I Went to the Woods: The internal dialogue of a hunter

By Jeff Lund

For the Juneau Empire

Examples and figures of speech are tricky because they are not precise. We might look at something that seems to be particularly analogous, but it is inevitably oversimplified.

So as I was walking through the woods on a rainy Saturday Sept. 11, I was trying to put words to what I was doing.

Was I recalibrating? Clearing the mechanism? Hunters, hikers and all outdoors folk have many neatly packaged explanations that readily available to us, still none of them are exact.

I have given up being 100% present when I am in the woods because it seems that some of my best thinking is done there, so I figure, why resist?

There is always something that comes to mind when I am outside. Sometimes it’s a song, phrase or even a movie quote.

Unfortunately, the latest soundtrack to my hunts is eight words from Walker Hayes’s recent hit. Not the whole song. Just eight words. It is a lesson in marketing – things don’t necessarily have to be good, just sticky.

[Feeling gratitude —even for wet socks]

But once I was able to tune that out, more consequential thoughts started to bubble up from under the surface and into consciousness.

Earlier I was listening to a podcast with Zander Fryer and he was talking about the importance of dealing with negativity by exploring the emotions and feelings related to it. Negativity that is ignored and covered with fake optimism or cliché self-help jargon, rots. It must be dealt with. Dug up. Removed. Once that has been accomplished, positivity has, and must take, space to reside.

So, I wondered how much negativity I should endure as I continued walking around the woods with my bow. I read newspapers rather than watch broadcast TV. But I am on social media and it hardly seems like subjecting myself to the ills and arguments of the world is the key to happiness. It certainly seems like the perfect way to ruin a good hunt. After all, here I am on one of the few rainless days we have had in September, and I am thinking about who qualifies as exempt from the rules the rest of us are subject to.

It also does seem like I have headed down this road more often (and written about it in this space) because to not mention or reflect on trauma, resilience, mental health, physical health, the government’s role in my happiness, seems to be ignoring what I should probably take a breath and entertain if for no other reason than prevent being a useful idiot.

At this point in the hunt I had stopped walking because multitasking is a myth. It’s a euphemism for “doing neither well due to lack of focus.” I could have quietly walked past a gorilla and probably not noticed.

I let the internal dialog hang and found a sharper focus on the trees, brush and the pile of deer stool to my left. The sound of rushing water cascading invisibly from somewhere in the thick woods became loud.

Movement. I move my eyes without turning my head. Squirrel.

My mind filled with the positivity of presence. I was back. Just a dude in the woods.

I waited for a few more minutes, then continued my quiet circuit just below the tree line. I saw more sign, but only one lone doe.

That night I had grouse for dinner, served on a jalapeno boat filled with cream cheese and topped with bacon. Different than what I had hoped, but it sure tasted good.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

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