My last two weeks of access to hunting in paradise brought back nearly a decade of memories. While I did manage to squeeze in a final fall turkey hunt, most of my time was spent with a sore back and a broken heart as we finished up our move.
The years of memories flooded my mind with joy and my eyes with tears.
My final outing was a fall turkey hunt, although it was really a winter one with temperatures in the single digits. I sat against a tree in the dark waiting for the first glimmer of light to begin illuminating the eastern sky.
As paradise awoke from a long night's sleep, I sat there, overlooking one of my favorite places and tried to recall some of the good times. There were too many to count.
These memories ended up in the form of a list.
All of them ranked No. 1. How can I rank them any other way?
* Seeing my daughter shoot her first dove with just one shell.
* Watching my wife harvest her best white-tailed buck with our daughter by our side.
* Collecting shed antlers with our friends in the spring.
* Picking choke cherries with my father-in-law.
* Fishing for catfish on the river with my mother-in-law.
* A special visit from 30 wild turkeys in our yard that my mother witnessed with us on Thanksgiving Day.
* Trapping raccoons on the creek with one of my best friends.
* Seeing the joy on the faces of two young boys after they harvested their first deer.
* Taking my daughter and my niece turkey hunting for the first time.
* Watching my water dog shine on dove and quail hunts with my friends and family.
* Calling in a coyote to less than 1 yard, and watching my brother-in-law try to shoot it.
* Watching my wife harvest her first longbeard.
* Seeing my wife's expression as four jakes wandered about in front of her at less than 5 yards for a long, long time.
* Seeing my first bobcat in the wild, then my second, third, fourth ... .
* Belly-floating down the river with the whole family and scaring fish with my hands as I floated along.
* Sitting on my front porch in the mornings, sipping coffee and hearing hundreds of turkeys gobbling.
* Treasuring all the photographic opportunities in paradise.
* Catching crayfish in the creek with friends and family.
* Encountering rattlesnakes.
* Picking up cool rocks.
* Finding morel mushrooms and sharing my secret spots with others.
I could go on forever. As I thought about these many memories, the sky began to glow brilliantly in colors of orange and red. A sense of warmth began to thaw out my cold fingers and toes. It was wonderful. I had seen this sunrise before -- hundreds of times. I thanked God for this one final experience as the turkeys pitched down and walked the other way.
"Thank you," I said, "I will be leaving you too," and adding one final memory to my list.