I recall many outdoor excursions as a boy and catch myself grinning at the unique experiences. I shared many adventures with friends and family, but some of the most profound and exciting came while alone. I remember those times often and imagine accompanying my past self, travelling through the timber and countryside exploring the outdoor wonders.
I close my eyes and chuckle as I watch the ten year old me lift rocks and roll rotten logs, only to jump back in shock to find a surprisingly large spider or snake lurking below. Even in this sudden reaction of fear, I quickly pick up a nearby stick and begin poking the creature with the curiosity and orneriness that only a ten-year-old boy can possess. Soon it escapes into a hole in the ground, and my attention wanders. I march on.
My memories transform the Ozark landscape. I’m 13 now and approach a large creek winding through a grassy valley. I have a fishing pole in hand and wade into the shallow water to cast underneath the gnarly roots of a tree protruding from the opposite bank. Sunfish chase my white Rooster Tail. Suddenly, a smallmouth bass darts from the shadows and attacks my lure. I reel him in and admire the eight-inch fish like it’s a five-pound largemouth.
I stare at the fish in awe, baffled by the molted, brown body and almost glowing reddish eyes. I realize I’ve caught my first smallmouth. Excited, I jerk around to show someone, but nobody is there, so I turn back to the creek, admire the fish a second longer and gently release it back into the water.
Standing still, my surroundings begin spinning like a tornado and seconds later I’m somewhere else. I’m peering over the shoulder of my 15-year-old self sitting in the blind, eating Oreos at 8:30 AM on a crisp, November morning. He sighs heavily and the fog of his breath fills the small space confining us. Moments later, he turns his head to the left and raises his binoculars frantically, causing the bag of Oreos to abruptly fall to the floor. We both freeze, but then I look out the window to see what he spotted. I can feel the adrenaline pump through my veins and his as we both fixate on the magnificent 12 point buck we had named “Patch” three years before. He stood just over 200 yards away, being led through the field by a doe. The teenager sitting below me does not hesitate and raises his rifle. I hear him exhale. I know his mind is racing, but for me, time stands still. It seems like eternity with his finger on the trigger, but it is only seconds. I brace myself for the sound of the shot, but hear nothing, just like when I was the one pulling the trigger. 15-year-old Tyler calls my dad and tells him of the good news. He hangs up the phone and sits in silence. Then something you’d least expect happens. A tear runs down his cheek as the emotion of the situation fully hits him. A monumental, three year pursuit for “Patch” has just ended, and so does an important chapter in this young hunter’s life.
I reach out to put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he fades into darkness. It is nighttime now and l lower my hand to my side. I stare up at the sky, absorbing the indescribable beauty of the stars. Looking around, I finally get my bearings. I’m standing outside of a turkey blind and hear movement inside. It is my 20 year old self nervously waiting for light to come. In the distance I hear rustling in the leaves, and whatever it is appears to be heading directly for me and the blind. I know it is not a deer from the pattern of its footsteps. It hits me that in a few short moments, my past self will have one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever faced in the woods. He has no idea what is heading this way, but I know he is clinching his shotgun now. He is thinking a mountain lion or some otherworldly beast is sneaking up on him as his imagination runs wild. Being alone in the woods at night does that to you. It is only a matter of seconds now and I crouch down gingerly next to a small oak. I hear myself inhale deeply in the blind; he holds his breath to remain silent. Just a few feet away, I watch the disruption of leaves along the forest floor as the animal approaches. It stops to touch and investigate the fabric of the blind and freezes. Seconds pass and all that can be heard is complete silence between the hunter and the creature. I strain my eyes intently to see, but it remains invisible, even though I could see the leaves move with its every step moments before. Within the blind, my younger self suddenly turns in his chair to face the unknown creature and as he does, it spooks and bolts at me in an instant, leaving no time to react! I yell, but no sound comes out. I can only watch in horror as the invisible creature runs through me and away before I can even think. The leaves settle, the sound of its steps fades in the distance, and both versions of me sigh heavily.
I come to the revelation the invisible creature meant something, something truly enlightening. What was unknown to me while sitting in that blind will always remain unknown to me forever, even from my objective point of view standing there in my own memory. I understand now and accept some things I experience in life will always be a mystery and beyond my comprehension.
It is all of those profound moments and many more that have convinced me what a true injustice it would be for them to go unshared. For me, sharing them with others goes far beyond proving I’m not telling a tall tale. Writing, filming, and photographing my experiences allows me to capture and convey the unusual and exciting happenings that only the outdoors can offer. It enables me to genuinely depict the unknown mysteries awaiting each time we head into the wilderness and how those can truly change us as we go through life. I encourage everyone who reads this to do the same in some capacity and share it with others, both sportsmen and nonsportsmen alike, in order to perpetuate the intrigue and mystery of the outdoors. It will help preserve our heritage and your own memories for generations to come.
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