The Candelabra of Justice

Today I woke up in my own bed in Northern California, the first time in 12 days that a 5am alarm didn’t go off with 20 acres of Iowa clover fields and woods right outside. It was good to be home with Danielle and the girls – our two dogs and a cat – but part of me was still wanting to pull on two pairs of thermals, long-sleeve T-shirt, down vest, multiple pairs of socks, insulated boots, gloves, fleece headgear, heavy Scentblocker® jacket and pants and go climb a tree. The other part of me was happy to hit the snooze button and ponder recipes for the venison coming my way in three weeks or so from the butcher in Milo.

Because I had successfully filled one of my two tags; a nubby eight-point buck, killed with a perfectly placed arrow through the heart at 20 yards from a stand down in the hardwoods. A doe, on the last evening of my time in Iowa, did show herself right as I was preparing to come down from my tree – arrow already back in the quiver and about to lower down my bow and pack. I quickly re-nocked the arrow and estimated the distance at 40 yards in the fading light, but my guess was off by six inches and so she trotted off unscathed, likely wondering what that close by whoosh had been. So much for my perfect but short record of heart shots; I’d be heading home with one tag unfilled.

My first whitetail buck ever, arrowed at 20 yards on a cold day in Iowa.

My first whitetail buck ever, arrowed at 20 yards on a cold and windy day in Iowa.

The buck wasn’t at all what I had planned on, fantasized about, in the weeks leading up to the hunt in Iowa. I’d seen some respectable racks a few times on stand, big 8s and 10 points, but always way out of range, or in the dark too early or too late. Then after seven days of morning and evening hunts, one suddenly stepped out of the woods and onto the open trail. I pulled back my bow, letting the 20 yard sight pin settle just behind and below his shoulder. In those few seconds at full draw I took in his small rack but many other things raced through my mind: the coming subzero temperatures and snow flurries, the chatter on all the forums and websites that said the big bucks had disappeared (locked down with does, waiting for them to be ready to breed), my previous trip six years before when my buck tag went unfilled, the horror of coming home without venison, and the fact that he was the only buck to give me a shot. And so a slight pressure on the release sent my arrow off.

He didn’t go far; dead after 30 yards, tumbling downhill another 30 until I found him in a trickle of water in a deep creek. He wasn’t hard to find; a trail of blood-splattered fall leaves had clearly marked his path. It was the quick clean kill I’d practiced for all summer in my backyard. And now my first whitetail buck ever, and with a bow, was down.

But what to do with him, besides dropping him off at the Milo Locker for processing and the FedEx journey to California three weeks from now? I was pleased to get him, but the expense of taxidermy seemed better saved for another buck someday. Still, I had to immortalize my first whitetail buck somehow, because as a young archer I met on a trail years back in Utah had told me, any buck with a bow is a trophy. And then it came to me: I would make a candlestick holder from his small rack, something to light our holiday table this Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the ones to come. A literal spark for a conversation on how the little bony candelabra came to be. It was then that something else occurred to me; the perfect justice of it all.

You see, I had gone to Iowa hoping for, maybe even expecting, that the legendary whitetail state and its seas of corn would offer me a shot at a monster of a deer. A deer with heavy beams supporting tall antler tines, daggers of bone pointing in every direction, the stringy bark of trees they’d been sharpened against dangling from them. Even a meat hunter like me, a zenhunter, isn’t immune to being enamored of a thing like that. Non-hunters teased that I was going on vacation to shoot Bambi, but no, I was after his dad, the “king of the forest” if you believe in Disney’s false notions about wildlife and the hierarchy of creatures. But it hadn’t worked out that way on this trip. Instead, I got Bambi’s older brother.

Should I have held out, taken a chance on going home buck-less? One of Mike’s young friends brought us pictures of a real “king” he’d taken that same week. And there were the two fine bucks that Mike brought back to camp. It was hard at first, and there was a lot of second-guessing.  No, it happened the way it was meant to.

Mike's young friend brought now this magnificent buck not far from Mike's property.

Mike’s young friend Connor brought down this magnificent buck not far from Mike’s property.

Nature is such an amazing thing, and the universe – from the part we walk through to the territory well beyond our reach – has its own rhythm. Lots of people talk about balance and harmony and justice, from their yoga mats or law offices, while in reality doing all they can to undermine those natural forces or at least escape their impact. But accepting that there’s a natural order to things, my small buck made perfect sense.

Mike had been working hard for more than a year to get his property ready for deer season – plowing, planting, hanging tree stands – almost all by himself, along with a serious investment in the land and all the necessary equipment. Born-and-raised locals like Connor had been scouting and hunting hard every day of the season, and seasons past. They deserve the big bucks they get, but I have to say with some reverence, nature seems to know they deserve them. As I heard a Native American once say, the animal gives himself to the hunter that is worthy.

The first buck ever taken on Mike’s 20 acres: woods, three fields, 10 stands.

And then there’s me. I jet into Iowa every few years, when I get drawn for an archery tag. I stay for a couple of weeks. Sure, I provide my modest boost to the state’s economy with my purchase of a license and tag, and I practice with my bow, but mostly I just show up. Yes, I climb the trees morning and night, endure the cold and wind, but if I’d gone home with a huge antler rack and the others didn’t, I’d still think it would mean the universe was a little out of balance. No, the buck that came to me in the woods just after dawn that morning was the one I had earned, the one I was worthy of.  Maybe next time, or the time after, I will have enough invested to bring home Bambi’s uncle at least. But for now I’m satisfied with my little 8 point. And I will relish every morsel of venison he yields.

Today I’ll go to the craft store and find the parts to turn that small rack into a pair of candlestick holders. And while I’ll probably tell guests only a small part of the story behind them, to me they will always represent the perfection of the natural world, when what I gave was in balance with what I got.

 She might have smelled my footsteps but even with a swirling wind this little doe didn’t know I was right above her, in my Scentblocker® suit.

~ by SpeakingZenaphorically on November 16, 2014.

2 Responses to “The Candelabra of Justice”

  1. […] Source-Page: “” […]

  2. Great trophy!

    I just start reading your blog.


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