Naps in a Lazy Boy chair in front of the woodstove, waking to greet hunters returning from the woods at deer camp. Photo by Bradley Carleton

Naps in a Lazy Boy chair in front of the woodstove, waking to greet hunters returning from the woods at deer camp. Photo by Bradley Carleton

Bradley Carleton | Contributor

As we slide into the holiday months of November and December, let’s remember to take the time to be thankful for the bounty and freedom we all enjoy. The past few months have been marked by such divisiveness and intolerance that I have needed more time in the tree stand and less time listening to deleterious dialogue on politics.

In my tree stand I watch squirrels preparing for winter, scrummaging for nuts under the decaying leaves. I stare down a hen turkey for an hour and a half in a branch just 40 yards away and watch a fawn dance a joyful jig at the edge of the wood line as the sun sets over the Adirondacks. It strikes me that the animal kingdom takes nothing for granted. There are no boundaries to stop immigrating cervids, no “no fly zones” for Canada geese cupping their wings over a cornfield.

Of course there are predators for every species, but even in the violent component of nature, there is a sense that life goes on. As animals, we are part and parcel of that cycle—whether it is killing the last carrots we dig out of our garden or harvesting a healthy doe to feed our families. We don’t do it out of hate. We do it with love, admiration and a desire for connection to our food.

For several years I had the privilege of having my aging father attend deer camp for Thanksgiving weekend. We would transport him up to camp and place him gently in the big blue Lazy Boy chair in front of the woodstove, where he would nap uncontrollably for a few days, waking to greet hunters returning from the woods. We would share magnificent meals at the red checkered tablecloth, lifting our glasses in honor of our hunters’ bond.

Last year he was no longer able to make the trip north from Connecticut. He now resides in a home that assists him in memory care-related issues. When I see him we talk about life and death, and I am grateful that he still remembers the deer camp as one of his favorite images.

Sitting 25 feet up in a tree for hours on end, one has plenty of time to ponder the meaning of life and examine mortality from a perspective that transcends earthly ties. I have begun to understand, at a young 57 years of age, that life—for humans and animals—is beautiful and fleeting. Heck, it was a mere 44 years ago that I sat in my basement, waiting for my father to wake up and take me deer hunting, polishing my new .30-30 and dreaming of time in the woods with grown men.

I am deeply thankful for the many memories that 44 years of hunting and fishing have given me. Each one of them is a treasure that one day I, too, will cherish when I am no longer able to hunt like this.

As the north wind rocks the big trunked maple that I am tied to, I hug her gently, and thank her, too, for supporting me way up here.

The crisp air awakens my spirit and whispers to me that one day I, too, will return to the earth and that the most important work I can do while I am here is to be present and grateful.

No elected president will change that.

Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature and raises funds for Traditions Outdoor, which mentors at-risk young men in outdoor pursuits.