I’m three weeks into my coveted deer season and have only found myself in a tree once. I am hoping to witness my brother shoot his first buck. It will hold a more profound level of emotional interaction than many of our other shared memories.
Encouraging this contemplative moment in my life, my phone falls to the base of the tree. Looking down at it, I hesitate. I think of how much of a project it would be to retrieve it and return to my position. On any other day, I would have jumped down to get it. But on this day I decide not to distract myself with content on a screen. I need this.
No matter what society throws at me, no matter what standards civilization creates, these moments of predator and prey are always there waiting deep inside nature. The world as we know it could fall tomorrow and still in all parts of the earth, the cruel and beautiful circle of life would go on. It has been a long time since I have sat back and listened to Mother Nature’s chorus. I blame ever so slightly The Urban Deer Complex for this.
I got too caught up in my camera, filming seemingly simple things and getting distracted by their basic beauty. Modern technology has been so good at making us forget about this beauty. We are more likely to look at a picture online of the beauty in our backyards than go out and see it for ourselves. The fall colors, the folding bark of a birch, the complicated knot inside the oak I’m hanging on. That knot tells a story I will never know, a story that money cannot buy or power on earth reveal.
I want to see my brother smile. I want to hear the wind in the leaves and watch them fall to the ground so free from influence. These simple moments remind me what life from a tree stand is all about.
As the sun begins to fade over the suburban neighborhood, a deer appears in the distance. From the angle I’m sitting at, I could see the basket rack eight pointer making his way thirty yards out from our tree. My brother’s tree stand, right below mine, is turned just a degree too far to be able to make the shot. For the moment, I am free from the world and caught up in the now. My brain is on overload with all the things I wished had happened and processing what might come to pass.
The buck disappears down the hill. Off to finish his night’s agenda, I guess. My brother and I leave our trees, cursed to return to our jobs and bills and the world we strive to create for ourselves. The jealousy I have for the deer humbles me. It reminds me why I keep coming back.
As darkness swallows our surroundings, I pick up my phone from the fresh coat of fallen leaves. There are ten missed calls, too many missed texts, and one harsh reminder that I don’t live my life from a tree stand.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.