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To hike, to hunt

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By Jonna Mary Yost Contributor

We didn’t hear a sound, not even a meadowlark trilling its symphony; not the caw of a crow, not the sharp woof of a black lab in the distance. The absence of sound was deafening. And I was not to ruin it.

My dad and I were on my first hunt – not of the season, but of my life. I’d undergone the long hours of Hunter’s Safety and passed my test with 100 percent accuracy, both in the field and on paper. And there we were in late October, packed into the silence, trudging uphill in search of “the big one,” the trophy every hunter seeks.

Leaves crackled beneath dad’s Gore-Tex boots, worn flexible by decades of hunting seasons. Since age 12, maybe even before, my father had been an avid big game hunter. He worked harder than any other businessman through the summer, so he was prepared for the 77-day season, taking more time off than he used for holidays or vacation.

In November 1986 he married my mom, and each year after that he presented her with what he called “hunting credits.” Those thoughtful gifts functioned both as anniversary gifts and as “thank yous” for putting up with his absence during the fall; he would sometimes miss Thanksgiving and often their anniversary. Dad took his role as provider very seriously. Including me in this event meant more to both of us than we could articulate. So we just went.

That morning I stumbled through the dark house, attempting stealth and bundling as if I were headed out to ice fish. Piled in the pickup, rifles in the back, I looked to Dad: He was as giddy as a child. He’d waited 15 years to take me hunting.

First light is when the hunting is best, just as soft rays of daylight touch frosty ponderosa pine needles. I traipsed behind, him acting as guide, instructing me as we went: ‘Step lightly. Stop often. Keep your eyes peeled.’ Every particle of my being vibrated, itching to tell Dad just how much fun I was having; to point out the way the light streamed through misty coves of mossy foliage; to ask when it was his turn to carry the hefty .243 caliber rifle.

We marched a few steps, and then stopped. We squinted through branches ornamented in moss. Dewey brush clung to our pants. Droplets were repelled by his wool trousers, but cleaved to my jeans to create a damp cold that forced goose bumps out every hair follicle on my thighs. We walked further, winding up through serviceberry bushes, naked of their leaves.

Nearing the top, our soft breathing created dainty clouds by our faces. At last, we came to a standstill. Shoulders aching, arms locked in 90-degree angles, I was finally able to set down the weighty gun. Now we paused above the amber and gold of the western larch standing proud in their valley, bark sodden with moisture, a striking dark against lit clusters of needles. We hadn’t seen a thing.

When we returned to the truck, the diesel engine started right up, but the truck took its time with the heat. I shivered in the passenger seat until Dad spoke.

He recapped the hunt. The highlights. The lessons. He let out the laughter he had held in for the past six hours of hiking in silence. He broke out hot cocoa and almonds. He sang to Conway Twitty and couldn’t get in the house fast enough to tell Mom about our day.

And he never once spoke of not harvesting the big one, much less seeing him. That first season was long, it was cold, but mostly, it was just Dad and me. We’d go out every weekend and come home with nothing more than fresh mud on the cuffs of our pants.

That season became the prologue in my journal of hikes. The solitude and stillness of the mountains always beckons, and I can’t get enough of the climb, the anticipation, the elation of the summit. I hike anywhere, anytime. And in the fall, I take my gun.

Jonna Mary Yost grew up in Eureka, Mont., with her father, mother and older brother. A passion for the outdoors has led the Yosts through much of the state to hunt, fish and hike. Currently a senior at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., Jonna will graduate in May with a B.A. in Journalism and English Writing.

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