on-one without anyone else listening or laughing at my fears. He alone hears me within this outdoor cathedral and answers with a still small voice my heart understands.

If the day is successful, I might down a squirrel or two and on the walk home I can almost taste squirrel and gravy over homemade biscuits. But I’m not upset if my game bag turns up empty. Just the fact that I got to go out and enjoy my own company for a short while is the real pleasure of the woods. Squirrel hunting just happens to be my excuse. 


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