By Mark Kenyon
Towards the end of this past season, my wife scolded me for the millionth time about being on my phone too much. This time though, I wasn’t as annoyed by her nagging as I usually am. That is because, at that moment, I had an epiphany. I am on my phone too much.
But I wasn’t just guilty of this in the house, or in the car, or at family gatherings. I realized that I’d been committing the same crime in the woods. In my temple of worship – the great outdoors, I had been forsaking the wild by constantly updating statuses, browsing newsfeeds, and following sports scores. All the while, missing the life and beauty around me.
I needed to change this. So on my second to last hunt of the year, I decided to give it a try.
I would go on a hunt with no phone.
As I began the walk to my stand that day, my initial thoughts were of worry and paranoia. I’m so used to having a phone on me 24/7, that I couldn’t imagine how I’d survive without one. What if I fell from my tree? What if I needed help for some reason? What if I saw something that absolutely needed to be photographed!?
I finally clambered up the steps into my treestand, organized my gear, and settled in for the evening sit. Of course, my initial impulse was to reach for my phone to take a photo and post an update on Facebook. With my hand already in my pocket, I embarrassingly realized what I was doing. That wasn’t the last time I did it either. Over and over I had the impulse in my brain to pull out my phone and check Facebook, or read an article, or send a tweet. It became sadly clear just how disconnected I had become from the outdoors – so much so that I would instinctually reach for my phone every few minutes. How had this come to be? How had I become so dependent on technology, even when in a setting which should have put me as far away as possible from it?
As this sad reality washed over me, I took a deep breath, let it out, and released the angst, anxiety, and obsessive need for “my fix”.
And then I opened my eyes.
My God, what a beautiful sight it was.
The sparkle of the fresh snow laying upon the swamp grass was like a carpet of diamonds pocked with cloven hoof prints criss crossing this way and that. I marveled at a woodpecker blazed with a red mane streaming down his back, as he smashed, battered, and beat an old dead tree into submission. The squirrels morphed from an annoyance into marvelous entertainment, as a pair of bushy tails took turns leaping back and forth from one gnarled oak branch to the next. I took in a landscape layered in a depth of beauty that I rarely noticed before.
The vivid colors, the textures, the patterns, the sights and smells. I had sat here many times before, but never did I see and appreciate the hand painted perfection of the cattails swaying in the breeze or the way snake like vines wrapped methodically down the trunks of the trees standing guard over the sun dappled clearing. I tasted each sweet breath, and inhaled what I can only describe as a true taste of life. I was really, truly and fully alive in this moment. No distractions, no commitments, no messages, tweets, posts, “pins”, or “likes”.
And then, a flicker. A flash. A dash of brown and then white. A doe emerged from the pillars of oak, and stepped forward into view.
My pulse quickened, my hands tensed, my pupils focused and the age old dance of the hunt unfolded.
The small, brown doe continued into the field, followed by another, and then another. I reached across myself and slowly pulled my muzzleloader from its hook. And as I eased the gun onto my shooting stick, I watched as the largest of the four does took her final steps into the open.
I settled in, took a deep breath, and centered her rippling chocolate colored chest in my sights. The hammer was cocked, and my finger sank into the trigger, slowly pushing it closer and closer to it’s end.
And then, “Pfffttt”! A misfire.
I looked up in disgust and dismay as white, flashing tails bounced away into the swamp, untouched by my failed attempt of a shot.
It would be in this moment that I would usually turn again to my crutch, my escape, my fix. The phone. A few texts of disappointment, a Facebook post of disgust, a tweet of dismay. But not today.
Instead, I just let it simmer. I let the events of the past few minutes settle in around me and take seat. I let the emotions fill me up, wash over me, and slowly fade away like a falling tide. The feelings of excitement, disappointment, and then appreciation for the opportunity were never so rich or vivid.
As I sat leaned back against my tree, I let my mind swim through this dizzying array of emotion. I watched as a few solitary snow flakes began their descent to the ground, skylined against a heavenly backdrop. The waning sun, slowing fell beneath the horizon, leaving behind a canvas of lucid colors intertwined in such a way that I couldn’t look away.
And in this moment, I thanked the Lord for this hunt, this day, this moment. Turns out that this night was exactly what I needed.
Turns out that when I turned off my phone, the world turned on.