Summer, and Fall
Replacing the head gaskets on my car was a bigger job than I had bargained for; once it was finished, I had to buy food, fix some gear, and find everything, which shouldn’t take long, but did. All of that and another couple of days lost due to laziness made me a week late in departing. I got to the trailhead at 10 PM, so I just put the pad and sleeping bag on the ground next to the car. I heard the first elk bugle a few seconds after leaving the car, and they kept it up most of the night. A doe and her fawn were staring at me when I woke up. Since I had licenses for both deer and elk, I had to admit that it was a really good area for the strictly hunting aspect, but the people and road were not what I was there for, so I packed a light load and headed up. Last year I was camped in a ridiculously nice place, but it wasn’t that far from a road, and once I actually saw someone else out hunting. This time I headed for a valley a mile to the south, the easiest access being a steep hike up through fairly thick forest. The lower reaches of the valley are very steep, nearly impenetrable jungle, rather unusual for Colorado. Further up, right at the wilderness boundary, it flattens out to become a well-watered island of summer, the older fallen trees and 15 foot boulders furry with moss, real giants among the living trees, and, very near the stream, most of the kinnikinnick still holding berries. I tasted one; the next day two, and after I would sit and graze; BB sized, red, quite good, the chord of flavor a few steps wider than that of a strawberry, and an octave lower.
I’d hardly shot all summer, so at first I just wandered, roving and composing my Worst Demo entry. Once the arrows behaved themselves, the hunting began, but slowly. Last year I ran into more deer a little above this spot than anywhere else, so I saw no reason to travel much, and by staying close, I could be back in camp for a midday meal, cooking then rather than at night, getting more food and more sleep than in years past, when I would lose 10 pounds in a season. And my camp was nice during the day, with the cheerier sort of pine squirrels, and the nicest flies I’ve ever encountered. They might buzz near my food if I made something especially appetizing to them, but they stayed out of it, and modest shooing would send them off for a period that must feel like ages to a fly. If they got in the tent they just tried to leave, though always going up where there was no exit, so I always escorted them out before leaving camp.
Yet there was a hazard in this new way, recognized far too late. Once the food is cooked, a bit of reading during the eating and personal washing time can easily stretch to a bit more, or a lot more, and the supply of hours seems endless, so to spend them in any pleasant way seems reasonable, and The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom is hard to put down. But an hour in camp, looking at a page that I could read at home, is an hour not spent looking at other things, less accessible at home. Before, the natural rhythms provided all the discipline: up at dark, get somewhere promising by first light, breakfast once the sun warms a good spot, hunt till dark, back to camp, cook, eat, and to bed, never soon enough. And though there seemed no end of new discoveries close to camp this year, being there midday made my territory much smaller.
Later, conscious of dwindling time, I went a bit further, loving what I saw, mad at myself for not seeing more. This place is not like others, being so much a paradise of summer that I half expected to run into wood nymphs. The first hard freeze wilts the ferns and all the deciduous plants, and summer is very much over. That might not be so bad if I’d made better use of my summer. I did see some great concerts, including Henning Kraggerud playing Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, and James Morrison playing his own material. There was The Thief of Bagdad, accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra playing from the original cue sheets- the best film music experience I’ve had in some time. But most of it was work and car repair, the work needed to pay for a month off, the car not so much needed, as I could have built a bike trailer and made the trip in high style, but if the car wasn’t fixed for September, it would have sat indefinitely, there being no time to fix it before the rifle seasons, poor cousins to archery season in many ways, but at least theoretically more likely to put meat in my diet. Work was 7 ½ miles away by bike. Home at the end of the day, I would eat and little else, and felt as if all energy was being spent. Yet going out more would have fed me things that in the long run are as vital as food and sleep, and I’m old enough to feel the loss of a summer more acutely than at 18, when saving money for college was enough justification.
I saw elk a few times, deer a bit more; they also saw or smelled me. My bow is a stick of wood I carved, and I shoot heavy arrows of ash. If I got a shot, the arrow would go all the way through. The archer I spoke with while loading my pack, shooting the latest technology, stuck an elk in the neck because he shot well past a sensible range, giving the elk time to move, and the light arrow stopped short of the spine. But the cost of my primitive technology and refusal to take Hail Mary shots is a 15 yard range on an animal unaware of my presence, and about half that on an alerted animal; plenty for the hunters of this forest 400 years ago, but very little for me. I never got anywhere near those ranges this year. There was the promise of better opportunity down by the trailhead, but my hedonism was stronger than my bambicidal tendencies. And it’s not a simple matter of meat vs. more rice, since I really thought I had a good chance to get a cow elk in the first rifle season in mid-October. (When pressed, I may admit that I’ve bought 10 of those tags, with the score now Elk 10, Paul 0, and every year feels like The One.) There’s also a special, very long deer season in one area, attempting to control chronic wasting disease. That’s in ranch country, all private land, where getting permission on a good chunk is half the challenge. I was awfully endearing there last year, so I’m going to have 1500 + acres available this year. I’ve convinced myself that when the likelihood of success is considered, archery is but a small part of my overall hunting, though that conclusion would probably not pass peer review.
Though I love being up there for the first decent snowfall, this year’s warmth was perhaps kinder to me. The two week limit for camping in one national forest came before the frost, so I left it still in summer glory. I spent the last week of the season not far away, but in a drier place where fall was well established, and my mornings were spent in aspen groves filling with light doubly golden after passing through the turning leaves. There were more deer there, and I had a frisky buck at 10 yards for an instant, but no shot opportunities. I’d still call the season a fair success, as I packed further in than ever before, with the reward of never seeing another hunter, and only a few hikers several hundred yards away on the last day. The consciousness of squandered time is still there, but not so acutely felt. Fall is my season of renewal. It is time to improve things, that I might better use the remaining hours.