Saturday, May 2, 2009

Muscles quiver in anticipation. Tension lay in the air like smoke coming from a chimney. Gunner has been through this drill from the time he was a ten week old pup, but the word stay is still one of the hardest to obey. He creeps forward which brings my quick correction. His eyes focus on the canvas dummy that stands in the place of future real birds. After eternity, I release the pup. Muscles that were once subdued now jump to life. Gunner’s feet throw chunks of earth with each stride. A giant leap meets the ponds edge, ending in a watery explosion. The young dog whimpers in frustration as his feet won’t carry him as fast as he would like through the water. Gunner quickly detains the Canvas imposter and makes his turn back toward me. Content resides in the eyes of the pup; he can tell by my overjoyed praise that he has pleased me. I reach down and with a Drop receive the canvas bird. The celebration quickly comes to an end with the word Sit followed by the dreaded Stay. I throw the canvas bumper back to where it came. Gunner’s muscles tense. He whimpers as the quivers of tension return. We spend the rest of the afternoon using tense repetition as a tool to imprint Gunners’ purpose on his heart.
A few hours later Gunner is sprawled out on the ottoman like he had been shot. He is whipped—barely waking long enough to eat his dinner. I rub his floppy ears allowing my mind to wonder. I start thinking of his performance today. Gunner’s intense drive to please was only equaled to his instinct to break command, and go when he wanted. The word stay was excruciating to him, much like wait is to us.
My family found ourselves in this predicament. For more than a couple years we had been consistently praying for a new house. All three of my boys had to share a bed room and the house was packed to its gills—and now Aaron, the oldest, was a teenager and needed his space. Month after month we prayed but the answer always came back wait. I became winey, pouty, and discouraged, but most of all, fearful for my boys faith—I wanted them to see God answer our prayers. I even jumped the gun and started looking at houses without having ours sold. Oregon was in the middle of the real-estate boom, making the market way over priced. A small townhouse, with no yard, went for two hundred and twenty thousand. The prices made our dream look hopeless—to the point that I looked for employment elsewhere—even out of my home state. I applied for a ton of jobs, that I was more than qualified for, but almost supernaturally, none of them panned out. Finally I melted; I had worn out all the human driven alternatives. I cried out, “Lord, not my will, but yours.” Within a couple of studies the Lord answered me—Rom 8:25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. I was being told to wait—one of the hardest things for me to do. But Like David I resolved to—(Psa 27:14) Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. I tried to base my life on this concept. Soon the whole family started using phrases like—in His time or Lord willing, when we referred to the need for a house. It wasn’t until we were helpless that we found real peace. Waiting is never easy. Like Gunner, I was new at this and I often tried to creep forward, but my handler knew what he was doing correcting me before it became a problem. I have learned His lesson well—Quit living for the moment. Life is much more then the minute that we are in, and that moment can effect years. My ordered life is much bigger then I am, and all I can do is make the decisions that are placed before me. I cannot see what God sees. All I can see is the moment, but realizing how I treat that moment effects my eternity is wisdom. Knowing this I have realized that when the opposite is true, when I don’t understand the moment, it is best to be still, to wait on the handler to give me the command.
When I look at Gunner I see a fully functioning water dog. I have visions of a well disciplined machine that follow my commands. I know that at thirteen weeks there is no way he can live up to those expectations, but I do know the process that it takes to get him to my vision. I know the frustration he will have to deal with; I know the confusion that he will have to burn through. I thrust the pup into these hard situations now, so he could work it out before it really matters. I allow him to meet problems, fears, and emotions early on so he will grow into a mature hunter. The reason we do this at a young age is the pup is totally reliant on the handler. A good handler loves a pup through those times. A good handler always views the pup as the finished product. A good handler takes pride in his finished dog.
