The Great Outdoors
Outside is the place that I long to be. When I say outside, I do not mean in the back yard or sitting in the sun at a ball game. Iím talking about the great outdoors, Godís wonderful creation. The further away I can get from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the better. I have spent the majority of my life building and nurturing a passion that I have for the great outdoors.
It started in Michigan where I was born. We were a poor family. My father and brother hunted ducks on the local waters and pheasants in the local fields. I was too young to tag along and it was a pretty serious matter anyway; we needed the food that they brought home. They did not need a little one slowing them down. I remember being awestruck by the critters that they would bring home. Even though they were not always successful, I still believed that they were the greatest hunters on the planet. They were the heroes of my simple, little world. Although, I wasnít able to get out there and hunt with them, I still got to hear the exciting tales of how great it was. My dad did carry me on his shoulders one time though, while he was wading in the canal, gigging for carp. I remember the carpsí huge bodies drifting through the water and my father trying to be still so as not to spook them. Iím sure doing this with a four year old on his shoulders was not an easy task. There was something about the chase that was magical, a feeling of excitement that I still remember today. It was the first time I had ever felt anything like it. That was my first taste of what the outdoors had to offer. And so, the fire was lit.
Thousands of years ago, we were all hunter-gatherers. I assume the ones that were not simply starved to death or were forced to depend on those that were. Hunting was the accepted way of life. I believe that there are still remnants of that hunger to pursue something in each of us, although most of us just choose to do it at the local grocery store.
My parents separated when I was six years old. I moved to Salisbury, NC, with my dad for one year. While there, I went on my first hunt with a B-B gun that my Uncle Tom had given me. I snuck out in the field beside our house. I had no clue what to do. My dad had spent minimal time teaching me gun safety and no time teaching me what was ethical and more importantly, what was not. I had been watching a bunch of small birds flying in and out of a brush pile. I just walked right up, scared them all away and climbed under the branches where they had been. The first bird that came back was the unluckiest of the bunch. I was lying on my back and he was right above me. I put the sites on him; my heart felt like it was going to come out of my chest. When I pulled the trigger, the bird tumbled through the branches, hit me on the chest and fell to the ground. I was crushed! That tiny bird might as well have weighed a hundred pounds. I canít remember if I cried or not, but I do remember the immense feeling of remorse. In the past, it was always someone else that had shot something that we were going to eat. This time it was me. I had taken the life of an animal that I knew I was not going to eat. Then, there was the elation of ďthinkingĒ that I had finally become a hunter. In reality, I was far from it. I remember being very confused as I marched back home with my prize to show my dad. It was almost the end of the fire that had started in Michigan. Thankfully, this one unguided, unethical incident was not enough to extinguish that tiny flame.
Florida was the next stop on my ever growing hunger for the outdoors. We lived within walking distance of a large swamp and the Withlacoochee River. The water was beautiful and crystal clear. In most places, it was shallow enough to see the giant bass that seemed to hover next to the logs like submarines. They haunted my dreams. All I wanted was to catch one of those sharp eyed monsters, and unfortunately I never did. I was nine years old at the time and plenty old enough to venture out on my own. Most days, my friends and I would get off of the school bus, grab a fishing pole and head to the river in hopes of tangling with one of the giants that were always just around the next bend. We spent all of our free time out there snorkeling, fishing, and exploring the swamps. We even got lost a few times.
I moved to Kentucky when I was ten years old. Kentucky is a sportsmanís paradise; at least it was back then. There were miles and miles of woods, creeks and rivers that were all mine, so I thought. I came to know every nook and cranny of that area. Every minute that I was not in school or my Granny wasnít dragging me off to church, I was outside. Turning me loose out there was like pouring gas on that flame that had been burning inside of me. This is where the passion that I had for the outdoors grew into an obsession. I wanted nothing more than to go to the woods. I would go before school and then as soon as I got home, I would go again. It didnít matter if I was hunting, fishing, camping, riding four wheelers, riding my horse or just taking a walk with Otto and Foxy, my two dogs. There was a peace that I received from being out there, deep in the middle of nothing but backwaters, trees, rivers, and wildlife. There was a closeness that I felt to the land, and even though I didnít realize it at the time, a closeness to God. It was a place and a time where I could completely engulf myself in solitude. I go back to Kentucky every year to hunt deer, and I still feel something pulling me to that place. I have this longing to be there. Kentucky feels like home.
I moved back to North Carolina when I was fifteen years old. I met a beautiful girl who also liked the outdoors, but did not have the same burning hunger that I had. Her father though, was an avid outdoorsman who shared my desire for the chase. He and I spent entirely too much time together hunting and fishing. I think she finally came to the realization that for us to spend more time together, she needed to start hunting in addition to fishing. She began to practice archery with us and enjoyed it so much that she successfully competed in tournaments and eventually started hunting. She and I grew up pursuing my passion together.
