It was Sunday, the second day of deer camp. My daughter and I sat quietly in the stand for the second morning in a row, eyes and ears straining for signs of life.
The previous morning was bright and still. Deer had come out of nowhere, it seemed, creeping right below our windows, close enough to see the steam from their nostrils. Close enough for them to hear us breathe.
Not the second day. A record number of deer spotted the first day had us on edge, expecting the same or better. They never showed, however. Not once before sunset.
But the sunrise was something special.
It started as a clean yellow light, squeezing between the prickly horizon and the leaden blanket overhead. Then a little pink mixed in and grew more brilliant. The clouds took a rich purple hue with rosy highlights. Everything intensified in a crescendo of color, creating a dramatic backdrop for cold, stiff oak branches.
Almost at once, it disappeared. The sky and clouds drained their color. The light show had come and gone in less than ten minutes. All that remained was the memory and a few inadequate photos.
I don’t know if my daughter had witnessed a sunrise that like that before. She expressed mild astonishment, which was good enough for me. Not wanting to let the splendor go unmarked, I said something like “I love watching the world wake up like this,” and continued to observe the morning’s other happenings.
Not long after, a single shot rang out from the direction my dad and son were sitting. It was soon confirmed Dad had gotten his deer.
I was glad my boy was present for that. He’d been with me the previous afternoon. There’s no telling how many times he said he wanted “to see some deer.” I tried to impress on him the unpredictability of such things, attempting to reframe his expectations. It seemed not to have any affect.
Though we did see one deer in the final minutes, he also wanted to be present for the taking of one. I was somewhat disappointed not to have delivered such a satisfying ending for him.
Maybe my expectations needed reframing, too.
News of one filled tag prompted me to begin spilling stories to my girl, which I’d been saving for just the right time. She seemed to eat them up. Fresh out of her hunter safety course, it was too late for her to participate in the hunt. But she was primed to see everything theoretical take shape in real life.
For my part, I was happy to have a captive audience for the stories I’d collected over almost 30 years of deer hunting. More than that, I was eager for the opportunity to translate my better tales into the knowledge and wisdom that will help her when she finally carries a gun and pulls the trigger. Hopefully some of it stuck.
Meanwhile, Papa had enlisted my son and niece in helping him gut and transport his deer. My niece sat with him opening morning, and would have had another turn if not for his sudden success. That’s probably okay, I thought, if she isn’t grossed out, this will be far more memorable than another couple hours in the stand.
Turns out I was right. Dad later told my brother and me how incredibly fascinated the kids were with the process. He said they looked, poked with sticks, and asked questions. Enthusiasm also apparently turned to hilarity for a moment, which, for the sake of all readers, I’ll simply describe as “hijinks.”
My favorite 15-year-old and I continued to pass the time, whispering and making sandwiches and snacks disappear. She might have been bored, but if so she never let on. I love having time with her when we’re not rushed and she’s her relaxed self.
After a while, the walkie-talkies came out. This often happens in the middle of the day to pass the time. Whether it be jokes, trivia, or briefing each other on the morning’s observations, it can really help ease the tedium.
On this day, Dad came armed with jokes— lots of them. It wasn’t clear where they were coming from, but he kept slinging puns and one-liners for almost half an hour. We did our share of groaning and eye rolling on our end, but there were times when we could hardly breathe. It had been a while since we laughed like that.
It wasn’t much longer until she had to make the trip home and get ready for school the next day. She met her other cousin near my brother’s stand and they walked out together. I watched the whole way.
The thought of having the deer stand to myself seemed good in theory, but it didn’t feel that way when the time came. I missed having my kids with me. They’re growing so fast now, and every minute of one-on-one time is precious.
When I reflected on the day, little moments began popping out. A brilliant sunrise. A bevy of swans. Stories, questions, and answers. Jokes. Intergenerational bonding. New experiences.
The sting of wishing it all back.
I treasured all those moments and hoped the kids would, too. From the anticipation hanging overhead Friday night to the disappointment of having to leave Sunday afternoon, there were countless moments that had the potential to stick with them. Of course, it would be impossible to say which ones will.
I, too, have collected moments throughout the decades. The powerful sorting bin of time was responsible for a great many that slipped into obscurity, while others were etched firmly on the back walls of my mind.
They begin vivid and real, but that never lasts. Perhaps the colors fade a bit. We forget exactly what was said. The moments that persist diminish in detail, but the important parts remain: the smiles, the connections, the way we felt.
Moments become memories that shape our lives. The young carry those memories forward while the old clutch them in order to keep the past. Some are the means by which we keep the dearly departed alive and with us. Others become embedded in us so deeply they are indistinguishable from identity.
All that from a moment. Come and gone like a sunrise.