As gas prices, food prices, unemployment, taxes soar and the dow, real-estate values, retirement accounts plummet we can take lessons from our dogs. Gunner doesn’t know why he has to sit and stay. He doesn’t know why he has to suffer through it, but I, as his handler know exactly why he has to go through these things. I see his life in its future glory. Something he has no clue about. We are in better light then Gunner, we can know of the future Glory. Although the moments of today are scary we can take rest in the fact that they are ordered from our handler. We can bask in the fact that they are ordained to bring us to future glory. Jesus has allowed all that is going on to hone us into the people He wants. Like Gunner all we have to do is stay when he says stay and act when he says act. This is great a comfort and the only home for hope in these times. Turn to the Great Handler He will never lead us astray. Wait on the Lord, He is leading us to future Glory!

There is something special about a Lab!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Aaron’s Point
Nate Bailey

This morning started with the same supernatural allure that it did twenty five years ago, when I carried a rifle, for the first time, in the Ochoco. The moon still reigns as I sprang out of bed. Just being in this land again would have been enough to revive me, but today is a special day. Today is both of my sons first season in this enchanted land.
Our family has been hunting the Ochoco sense my Grandfather was a young man back in the forties. From it’s sage strung parries above Cold Spring’s to the deep fir filled draws of Peterson Canyon, the land of the Ochoco is one of the tools God has used to shape me into the man I am today. Memories are painted on every rock, snag, and small patch of timber within the Crooked River drainage. Our family has renamed the geography by the experiences that were gained there. Names like Ant Hills, Hodge Point, The Funnel, Nate’s ridge have meaning around the Hodge fire –each and every name beckons a flood of stored memories. Some make me smile, some make me cry, but they all are the chisel that has been used to form me.
The smell of percolating coffee wakes the boys.
“Good mornin’ Dad” Aaron said as he rubbs his eyes
Gage, bumbles his way out of the top bunk with the grace of a middle school boy.
“Hi Dad! Are you Ready?” he belts out.
“shhhhhhhhhhh…Gage.” Aaron hisses.
“Ya Gage, you gotta be quiet, Mom and Chase are still sleeping.”
I smile and look at them with approval, I know that they have been bitten by a bug so supernatural that it couldn’t be explained—the only way it is understood is by experiencing it. I knew the Master’s hand was, once again at work, and once again Ochoco would be His chisel.
This morning is painted in a dark purple that gives way to orange on its edges. The smell of frost bitten sage fills our nostrils, the hope of a mossy horned mule deer buck fills our minds.
Slurping down our coffee we load our gear, let the pickup warm up for a couple minutes, then we are off.
The road leading out of camp is a washboard mess that meanders to Black Mountain. Its sharp rocks spell murder to a radial’s side walls if the speed isn’t kept to a crawl. I look at the boys. Knowing what was going through their minds. The exact same thoughts ripped through my mind some twenty years before—let’s just get there already!
“Slow goin.” I say with a hooking smile.
“ya.” Aaron is first to answer
“Can we go any faster?” Gage says in desperation, “sense we found out we drew these tags all I have been doing is dreaming of this morning, I have waited for months, I can hardly wait —I want to hunt.”
The sun peaks over the eastern horizon signaling we are late.
“How much further Dad?” Aaron asks looking for an answer that would let him out of the pickup soon.
Aaron slumps, He knows that means anywhere from five minutes to two hours.
Gage rolls his eyes and says “we’ll never get there.”
The Diesel groans on, crawling over rock after rock. The sun rises higher and higher until you could see its full glory over the horizon. The boys anticipation turns into slight boredom as the sun’s rays, shining through the windshield, beckons them into a semi—sleep mixed with hypnotized trance. For another fifteen minutes we bounce our way across the rock filled prairie until we come out on the gravel road that would carry us the last five miles of our journey. The deep drown of the pickup jumps up an octave as we are now moving faster than the snail’s pace. Life starts flowing back into the boys as they know the faster speed means they could get out of the cramped pick soon. Turn after turn anticipation flows back into Aaron and Gage. The twisting of the road got real familiar until Aaron yelled, “Deer!”
