A Sixth Sense



There’s something about the wild.

I think it sets him free. 

I think it’s in his blood.

I think it’s working its way into me.

I’ve been feeling a sixth sense, a magic.  

A sense where time is unattended.  Clocks do not exist.  

Only the sun and her skies, and she decides. 

It feels good to be on no one’s agenda but nature’s.  

I think that sense is called freedom.  

We’re hiking our way through the black spruce, and I’m a few steps behind my husband.  The sun is tucked under an overcast sky, and a yellow glow lights the horizon at noon.  It’s Halloween in Interior Alaska, but an arctic blast recently  shocked us with powder. He points out prints in the snow. Grouse. We both set up to shoot. Minutes later, two shots ring out from his gun, but I am still shooting, adrenaline spiking. The shutter releases on my camera and my other half walks to pick up his dead prizes from the forest floor: two beautiful spruce grouse.  I continue to shoot.  

I don’t know a lot about hunting, and I grew up thinking hunting was for men. Not because anyone told me so, but because I didn’t know any women that hunted. I shot a gun for the first time last year. And then I married a hunter, one who grew up on 60 acres of white pine in the Wisconsin woods, who despite his athletic talent declined to play football each fall in order to hunt, who even skipped his high school homecoming to bow hunt whitetail deer with his mom. These grouse are the first  animals I’ve ever seen killed in the wild. It feels sacred; a way to connect to life and our ecosystem in a way I never expected.  It parallels my intentions with photography; to understand and document our complex humanity.   

Gloved hands hold dead bird
Hunter walks away from viewer in winter forest with dead bird in hand.

I photograph the limp birds in his hands, the cherry blood and lonely feathers on the forest floor.  Satisfied, I let the neck strap carry the weight of my camera as he hands a grouse to me.  I hold her in my hands, inspecting her. Her feet are feathered, her crop full of something bumpy later to be discovered as spruce needles. She’s still warm. Her black and white spotted breast feathers are beautifully preened. She was alive but now she isn’t. The wild stirs freedom in my spirit, but it also stirs humility.  Nature doesn’t owe me anything. To be able to hunt, I must understand the animal, its terrain and its patterns. A sense of deep responsibility lingers in my heart, and a curiosity to know this earth better than I do.

Hunter touches dead birds on a snowy river bank
Two hands hold bird and cut chest open with knife.
Hunter washes bird meat along snowy river bank.

We walk back through the spruce, over and under every branch and downed log, into a forest of birch.  My love moves through the earth like he’s made from it. He whispers, “Caribou!” and points ahead of us toward the vaporous blur of brown and white camouflage weaving through the trees. They were there and then they weren’t, gone with barely a noise to be heard. We’d been looking for that herd for months, and there they went in a whisper. Life is not something to harness or control, I understand, but to enjoy as a gift. Later we will braise the grouse breasts with onions and garlic and nourish our bodies. Our spirits, too, will be tended. The wild is a part of my husband;  I can feel it coming for me, too.

Animal camouflages in winter scene of dense aspen trees.

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