I am eager with anticipation and nerves as I ease my way down the mowed lane toward the horizon. It is the kind of dark that you can get lost in, even though I could make this journey with my eyes closed it is so familiar. I can feel my heartbeat with each step, and my boots sound as if they are loud enough to wake the dead as I tiptoe through the frosted ryegrass.

I take my flashlight out of my pocket against my better judgment, and let it shine for only an instant for fear that I will see those eyes gleaming back at me. Nothing stares me down, and breathing a little easier I continue to make my way down the lane toward the forest. My favorite tree standing tall against the purple of the first rays of light coming through.

I reach the end of the lane and negotiate my way through the weeds, shrubs and tall grasses to reach the edge of the tree line. The forest is old, but has been cut allowing for new growth to generate obstacles in my way, and the young trees are all too eager to grab at my pack as I attempt to stealth through their fortress of rustling leaves.

My light comes out again as I can no longer see my gloved hand in front of my face. My heart is now almost pounding out of my chest as I scan the tree line for the opening I am looking for. I find it and shut off my light, taking in the serenity of the calm forest floor. I find my tree, and hook my bow and pack to the line I have hanging down from the stand. I take a deep breath, clip into the safety rope and make my way skyward.

At 10 feet I clear the canopy of young trees and the light again changes from pitch black to purple. The air is still as I make my way past 20 feet. I reach the last rung on the ladder step and swing my leg out over to the platform of my stand, always anticipating the slip of a boot and the sudden jerk of the safety rope as it pulls against my harness, only to be met by the searing pain of the tree and metal ladder slamming into my shoulder. Thankfully the slip does not come, and I am standing 25 feet above the forest floor. I sit on the seat and catch my breath, taking in my surroundings and making a note of the absolute quiet.

After a few moments pass, I gather myself enough to raise my bow and pack from the forest floor below. It seems to be heavier than I remember, but I manage to get it up and into my lap. I untangle the pair and hang them on their respective hooks, after taking an arrow out of the quiver and placing it on the shelf of my bow. I wonder if this will be the maiden voyage for this arrow I have crafted myself, and the first kill for my new bow? I try not to get my hopes up.

I ease back into the mesh seat of the stand, and try to calm my racing heart. For a man with a resting pulse of 54, my current rate of 90+ feels as though I have just run a mile, uphill. I breath deep and rhythmic, trying to slow the heart. It begins to fall back into a more familiar cadence.

I peer into the sky, and take in the majesty of the first brush strokes of orange, pink, and red begin to paint the blackish blue velvet of the night sky. This very moment is my favorite time of the day. Just as the night creatures of the forest make their way to bed, and the morning revelry is sounded by the birds waking from their slumber. I hear raccoons fighting in the distance, and a turkey sounds her morning alarm putt from a tree not 60 yards down the ridge. I have made it to my destination, and managed to somehow not alert every animal in the forest of my presence. I feel complete as I watch the night pass into morning….my soul finally at peace once more.

The familiar shuffle of feet through the fallen leaves brings me back from my Zen like state, and the most primitive of feelings begins to rise in my belly.