I slam on the brakes stopping the huge pickup with behind a tree totally hiding the deer from my view.
“Where?” I say In disbelief
“Right there! Can’t you see them?”
“whatever, Aaron!” gage blurts out, not even looking In the direction Aaron is pointing.
“Give me the binoculars.”
Aaron fumbles around in the back seat trying to find the binoculars and trying not to take his eyes off the deer. Then I see what Aaron is pointing at. Across the draw stand three deer, one larger and darker than the others, which, in most cases means it is a buck.
“Aaron the binoculars.” I rip like a drill sergeant trying to motivate his troops.
Gage, hearing the excitement in my voice pops his head up and starts scanning the hillside, within seconds he yells “Buck!” sending us all into adrenaline overload.
We have gone over this scenario a hundred times before the season opener. We know that it is illegal and unethical to shoot a deer from a vehicle, and we made a pact to do the right thing while afield or we would not set a foot in the woods, now we had to live up to that pact. I also know it is totally legal and ethical to stalk a deer, that is seen from the road, as long as you are beyond the range Fish and Game has set, and this deer is far enough out that we could do just that. But first, I want to see horns for myself before I park the pickup and help my son get within gunning range, so I blurt out again “Binoculars!” as I hold out my hand, not taking my eyes off the deer.
Aaron hands me the binoculars as if he were passing me a baton. I pull them up to my eyes—nothing but black. The dern caps are still on!
“Dad, I’m going to…”
“Wait Aaron, I haven’t seen horns yet.” I stop him in mid sentence “besides you can’t shoot off the road anyways.”
He wears disappointment but, shakes his head in agreement
“Dad, it’s a buck I can see it from here!” Gage barely got out in his excited state.
Sure enough, Gage was right, even at three hundred yards Gage was right. You could see the gleam from a nice set of forked horns, a buck that anyone would be proud of for their first.
I lower the binoculars, never getting the lens caps off.
“Just like we’ve planed, Aaron you get first crack.”
“Why does he get first chance?” Gage interrupts
“He saw him first.”
“oh ya—my bad”
“like I was saying, Aaron you have first crack, but if we are going to do this we are going to do it right.”
Aaron shook his head in agreement.
“They don’t seem like they are spooked at all by the sound of the diesel,”
“they think were loggers or somethin.” Gage interrupted
“Gage” Aaron and I both hiss.
I continue, “We will drive down to the wide spot at the bottom of the draw. Once there you will get out and start your stalk—remember you have to get past that tree (I pointed to a tree that was well outside of the legal requirements of the law) before you can shoot. As soon as you get to that tree, Gage and I will go up the ridge from you in case you miss and he runs our way.”
“Ok sounds good.” Aaron said
We inched our way down the road without as much as a flick from the tail of the buck. Aaron opens the door slowly keeping it from squeaking. Like a cat, he crosses the road. Within minutes Aaron is mere feet away from the tree that would give him the green light for the shot. The deer gorges himself, totally unaware that Aaron is a just few foot steps away from his end.
“He’s going to do it Dad!” Gage squirms as he watches “He’s going to get him!”
“Good Chance—get out so we can back him up.”
I lift the handle to the door as if I was playing the game Operation. After a few minor creeks and squeaks the door opens. Gage follows my lead, opening the passenger door as careful as he could. Success, we both make it out of the truck without so much as a blink from the little buck. Aaron is doing equally as well, all that is left is a short side step to be clear for the shot. No time to get to the ridge I thought as Aaron is mere seconds away from sealing the deal. I could almost taste the backstrap as Aaron raises his 270.
“Bang!!!” the sound rips through the sage. The buck raises it’s head, spotting the young intruder and stands motionless with ears at attention. Aaron whirls, searching for the source of the noise. It takes me a split second to realize that the noise came from our direction—to be exact from Gage. I turn and look at the boy. He looks as if he was being led to the gallows, he knew he had just committed the unpardonable sin in deer hunting—he slammed the door!
