Sometimes we are glad when something ends. Sometimes we are not. Right now, I wasn't sure how I felt.
I walked out the ridge tired and hot. The sun was burning a hole through the sky that I had not seen in a while. Suddenly I felt I had too many heavy clothes on. It seemed I had walked out into the woods this morning in the temperatures we had been having, which brought to mind late winter, and now it was becoming Myrtle Beach.
Besides being hot, I was pretty thirsty and didn't know if I had any water in the truck. I had not heard one gobble or turkey noise of any sort all morning, but one thing was for sure: Turkey season was over.
I couldn't decide if I was happy with that or not.
Die-hard turkey hunters have a joke about the spring season. Many of us wait for it all year and think about it a lot, probably too much. Once gobbler season starts, the pace can be fast and furious. If we hunt nearly every day, we soon can be worn down by the grueling schedule.
As I have written many times before, the spring season usually requires us to be in the woods and listening for that first gobble well before daylight. To do this, we hunters get up while the chickens are still asleep, take on huge amounts of coffee or terrible energy drinks, then hurtle through the darkness as we drive to our appointed rounds. Doing this on a daily basis quickly becomes a test of the mettle of the turkey hunter.
In many states this lasts about a month, and when it is over, most of us are secretly happy and relieved. So it's "Hooray! Turkey season is here!" Then four to six weeks later, it's "Hooray! Turkey season is over!"
I think about all of these things as I stumble along the top of the ridge leading back to the truck. I figure I must not be entirely ready for the season to end on this the last day, because I stop and find a place to sit and listen, call occasionally and watch the morning progress. I'm glad to be here and glad I can still do this, but there is a weight hanging over the whole scene I could not deny.
My sister Debbie passed away on Mother's Day. I am doing my usual good job of keeping up the appearance, acting like I am strong (lie), and in general portraying that I am doing well (bigger lie). I sit in my new spot on the ridge and ponder on all of this as I pretend to listen for turkeys and offer the occasional lukewarm call. I act like I am hunting, but it is a poor imitation at best. I know it, the song birds around me know it — hell, I bet even the turkeys know it.
In reality, none of this seems real. I mean, Deb is my younger sister — this isn't how it is supposed to be. I'm older than her; I am supposed to go first. But here I sit on a ridge in the Appalachians, carrying a shotgun and calling to a big, goofy-looking bird like I don't have a care in the world.
Well, I do have a lot of cares, especially now. So why am I here? I don't know. Maybe I am too weak and pathetic to be home and around people and have to face all of the things the real world brings. Say what you will; I probably deserve it.
So a big part of my life that I failed to recognize and appreciate is over. I grab an adjacent tree and struggle to pull myself to my feet and make my way back to the old Chevy. Soon the bell will ring to mark the end of spring turkey season for another year. I can't say if I am happy or sad about it.
The ride back to camp is quiet. The dogs seem happy to see me, so there is that.
Deb, I know you are in a better place, and you were sick for a very long time. I have to believe that I will see you again. But it doesn't mean I won't miss you. I am hoping you can forgive me for not being much of a brother.
I doubt the turkeys will miss me much, but Lord willing and I am still here, I will be chasing them again come fall. That is a new beginning for things, I suppose.
To all my brothers and sisters in camo out there, be kind to each other and appreciate what you have while you still have it.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.