On Saturday morning — finally — thousands of us Maine residents will head into the woods, hopes high, on the residents-only opening day of deer season.
Just like we always have. Just like Mainers have been doing for generations. Except this year, things don’t feel the same at all.
Yes, many of us have long looked forward to this autumnal tradition, and our first day in the deer woods with friends and family. Some of us begin planning months in advance. Others never really stop, thinking about new tactics and stand locations the day after the season ends and continuing that process for 11 long months until hunting is allowed again.
But this year — months into a global pandemic, and in the closing stages of a divisive national election cycle — the arrival of deer season seems even more important, if trivial in the grand scheme. This year, to me, opening day looms like a much-anticipated gift, a tiny bit of respite from a never-ending storm of negativity.
And I just can’t wait to get out there, away from the “real world,” and spend some overdue time communing with red squirrels, crows, and maybe even a deer or two.
In past years, deer hunting has presented an interesting challenge for me, an enthusiastic extrovert who has (until the pandemic) spent most of my professional life in crowded newsrooms or in situations that involve meeting complete strangers, asking them personal questions, and getting them to trust me enough to provide honest answers that I can share with thousands of readers.
Now, I sit at my kitchen table for hours on end, alone (save for my two dogs and one cat, who stop by periodically to give me a sniff, a prod or other forms of encouragement). I’m an unintentional loner now. A reluctant introvert. I hate it. And it’s driving me nuts.
Still, I think that my pandemic-imposed solitude may pay dividends when I head into the woods during deer season this year.
Figure: In past years, I may have been a bit too eager for the day to end (or for lunchtime to arrive), because I knew that I’d then have a chance to stop sitting, solitary, silent and still, and would be able to talk to pals about what we saw, what we didn’t, and what we should have done differently.
No, this year, after eight months of near-solitary confinement during my work week, I may be more accustomed to being alone, and may be more able to parlay my newfound loner qualities into a productive, focused day of hunting.
I may be able to sit for hours and not get bored. I may be able to remain perfectly still, and not give away my location to all those deer I’ve previously scared away.
I may even be able to fill my tag and shoot my first deer.
Of course, I’m not guaranteeing that. I’m not that foolish. But this year, I head into the woods thinking positive thoughts that living through the beginning of a pandemic have helped teach me.
A day in the woods is good, no matter what. Even if I don’t have anyone to talk to. Even if not much happens.
I still have a job, after all. I still have my health.
I still have a cozy ground blind out in the woods where I can hunker down and think for a bit.
And who knows? A deer might even stop by for a visit.
Considering the year we’ve had thus far, I guess those are some things worth celebrating. On Saturday morning, I plan to do just that.
See you out there. Have fun. Be safe. Enjoy the gifts the Maine woods have to offer.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.