In my teens and early twenties, I would go with the men in my family to hunt mule deer in the hills outside of Prineville, Oregon. In all the years I carried a gun, I only took my safety off twice. Mind you, this is after growing up listening to endless camp stories about supposedly mature men getting drunk off their asses, prancing through bonfires, having their hands duct taped to tent poles, and having their sweat freeze to the rocks under them as they sat waiting, usually hung over, on their hunting stands before sunrise.
In nearly a decade of carrying a gun, I only took my safety off twice, and I never fired. I got what they call “buck fever.” My hands would shake. I couldn't control my breathing. I never trusted myself to make a clean shot that wouldn't torture the majestic animal afterward. Every time I would lower the gun, I found myself wishing I was shooting a camera instead. (I was something of an amateur photographer in my high school years – another on the short list of pursuits I'd like to pick back up “someday.”)
Time passed. The area where my family had hunted for two decades, a place where the group would often bring back several deer per year, was only yielding one every two or three years. It was rugged, dusty, buzzing, achingly peaceful land, and I spent countless hours there playing cribbage with my Dad and Granddad, having my first illegal drinks, and hiking around the hills. I remember a little place named Shepherd's Pond, a small spring only five or six feet around and always covered in water cress. The place was always thick with the circular depressions made in the grass from deer bedding down, although I never saw a deer there. Finally, the Bureau of Land Management declared the hills off-limits and logged it all off. For me, they might as well have dropped a nuclear warhead right on the Lunch Tree, the lone juniper that stood in the center of the Big Saddle where we would meet for lunch when the day's hunt was over. I've never seen those hills since.
Last summer, in the middle of one of the busiest business months I've ever had, my family took a week to camp at the Prineville Reservoir state campground. On the last day, knowing it would make me tired for the afternoon and evening, I woke up half an hour per sunrise, just so I could once again see the sun come up, gold breaking through blue-gray, on these craggy hillsides. I'd even scoped out the table I'd wanted to write at over the prior couple of days. It's next to the fishing platform overlooking the water.
I had set my alarm for a few minutes before sunrise but actually woke up twenty minutes before that. For important things, your body knows. I crawled out of bed, got dressed, grabbed my notebook, and walked the path down to my selected spot. The sky was already gray brightening toward pale blue. Nobody was walking their dog yet. No kids were clamoring for breakfast. No boat motors obscured the occasional screaming caws of the pre-dawn crows. It was about 50 degrees on an August morning. Not quite stick-to-your-rock weather, but still brisk enough to warrant three layers and a pulled-up hoodie.
When I reached my table, I found a doe and her two fawns grazing there, silhouetted against the lake behind them. I snapped a few pictures with my phone. It was as if they were posing for me. “Would you like us here, between the trees? Heads up or heads down?” When I moved, they moved. So long as I kept a respectful distance, they were happy to allow me my contentment.
I smiled all throughout my picture snapping. It was as if the hills had waited 25 years to grant my wish. All I had to do was rise early and be still.
Moments like these require some luck, but, of course, luck happens where you make it. When your wish is quiet and noble and you let it come to you like a silent deer against the brightening horizon, every once in a while, the universe will throw you a bone.
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.