Red rises on Aarons face, no words were needed, Gage is in for it! Apparently the buck has had it also, he springs off, in mule deer fashion, alarming all the other deer. One buy one they trot past Aaron well within range, but behind his back, because he is to busy shooting dirty looks at his brother. Although it might spell certain death Gage broke his silence and yells, “Behind you, Aaron, behind you!”
Aaron turns, but he was too late. The retreating white on the rumps signal defeat.
“Good one Gage,” he yells back. Shaking his head in disgust he continued “there went my chances.” Then he slumped his way back to us. Within minutes he is at the side of the road with Gage and I.
“That was stupid Gage, why did you slam the door?”
“I was excited.” Gage said as he looks down at his shoes.
“I don’t care, that was still stupid.” Aaron barks like a pit-bull.
Aaron does a good job of controlling his emotions under normal circumstances, but these aren’t normal circumstances. He never dealt with the overwhelming emotion that could only be brought on by the thrill and suspense of a prolonged stalk. The chemicals his body produced under such circumstances almost have a hold of him.
“AARON!” I say with some authority, “Calm down.”
Reason drains back into his face.
“I’m sorry Aaron! I messed everything up.”
Both Aaron and I could sense that Aaron’s words were cutting deep into his brothers soul. Gage, at twelve had just got his deer tag. For years he followed behind, helped clean, and pack out game, but this year he graduated to being a real participant, this year he was carrying a rifle and so far he messed up our chances of getting a buck. He looks crushed, his face wore failure.
I grab Gage’s shoulder and look him in the eye saying, “Its all right, that’s why they call it hunting.” The words help, but I knew they aren’t the total antidote.
Aaron bumps Gage with all the affection an older brother could muster, “it’s alright Gage, we’ll get another chance.”
Gage smiles, but you could tell he didn’t mean it.
The Ochoco is filled with long prairies that are cut with deep draws. The deer of the area feel safe in these deep draws. Years past, I have jumped the same group of deer over and over, having them move just down the draw out of sight. Unless they are pushed hard, the deer almost never leave the area completely. Knowing this, there was a good chance; if I pushed from the bottom of the draw I could kick the little buck over the top of the prairie.
“You guys want another chance.” I say with a grin.
“What do you mean.” asks Aaron
“There is a chance we can push that buck to you Aaron. If you go on top and find a place where you can see the whole prairie, Gage and I will push the draw, maybe—I turn and look up the ridge—Just maybe we could push him to you.”
A smile grows on Aarons face “ok, sounds good.”
Gage looks like he didn’t believe a word I said, but he shakes his head in agreement.
“Go ahead Aaron, we’ll give you about fifteen minutes to get to the top then we will take off.”
Aaron makes his way over the horizon then disappears. Gage and I sit patiently at the pickup for minutes that seem like years then take off. The Jack Pine thicket quickly opens to a lush, green, grass filled meadow. A mix of juniper and yellow pine line both hillsides. The going is easy, both Gage and I are able to move fast without making very much noise. Within minutes the small gravel road disappears behind us. We push the pace until we find fresh tracks of the Buck. They are deep, without blemish, telling us we are close.
I point out the track to Gage. A smile grows on his young face. Our steps become steadier, more cat like, as we follow the trail zig-zaging across it. Musky Deer, fills our nostrils driving our senses into overdrive. My eyes sweep the forest in front of me like a Coast Guard search light. I know the deer are close, and all of my attention is focused on this fact, So much so, that I never hear Gage’s low whisper “deer.”
I walk right in the middle of the group. Gage stops several feet back. They all are looking straight at me with their large ears leaning forward searching for every noise. I know I am busted; there is no way I was going to get a shot. I know what I have to do, and I know I have to do it quickly. I run straight down the hill and up the draw, knowing that I will push the deer over the top. The deer react exactly as I’d hope they would. They turn and bounce their way up over the top. I push them as hard as I can until they were out of sight. Out of breath, I wait a second for Gage to catch up.
