Monday, September 16, 2013

The Waiters

Hunters wait. Or so I was told. I’d never hunted from a tree stand before, and couldn’t imagine wanting to. I didn’t want to sit around and wait for something to happen. I know how to hunt walking, sneaking, crawling, sometimes running. But hey, I supposed I could give waiting a chance, if I got the opportunity.

I got it in Germany, a pretty exotic locale for me, so why not try this waiting business there?  After all, the rural German landscape is dotted with Hochsitzen, mostly permanent tree stands, many outfitted with blinds, on the edges of meadows or farm fields. So off I went, with a farmer-hunter (a distant relative), driving down the cobblestoned road to a dirt track in-between two fields. At the end of the track was the Hochsitz he had in mind, and we got out and snuck in the rest of the way. I thought (whisper-style) to myself: “well at least I know how to do this.”

But I didn’t, really. I was paying attention to sneaking into the Hochsitz, but my hunter companion was watching for prey on the way there. And he saw one, off in the distance. I guess I should have known better. Regardless, I thought, let’s get closer to it, close some distance. But that’s not how they do it over there, because it doesn’t work. We were hunting rehwild, roe deer the size of a big dog, and it’s simply not possible to stalk them. They will hear or smell or spot you and run away in the grass before you realize they have.

So we moved towards it with our eyes. I can’t even remember if I managed to spot it at this point. We climbed the ladder, opened the door, and settled into the blind as quietly as possible. Just that was weird for me – I was climbing a ladder trying to make sure something that we had spotted wouldn’t spot us. I wouldn’t have guessed that climbing a ladder was hunting. But it was.

Inside, we shortened the distance with Ferngläser, far-seeing glasses. Turns out the roe deer was a rikke, a doe. We had a license for a rehbock (almost sounds like the shoe company) with antlers shorter than its ears. But we didn’t want the rikke to be startled, lest she scare off any legal bucks out there. And then she disappeared.

I don’t imagine she was lost, but we lost her. So we sat down to wait the appearance of another. Waiting for appearance. Things can be there, apparent, an apparition – or not there, disapparent, nothing. We waited for “there” to happen. The word “existence” comes from the Latin exsistere, “to stand forth.” When something stands forth, it exists. When it does not stand forth, it does not exist. We were waiting for a deer to exist, because from where we were sitting, no more deer were there.

Waiting for existence. It occurred to me then that those who wait do not control that for which they wait. Rather, they rather place themselves in what they hope will be the right spot at the right time, situating themselves where they hope something might come into existence. But the rightness of the spot is not up to the hunter. Roe deer go where they will, like the Spirit or the wind. They do their own existing, or so it would appear to us, those who wait.

Of course when and where one waits is not random. A great deal of practical knowledge and experience goes into making that call. I had no such knowledge, although having grass nearby seemed to be a good bet. Yet no amount of practical knowledge or experience will make the appearance of the prey certain. For that we would have needed theoria, the kind of knowledge that’s supposed to drill through the veils of flesh which keep existence hidden: x-ray vision, infra-red goggles, camera-equipped drones, that sort of thing. But no, we were stuck in our spot with nothing that allowed us to see past the apparent world into the hidden places where the rehbock might be. I bet that’s why those technologies are illegal for hunters anyway, because they take away our human perspective and give us something like what might be the God’s-eye point-of-view. Reality-stripping certainties are not supposed to be in the hunter’s cards.

Appearances are sudden. All at once, a rehbock was there. Wasn’t he always there? Apparently not. He was only always there to himself, I suppose. Perhaps he had been waiting for something too. Or watching. Because of course we weren’t just waiting either. We were watching. Waiting without vigilance is of no use. We watched for his arrival, we watched a lack of existence and waited for it to exist. We held vigil.

He was far off. Much too far for us to shoot him, unless we were mathematical masters of physical logic. Mostly we were not. The mathematical physics logic of our far-seeing glasses brought our human gaze close enough to see that he was a “big one,” with white-tipped antlers and other distinguishing features that would help my companion remember him. We could watch the buck’s existence, walking a route through the grass, circling around to our right, and then back in front of us and close enough to shoot.  But we were not to shoot bucks with tall antlers that year. As if on cue or in response, he disappeared.

So we waited, watched, again. The sun was going down. Our waiting was becoming urgent. But then, in the same place where the first buck had come out of nothingness into somethingness, another one appeared. Maybe this was the right place! My eyes could not tell if it was a buck or a doe, glasses or no. But the hunter could tell it was a legal buck. So our waiting was finished, except that it was not.

Watching was easy. He was already there. He was in our vision, but vision does not catch. But now that the buck was apparent, we had to wait for him to present himself to us. We needed him to come to us. Even when present in the field, the wild thing continues to go where it wills. And so we watched and waited to see what would happen. He seemed to follow the same path that the larger buck did, but more slowly – stopping to eat at places, loping along at other points. The sun was fading; we needed him to come closer!

All we could do was sit there and will him to come closer. We groaned inwardly and sometimes outwardly as he did what he willed. We threw our wills towards him, to catch and pull him in with the power of our hearts. We urged him. We called him earnestly, but in silence – in spring there is no use of “calls.” It was like a kind of prayer.

And so it was a futile battle of wills, where only one side knew of the battle, and the other side did not know that he ignored it. Such was the struggle, that we the hunters might be overcome by an entirely oblivious counterpart. The rehbock needed to present himself to us for a shot, and we were helpless to make him do that. Nor would he have done that willingly anyhow. Our only hope was that we would be obliviated to him in our Hochsitz – that we would not exist – and that he would happen to walk by in range and at the right angle.

He did not. Nor did he the following night, when we threw ourselves into the field again. He was lost to us in the darkness, standing out only when the night took him back.

However, we hunted as waiters, the taste of which I had never savoured before, and may not again. The hunter waits because the hunter makes itself a nothing in the environing embrace of the world. The hunter waits because the hunter can only will inefficaciously that a free thing will present itself at all, and then present itself to the hunter unawares. Because the hunter waits, control is relinquished. The hunter can only call silently and hope. Compare with the gardener, the farmer or the builder, the urban dweller. We are always some of these too, but none waits in the world like the hunter.

4 comments:

  1. Great essay! Certainly not your typical hook-n-bullet write up, and that made it even more enjoyable.

    I have hunted by many methods, and waiting is always the hardest. Sending out one's will to urge the animal into range... perfect!

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  2. Wonderful essay! Sometimes the waiting is loud - as the noise of suppressed thoughts finally finds a way to escape to the surface. Sometimes the noise is distracting, and we are unable to "hear" that which we will to approach. In the quietness of the woods, however, those things that we will to stay away often find themselves unexpectedly center stage at an unchoreographed production.

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  3. "Appearances are sudden. All at once, a rehbock was there. Wasn’t he always there?" I'm always amazed at how a deer can suddenly be right there in front of you, seemingly out of thin air.
    "I bet that’s why those technologies are illegal for hunters anyway, because they take away our human perspective and give us something like what might be the God’s-eye point-of-view. Reality-stripping certainties are not supposed to be in the hunter’s cards." Great view on why such technologies detract from the hunting experience.
    Thanks Nathan!

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  4. Thanks for your comments, guys! I completely forgot to check them, and now I'm months late. Am very glad you appreciated the piece.

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