In 1997, I met a man we call Hoppy. We worked together and soon began hunting and fishing together. He was one of those Christians. Even though I knew about God, I didnít truly know Jesus Christ. Let me tell you that it was not from any lack of effort on my Grannyís part. She would drag me to church every chance she could, but I was entirely too stubborn to listen to what I knew was right. I noticed that Hoppy had a peace about him that I, personally, could not find anywhere but in the outdoors. I wanted what he had. I soon came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior and realized that God was that peaceful presence that had been missing in my everyday life. I can look back now and see that all of those blissful moments spent in the woods were God, giving me a small taste of what he has available for us every day. Hoppy has always been there to guide me when I would get a little sideways, and he still does to this day. We have spent countless hours in the woods and on the water chasing our dream. He shares that same passion and desire that I have to be covered in the beauty of what God has created and provided for us. We have spent many cold December mornings in a duck blind, wet and freezing from the chilly winds on our local waters or the Pamlico Sound. Most people would consider us to be crazy. We have even considered ourselves crazy a time or two. Some of these trips begin with a drive to the Pamlico Sound takes five hours. Then we travel thirty minutes by boat, in the dark, across the icy cold waters. We arrive three hours before sunrise and spend an hour setting out our decoys with stiff, numb fingers. I think those people may be right. We are crazy. Then right before sunup, the anticipation starts. We can hear the sounds of the world waking up around us. Both of us are excited! the sky begins to turn from a dark purple to a mixture of blue, red, yellow, and pink. The sun cracks the horizon. Our decoys are bobbing slowly, silhouetted on the sparkling water and the clouds in the sky are reflecting every color that the sun can provide.
The air is cold and crisp. We can hear whistling from the wings of our quarry and then there they are; bluebills, with their wings cupped and feet out, dropping into the decoys. It is something to behold. Only God could create such a wonderful site. It never matters if we get our limit of ducks or not. By this time, Hop and I have already received our blessing. Some of my most memorable times in the great outdoors are with Hop in a boat, freezing to death.
The outdoors also provides quiet time with God. I carry my camouflage Bible with me to read while Iím up in my deer stand. It seems that I read Godís word more during deer season than any other time of the year. There are times, while sitting up there that Iíll pray for an hour before it gets daylight. Very seldom do I do that at home or even in church. Itís not only my prayer time; itís also a time to listen. How often do we sit in silence and listen to what God has to say? We ask for blessings and answers to prayers, then say Amen and take right off, back to our busy lives. Too often, we just say a prayer and then dig into supper or go to sleep. Iím able to use my time in the woods to really connect with our creator, to pray and then listen. I usually ignore him though when he says, ďGo home and get back into your warm bed.Ē Then, all of a sudden, Iím jolted back into hunter mode when the silence is broken with the snapping of a limb and the chirping of a startled cardinal. While my eyes were closed, the sunís subtle glow has begun to creep through the trees. I hear footsteps softly crunching in the leaves. Itís getting closer. I can feel my heartbeat in my throat. Thereís almost enough light to make out the shape of what I hear. Could this be the morning that ole mossy horns finally makes a mistake or will I be blessed with the site of a cautious old doe standing guard for her spotted twins? Either way, I have received my blessing.
The greatest lessons that Iíve learned from this journey are first of all, whatever your children are interested in, be there to guide and reassure them, to support and teach them. By doing so, you may prevent them from missing out on a huge blessing. Also, whenever God chooses to give you a glimpse of his glory and provides you with one of those beautiful moments, dive right in and stay there as long as possible and be open to what he has to offer. Most importantly, listen to your Granny or whoever it may be, when theyíre trying to tell you about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Do you remember that beautiful and very understanding young lady that I met when I moved to North Carolina? She is now my sweetheart of twenty two years and wife of ten. We have made many great memories together over the years, pursuing our passion for the outdoors. Life has changed our schedules since then, but we still take a hold of the few moments that we are allowed to spend together out there. Today, we have two wonderful daughters that already have that same small flame starting to burn inside of them. They say ďLetís go to the pond daddy,Ē and ďCan I go hunting with you tomorrow?Ē So, my blessed life in the outdoors has come full circle. Itís now time to nurture my childrenís passions. I would imagine that theyíll be chasing their dreams whenever theyíre not in school or Iím not dragging them off to church. My hope is that their flame will burn as strong for the outdoors as mine, but if not, Iíll be okay with that. Iíll support whatever dreams they may have, even if itís ballet or soccer. The times that Iíve spent in Godís great outdoors have helped shape who I am today and have been some of the best times of my life, especially when spent out there with family and friends. Now that our little ones are here with us, I believe that the best is yet to come.