avatarStephanie Wilson


Eleven-Year-Old Squirrel Hunters Brighten My Winter

And litter the woods with pencils

Image by author

The sun had twenty minutes before its tail was gone and darkness would take over the wooded trial I was on. The leaves, which had been mildly colorful, were now a bold orange enchantment in the lessening light.

How could the forest come alive with less light, rather than more?

It was because the setting sun’s shortwave blue light was busy bouncing around the particles in the atmosphere while the longer red, orange, and yellow wavelengths b-lined it to my locale alone in all their grandeur.

Something so fundamental, so invisible, provides some extraordinary experiences in life. How many of these fundamental features of the world must make themselves known before I realize I sit atop a foundation of the extraordinary?

Will I ever realize it?

The brain has a way of taking things for granted like light, gravity, water, and my beautiful non-stick frying pans. And why wouldn’t it? Each morning I wake to light, gravity, water, and the pans. They’re always there, and I figure they’ll continue to be.

This is why I never gave one thought to my anterior cruciate joint in my right knee until one day years ago it fully ruptured on a trampoline. Ever since, I’ve been jarred into deep visceral awareness of my ACLs. I realize now how important they are, and potentially how impermanent. I’m grateful now for my knees. This gratitude fades to the back of my mind most days, but I’ll never again be unaware of how wonderful it is to have ACLs.

And this is how it is. Once we lose something integral that we never knew we had, we love it. Existence is the culmination of endless interconnecting pieces that are impossible to determine, yet they’re why we’re here right now. I’ve been riding these last fifty-some years on untold invisible perks of being alive.

Gravity, frying pans, ACLs — these are but a spec of all the presumed gimmies in life.

This is why, for me, during these winter months when I get the winter blues, it’s easy to assume life doesn’t comprise endless bountiful things. I don’t realize they’re there. I think, “Ho-hum. What’s there to be excited about?” I know this downer mood is the handiwork of brain chemistry, but I also know perspective is a helpful antidote sometimes.

I’ve managed the Winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder, successfully with exercise and outdoor time most of my life. But that doesn’t prevent the blues from seeping through on occasion. This is when I lose sight of the fact that my life is integrated entirely into the world — that I am not alone. It might feel lonely sitting here amid winter, but my reality is the opposite. My one life is connected to more than I realize.

For example, squirrel hunters.

When I arrived home from my walk through the orange woods, I ran into my eleven-year-old neighbor and his buddy. They were sling-shotting something into the woods in my yard. I was amused and intrigued. Why sling-shotting? Why my yard?

It turned out they were hunting squirrels.

I’m reluctant to say they were truly hunting. Their wooden pseudo-makeshift-kid-designed-and-manufactured-crossbows featured pencil-arrows that had chopped-off points so they “wouldn’t actually kill a squirrel.” Still, everything else about the two hunters seemed legit, namely their crouch-and-creep method of spotting a squirrel in my wooded yard. Unfortunately, their creep was noisy, and their crossbows lacked range. The squirrels were springing about, partying, without concern for these hunters — and I’d be, too.

I love my neighbor and his friends. They’re all part of the Lego Robotics team for which I’ve been a mock judge. Lego Robotics is a great way to introduce engineering to your child — but more so, squirrel hunting. The design and thought that went into those crossbows and tipless arrows were clearly born of young, blossoming, engineering minds. There is hope for the world yet, but not for squirrels.

This was a huge amusement to me and in a matter of minutes, I was caught in the crosshairs of the obvious. Life is full, Steph, you just haven’t noticed its abundance.

It’s everywhere, but especially on pre-teen faces. I watched the hunters’ maturing faces, which used to be rounder and younger, but lately have elongated and matured. Their eyes still tell you they are open to anything, and eagerly so. Those eager eyes — they kill me every time, take my heart.

When I advised them on squirrel hunting, which was purely advice-on-the-fly, they listened wide-eyed and with appreciation. It made sense what I said. I told them about anthropologists who study animals and sit in jungles for long stretches before the animals emerge from hiding. Same for hunters, it turns out. Maybe they could sit quietly on my two chairs, no talking, and scan the woods for prey. They agreed. Seemed like a good plan. However, it didn’t last long. Sitting quietly on a chair when there’s excitement and possibility in the air is a drag.

It would have been good if I’d asked them what they intended to do with a squirrel once they plunked it with one of their stub-nosed arrows. I didn’t. I figured that wasn’t going to come to pass, but the story would have been a joy to hear. It would have been about pure hope in a squirrel-infested world.

Their presence in front of me at that moment was pure hope in a blue-tinged world.

I could feel the clear acknowledgment in me that these two kids were part of my abundance, my foundation, my perks of being alive. It was a short encounter, but no less real or meaningful.

This is great news. I didn’t have to wait until they were gone forever, off to college one day and into the world, to realize I love them like I love my ACLs. I was present in the moment and noticed. And this is exactly how I pull myself out of a funk—noticing that my life is made of beautiful blue and orange light, frying pans, and squirrel hunters, including the ability to realize this.

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