“What was that?” he laughs
I hold up a finger and signaling for him to wait until I could breathe again. “I….ahhh…was pushing….the deer….over the top—to your brother.”
“Does that work?”
“it…..” I was interrupted by a gunshot.
My mind races, did he get it?! Gage looks at me and smiles. I follow the retreating deer’s trail to the top of the prairie, then scan the broken juniper flat. There, in the distance stood Aaron, smiling ear to ear.
“did you get him?!” I yell
Aaron shook his head signaling success.
“wohoooooo!” I yell at the top of my lungs
Gage and I make our way across the prairie to Aaron and his deer.
“Thanks Gage for bird dogging for me—this deer is half yours.”
Gage’s chest fills, and the look embarrassment turns to satisfaction.
“Anytime.” Gage says while he affectingly punches Aaron on the arm.
Aaron looks at his little brother, “Sorry about….”
Gage stops him half way, “No problem.”
The nice little forked horn lay right where it had been shot. We stand motionless, admiring the deer and take in the reality that a life has been taken—a sobering reality that you can’t get when you gather your meat from the grocery store. We thank the Lord, take pictures, and get to work.
“ It’s different, Dad.”
“What’s that, Aaron?”
“It’s different than I thought it would be.”
“Kinda sad.” Gage interjects
Aaron continues “Ya, kinda sad—don’t get me wrong, I have looked forward to this day for a long time, but I never knew how much I would feel for the deer.”
“That’s good Aaron.” I confirm.
“I guess, until now, I took it for granted that our meat comes from something that was once alive, I mean, it was easy to take it for granted, until I had to pull the trigger.”
“Im glad you recognize that, it’s one of life’s object lessons for us.”
“What?” Gage said as he wrinkles his forehead in confusion.
“In order for us to physically survive we have to eat…through the shedding of blood we are alive. The same holds true with our soul. Jesus shed His blood to keep us alive. He died in our place. Much like this deer, He died so we could live. Every time we take an animal’s life to sustain our own, we should be reminded of the fact that it takes blood to save blood.”
“I never saw it that way.” Gage’s wrinkles disappear
“Me neither.” Said Aaron
“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” I quote Romans 3:25 to them knowing that the Spirit has already written its meaning on their hearts through this deer.
Writing this, I thank God for one more lesson from the Ochoco. The boys not only learned, patients, that words hurt, and about sacrifice—they lived it. Once again The Ochoco has been used by the Master Craftsman as a tool to shape boys into men. The Lord changed us all that day, using His Creation as the Curriculum. Only He, would use something as simple as a ancient lava erected point, to form our eternities. “Aaron’s Point,” has now joined the legacy of the Ochoco, but more importantly it serves as a land mark, a place where we connected with Jesus. A rock solid landmark that we could come back to in stormy times. On that day, in October, we were molded by the Creator Himself—in a land called Ochoco.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

From Behind the Duck Blind
Nate Bailey

The vapor of the fresh ground coffee danced in my nostrils. Today is a great day and the sun has not even risen. From the time, I changed my son’s first diaper I prayed for this day to come. Today my boys step into a world I dearly love by joining me in the duck blind for their first time. I can tell by the smiles on their faces that they can feel all of creation holding its breath in anticipation of the morning that is yet to come.
We huddle around the propane heater admiring our handsome string of decoys, sipping coffee, out of our well-worn Stanley thermos, waiting for my cell phone to declare legal shooting hours. The orange glow in the west pushes its light above the edge of the horizon, bringing with it the chorus of mellow quacking greenheads and the distinct, hurried, whistles of the widgeon.
With each quack, I can see the tension build in Aaron’s face. Shooting hours are ten minutes away and he knows it. Gage, being three years younger at ten, is oblivious to the crescendo of wings that the sunrise will bring.
We are hunting a drowned wheat field. The ducks sit on it during the night and leave with the sunrise-- not to return until about 9:00 am. Most mornings I can get in some good pass shooting as the birds leave the field, but for some reason this morning is different.
