The crunch of autumn leaves beneath my feet meant two things. Time was dwindling before every last available piece of winter meat would disappear into hibernation. And, there was no wretched way I would get any of it with this amplified announcement of my presence.
I leaned against a maple tree, allowing the quiver of arrows to press into my back. It was a reminder that this life wasn’t easy, living in the wilderness, and fending for myself.
My bow and these arrows were supposed to be my livelihood. They’d provide sustenance as well as a challenge that had become stale in my previous life. And what a challenge it’d become, perhaps more than I’d anticipated. I was living off wild berries and sap from these trees. I didn’t know what was vanishing more quickly, my time to persevere through these adverse circumstances, or my resolve to do so.
I wiped my brow, smearing some of the charcoal camouflage on my sleeve. I was sweating. I suspected it had nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with stress. I could prosper in a boardroom, but I wasn’t sure I’d survive out here.
I exhaled. Move down by the stream, I thought. The animals needed hydration, and the sound of water meandering over the rocks would provide concealment for my noisy rambling through the forest.
As I tenderly placed each sole along the stream’s bank, I was more concerned about my audible footprint than my physical one. I kept my eyes peeled for any movement.
The twig beneath my foot snapped in two. Damn. It was then that I perceived motion in my peripheral view. I swiveled my head and locked eyes with a twelve point buck. He’d been drinking from the stream before looking up, now staring in my direction.
Slowly, but deliberately, I reached behind my back to extract an arrow while simultaneously placing my bow in the shooting position. Drawing back the arrow, I lined up my sights on what would be dinner for the next several months.
He remained there, staring at me, as if waiting and willing to provide his sacrificial offering. I tried, so damned hard, to release that arrow. His eyes. They reflected something back at me, a determined yet compassionate look that I didn’t think was possible from a wild animal. They spoke to me with invisible words. If I can survive, so can you.
I released tension in the bow, keeping my eyes locked on his. He simply nodded, as if in a bow of respect, and returned to drinking water from the stream. He had remained calm in the presence of danger and determined in the face of adversity.
The wise among our species say we each have a spirit animal. We don’t pick it. It picks us. Now, I know what they mean. That buck provided me with something more valuable than meat. Even better than the will to survive, he provided me with the empowerment to live.