I watch her movements become slow and deliberate as rustling leaves bring her to alert. An image of the oak tree reflects in her dilated pupils. Shaky hands testify to the adrenaline racing through her veins.
I whisper, “can you see it?”
There is no reply.
“It’s on the third branch up.”
Searching eyes scrutinize leafy boughs. Whispered words tumble out in a ragged breath. “I see it,” she says.
I kneel behind her to take it all in. The camouflaged gun barrel circles in cool late-afternoon air. The circles tighten and she holds her breath.
The shotgun barks.
The fox squirrel is tumbling.
It comes to rest amid the roots of an ancient oak — a copper-hued harvest from the forest and a fitting symbol of autumn, the season of harvest.
With no hesitation, she’s beside it.
I wonder about the thoughts racing through her mind. She understood where meat comes from at a tender age, long before thoughts of gunpowder and arrows. I watch her body language as she takes an active role in the circle.
She is looking at the squirrel as I slowly approach and I feel like an intruder in this deeply personal moment. The taking of a life, no matter how small, calls for reverence. I don’t need to tell her this. She already knows how her dad feels about it. But how does she feel?
She looks at me with excitement and pride and surprise and bewilderment all plainly visible in her face. Her eyes well up as the storm of emotions rage.
“Is he dead?” she asks.
“Yes, great shot, girl. How do you feel about it?”
She looks at the squirrel, the oak, and back at me. “I can’t really describe it,” she says.
I worry. Maybe this is too much, maybe she wasn’t ready, maybe she will never be ready.
I’ve never forced the outdoor pursuits on my daughters. Both were introduced to nature before they could walk, taught to love and respect the wonders of the wild. Both were invited to participate in the taking of meat for our family. My oldest fell right in, stocking the freezer on numerous occasions. Now it was little sister’s turn. Would spilled blood turn her away? Was the act of killing for her food too much for her young mind and heart?
She strokes the orange fur and looks at me straight on with clarity. “Are we’re going to eat him tonight?”
With those words the worry disappears. Whatever the coming years might bring I’ll always remember this day, this light, this moment. Right now, the girl is a hunter.