Fresh off seven days in Idaho's Frank Church wilderness hunting mule deer, re-entry after time in the high country feels kinda like my old college drinking days. We'd spend a night at the bars racking up astronomical tabs, wake up hungover, and head for bloody Marys, beers, and breakfast at the local Denny's. After an hour or two of Dionysian bliss, the hangover would inevitably return, then slowly fade over the course of the day, only to be replaced by an itch to do it all over again.
More wholesome in my old age, our time in the Church was spent drunk on howling wolves, rutting muleys, coveys of chukar, cougar tracks, eager Westslopes, spooky ruffed grouse, and 2.3 million acres of public land (and maybe just a little whiskey). It's big medicine up there to see such a wild, unmolested landscape free from the harms modern civilization wreaks on fragile ecological webs, to climb steep 1000 foot hillsides to gather shed antlers or see what the next drainage over holds. We all grew intoxicated on a world where the only responsibilities are to have your boots laced up before the sun rises and to let the joy of feeling your own movement crowd out the burn in your quads footstep after footstep after footstep.
The hangover hit when we landed back in Challis. Our phones chimed with 4G and WiFi, and emails, texts, and social media notifications flooded in. We gorged ourselves with updates on football scores, election madness, hot showers, warm hotel rooms, and catching up with loved ones. But the inevitable void of returning to civilization soon took hold after time spent in such a pure and powerful place. Sure, it's wonderful to be back with my fiance, my dog, my bed, and back at a job I love. But there's something out there that you just can't capture, can't bottle, can't hold onto amidst the racket of everyday life.
Sometimes I find myself wondering what keeps us hunting, fishing, and foraging. Why do we spend countless hours and untold dollars on gas, gear, and greasy spoon diners for the off chance we'll end up with a little meat for the freezer and a few good stories to tell around the next campfire? What makes it all worth the cost, the strain on relationships, the time away from home? Wouldn't it be easier to buy a few pounds of burger wrapped in plastic and use our vacation days to take up golf or distance running?
Sitting here in front of a glowing computer screen, I can still make out the sensation I felt in the Church, but it's dimmer now. Foggy, like your reflection in the mirror after you get out of a hot shower. It's that ephemeral feeling that keeps me coming back to hunting and fishing and pushing further and further out of my comfort zone. It's the chance to see this world isn't as backwards and upside down as it can sometimes appear through the lens of Facebook or the evening news. It's participating in that world wholeheartedly, with sweat and strain and blood, not just as an observer or an outsider, but as part of the landscape, made of the same dirt and grass and stream. In a world that feels increasingly loud, distracting, and impersonal, these quiet times in and amongst God's creations illuminate and give purpose to the mundane. That's why I hunt and why I fish.
I guess now that I've answered my own great existential question, the only one remaining is, when do I get to go back?