Nature’s Gifts

On a cloudless, moonless night in October I camped on the open prairie of northwestern South Dakota. Not far from where I pitched my tent the Lakota had conducted the last known wild bison hunt over 100 years before. I was so remote that at night there wasn’t a visible light in any direction over the rolling grassland. No lights except the millions of brilliant stars that were so bright I did not need a flashlight to see. The stars stretched from one horizon to the other. I had never seen the Milky Way in all its glory as I did this night. It was the most amazing natural beauty I had ever observed. I slid my sleeping pad from my tent and lay in the grass looking up into the twinkling blackness and soon found myself contemplating my own existence in the universe. As my mind drifted I heard a coyote howl to my right. Soon another answered from my left, much closer. He barked an excited sounding reply as if to tell the others there was a stranger near by. I do not know how long I stayed there looking up and listening to the sounds of the night but it is forever burnt into my memory as one the most amazing nights I have ever spent in the wilderness.

I have stood in gin clear, wild, back-country streams and felt the water’s icy cold embrace while I listened to the calming sound of the spring fed liquid tumble over and around the stones in its way. After catching several trophy sized brown trout, I lay on a large flat rock with my head propped up on my fishing pack. I was in a remote canyon where earlier I had watched big horn sheep jump from rock to rock hundreds of feet up. As I lay there listing to the white noise of the creek I thought that surely there must be a trout stream like this in heaven. For me, nature is a spiritual experience and nothing conjures thoughts of the Almighty and the wonders he has provided like quiet, peaceful mountain streams.

I have hiked the ridges of Western mountain ranges, along trails that numerous Native American tribes traveled for thousands of years. I have felt the excitement of hearing a distant bull elk as he bugled in the morning mist. Standing there with a bow and a quiver of arrows I felt like a child on Christmas morning, anticipating the gifts I was about to rip open. However, this “gift” was 1,000 pounds of pure muscle, antlers and hooves. Millions of years of natural selection has endowed the wapiti with a keen sense of smell, acute hearing and the ability to out-pace any human. If I would be so lucky as to have the opportunity at this gift I would have to outsmart and outmaneuver this magnificent creature. The trill of the hunt, figuring out my next move and planning my stalk is what keeps me coming back year after year. When I recall my hunts it is not the kill I remember, I think back to the hike in to camp, the miles spent in search of my quarry, the lessons I learned and the friends I experienced these events with.

At night as I lay in my bed I sometimes plan my next adventure. As I drift off to that state of consciousness where I am not quite awake but not quite asleep, my mind wanders back to those times I have spent on the open prairies watching the wind blow the grass like waves on the ocean. Or, when I cast my line into a small ripple hoping a trout would be fooled into biting as I stood in a cold mountain stream in some remote valley surrounded by aspen covered mountains. These are the memories that help me break up the lingering worries of life. I cherish these experiences and consider them nature’s gifts that no one can ever take from me. As my children grow I look forward to helping them find their own personal gifts so that when they experience the pressures and stresses of this world they too can find solace in a happier, more peaceful time.

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