“It’s too early.” Aaron whispers with a hint of panic, “They’re starting to fly—they’ll be gone by shootin light!”
Before he gets the last word out, a group of mallards starts the retreat, which takes a total of nine minutes and forty-five seconds. At fifteen seconds before shooting light, my son’s hopes went with the tail feathers of the hundreds of fluttering specks in the sky. I reach down at my feet for the thermos, when I hear the distinct rush of wings overhead. I knew there was no way I could reach my 870 and get a shot off before this bird splashes in the decoys. “Dad! Dad! Dad!” repeats Aaron with a thirteen year-old’s enthusiasm “Get Him!”
Gage, about 5 seconds too late, blurts out in a thick whisper, “Duck!”
Aaron shoots Gage a piercing, older brother, look that says, “Don’t ruin this chance!” I try to calm both of the rookies down as the huge Greenhead, has already cupped its wings, committing itself to the wet landing. I can see the confusion on the boy’s face, why isn’t dad shooting they thought. My experience tells me that if I were to reach for the gun now, it would all be over--our whole deception would be ruined. I decide to let the mallard land. This was the only way I would have plenty of time shoulder my gun for a shot after I spook him back to flight.
With a splash, the duck now floats alongside our plastic frauds. Without missing a beat, he happily paddles himself in front of the expressionless dummy nearest to him. With a gaze of concentration, the duck peers into the dark spot that poorly represents a real duck’s eye, and gives a loud but friendly, “Quack!”
Expecting a response, the Drake’s face winces with confusion. Out of desperation, he lets out a louder, more forceful, “Quaaaak!” but it still doesn’t wake the dead. Leaving the rude plastic model behind, he swims with a nervous cadence to the next closest decoy. This time the large drake positions himself, like a drill sergeant, in front of the decoy and forcefully screams, “ Quaaaaaack!” The lack of response finally clues the old boy that he’s been had. In an embarrassed flurry he takes off. Luckily for him, the boys and I are too busy laughing to even think of trying to shoot.
After watching the clown disappear, I feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to explain this to my boys. “What brought that duck in?”
Gage, with his straight forward ten-year old mind answers, “the decoys Dad,” He sneers at his brother as if he has beat Aaron to the punch.
“No, Gage,” Aaron says in a quick defense, “he wanted something. And even though that something was wrong and he saw dad trying to get the thermos, he still came in and landed.” Aaron stares at the ground, as he always does when he’s is thinking. “That mallard talked himself into landing, even know he saw Dad.” Looking into my eyes he said, “He wanted those deeks more then his own life.”
Now I’m not sure how deep ducks think but, the Lord was showing my son something about Aaron’s own humanity through that duck. Feeling the Spirit’s gentle prod, I reinforced Aaron’s thought pattern with, “Your right, Aaron. What do you think the Lord is showing us today?”
Before Aaron can answer, Gage blurts, “It’s kind of like things the devil puts in front of us. He makes them look like something we want.”
“Exactly!” I say.
Aaron challenges, “If he wanted it so much, why did he leave?”
I can see deep thought on both boy’s faces now. “Listen,” I say in a voice that demands attention. “Think about the last sin you found yourself caught in.” Pressing closer I continue, “Didn’t you find out that the very thing you ached for would never make you happy?” The connection marks itself on my boy’s faces. They both crack a smile. God has used this one duck to connect with them.
Aaron wraps up the day’s lesson in an excited conclusion. “I see. Once the duck realized there was no life in his decision, he booked it, he was ashamed, in the same way we as followers of Christ should be when we realize we’ve chosen wrong.”
Gage says with a chuckle, “Do you think that duck was asking for forgiveness as he left?”
Laughing I wink at Gage, showing my approval. Aaron nudges him with all the affection an older brother can muster. Silently, I thank my heavenly Father for making it clear that he is paying attention to us. Then we turn our eyes upward looking for the return of the specks that will eventually bring action.