Today is the day I go hunting for a moose.
One year ago today, I watched the spirit of my grandmother pull itself free from her mangled earthly body. She always called that body a gift, a temporary vessel that allowed her to experience life, though, towards the end it became more of a prison. “Take me home,” she said.
“Where is home?” I asked. She had been living in a nursing home for a few years, which was difficult for the fiercely independent woman I knew my Grandma to be. Any of her assets, including her home, dissolved for her care.
“The cabin,” she said.
Without telling anyone, I loaded her into the van. We escaped the nursing home and wound our way through the colors of Autumn to her favorite place – yellow aspen and paper birch, red maple, green alder, balsam fir. She died surrounded by everything that fed her soul.
The rustic cabin, nestled in the Minnesota North Woods, is my home now. She transferred title to me several years before she entered the nursing home, before her body was riddled with arthritis. We spent precious moments there throughout my life, sharing our kindred spirits.
Waking up this morning, snuggled under Grandma’s quilts, a mixture of peace and trepidation fill the space. My pack is ready by the door, with a rifle standing next to it. The hunt in memory of Grandma starts as soon as my feet hit the floor. “Just a few more minutes,” I tell myself.
The rifle came with the cabin, the Turkish walnut stock smooth from use and care. A gift from her grandfather, Grandma lovingly cared for it, always keeping it clean and in working order. A permanent occupant of the cabin, she never took it to her home in the city. Grandma said it was the cabin’s protection, as if her grandfather was there.
I’ve never been very good with guns, shying away from them. My watchful eyes served me well in learning to care for the rifle. She tried to teach me to shoot it, but I never really got the hang of it, missing the mark every time.
Tossing my legs over the side of the bed, my heel hits the log wood frame, starting my day. Pulling on my camo jeans, shirt and boots, I take a second look around to make sure I’m not missing anything. Donning my coat and gloves, I grab my pack and rifle as I head out the door onto the slatted wood porch. A beautiful crisp morning greets me, the air filled with a light mist slinking away as the early morning sun reaches out its golden rays. A bed of colorful leaves softens the ground as my feet leave the porch steps. The resident cardinal lets me know the bird feeder is empty, as grouse rustle nearby and a woodpecker knocks on a tree near the stream.
Moose love the area around the cabin, though finding them is hard, sometimes. Thick woods surround the cabin for miles, providing cover for the moose, and a large meadow created by a long-ago fire is in the center serving as a wonderful feeding ground. Paths, well-trodden by both humans and animals, meander in several directions throughout the woods.
Taking one of the paths that leads east toward the meadow, the smell of damp earth and decaying leaves fills the air, the smell of rest, a time out from photosynthesis to regenerate the earth.
“Will I be able to do this?” The thought cycles through my mind over and over again as I walk the couple of miles to the meadow, remembering the first time Grandma showed me how to aim. She was so proficient at this. The last time I took aim, I nearly got what I wanted. “It’s for Grandma. I can do this; I can do this.”
There is a hidden place on the east side of the meadow, behind a large maple tree, with enough underbrush to hide a person in the dark and yet thin enough to see through. Slowing down as I approach the meadow, I ease into the stand and take residence upon a fallen log.
The sun’s rays filter through the trees on the southeast side of the meadow, speckling it with ever growing spotlights of gold. A few jagged charred fingers, remnants of the long-ago fire, point to the sky through mounds of tan and red vegetation.
Waiting, I marvel at the cycle of nature, of the bright blue sky, of how the meadow changes as the sun comes up. Opening my pack, I pull a piece of jerky out of my small bear can for breakfast. Being careful in the North Woods is a lesson well learned.
“Thank you, Grandma.” I can almost feel her here, sitting next to me, quietly teaching me how to be still, how to listen, how to feel, how to live.
“There he is Grandma.” A large bull moose enters the meadow from the southeast, ambling through the mounds of fall grasses bent as if bowing to royalty. His long dewlap glistens as water droplets hitchhike from the surrounding grasses. The morning is still cool enough for mists of steam to lift from his nostrils with each breath. Watching him, I marvel at his size and how powerful his neck has to be to hold the weight of his large rack.
“It’s him,” I whisper as I reach for the tool to complete my task. I know it is Freedom, as my grandmother named him, pride and freedom evident with every stride. Watching him grow up, the nearly tan patch between his eyes and rack is how I always identify him.
Taking aim, as I focus on the upper leg near the rib cage, he turns his head in my direction, looking right at me. I shoot. Click. I got the photo of Freedom I wanted on the first try. I can see Grandma in his eyes.