Tag Archives: zen

All the Fish in Utah: A Reel Life Goal

21-pound brown trout taken in 2012 from Causey Reservoir, Utah.

Preface:  Yeah, I know this is a bowhunting blog, but fishing is hunting–underwater hunting to be exact–and many of the same hunting concepts apply.

Every Fish in Utah

Way back before video games and cell phones, when I was a little kid growing up in Northern Utah, we farm kids wiled away our time in the outdoors. Some of my earliest memories were time spent trout fishing with my  family. My love for fishing continued strong into my teenage years and pretty soon I was dodging work to go fishing any time I could.

It wasn’t long before I began exploring new waters with exciting, new fish species ranging from bass, to sunfish, and weird stuff like arctic grayling and tiger musky. I guess variety truly is the spice of life because I loved catching a new fish way more than the same old boring trout.

Somewhere along my angling path I picked up a DWR fish regulation booklet in which was printed dozens of full color fish pictures. I was pleasantly surprised at just how many fish species we had living in Utah, due primarily to the wide range of temperatures and elevations this state affords. In a nanosecond I decided to catch every single fish before I died; it was my life’s goal. As an aside, I had no interest in catching the wide variety of trash fish (carp, suckers, and chubs) so I left them out.

Throughout my troublesome twenties, I systematically checked off fish after fish. It was quite the adventure. Some fish, like the white bass, pike, and tiger musky, existed in only one or two lakes, which forced me to make several surgical strikes along the way. Not only did I end up exploring countless new waters, but I was learning all about specific fish behaviors and special techniques for catching them. I talked to dozens of fish shop owners and DWR officers over the years and found the whole process to be fascinating.

Only Five to Go

As I neared my thirties, my list of remaining species had shrunk to only five species: walleye, whitefish, striped bass, and northern pike. This is where things got complicated. The DWR, in their infinite wisdom and biological prowess, began cross-breeding several species to produce entirely new species of sterile hybrids. These included tiger trout, splake, and wiper bass. It seemed that every time I crossed a fish off my list, they added a new one. It was frustrating, but fun!

The tiger trout was the craziest fish I ever met. The first one I hooked actually took of “running,” or skipping, across the lake surface. I lost several before finally landing one. There’s something about crossing a brown trout with a brook trout that brings out the crazy.

Tiger trout, Birch Creek Reservoir.

The toughest fish was the elusive walleye. This silver-eyed, nocturnal bottom-hunter exists in just a few Utah lakes, the closest being Willard Bay. For five long years I researched walleye, bought piles of walleye-specific lures, and beat the waters to death trying to catch one. I fantasized about punching the walleye in the snout if I ever did catch one. Finally, one cool and dark evening on the shores of Willard bay in 2000, I landed an 18-incher on a white curly tail jig. I didn’t punch it, but made a delicious walleye dinner instead.

Finally, a walleye! Willard Bay, 2000.

The whitefish–an ugly, bottom-feeding fish resembling a cross between a trout and a carp–fell next to my fly rod on the Weber River. One freezing, winter afternoon I bounced a nymph along the bottom and BOOM, caught and photographed a whitefish, then tossed it back. Only two fish left!

The Lowly Burbot

Nope, make that three…  Around this time, some ass-clown, bucket-biologist tossed a ling cod (aka burbot) into Flaming Gorge and it just took off. This ugly fish, which resembles a cross between a snake and a living turd, exploded in the vast waters of the Gorge and now threatens to wreck the entire fishery. Nonetheless, it was placed on my hit list. In the winter of 2011 I signed up for the Burbot Bash Fish Derby and caught an ugly burbot the first night out. I almost didn’t want to touch it, but man was it delicious!

Ling cod (burbot) from Flaming Gorge, 2011.

Only Two Left

In spring of 2011 I made a solo trip 400 miles to Lake Powell to target striped bass from shore. I’d amassed a huge pile of striper data over the years…none of which really helped me, that is, except for chumming. Shad lures were the purported ticket: buy a bunch of white and silver lures and throw ’em till you catch a striper. I chummed the water with a pile of cut-up shad pieces and then casted and reeled and casted and reeled to no avail.

My secret weapon. DO NOT SHARE! ;>)

An hour later, with nary a bite, I was rummaging desperately through my tackle box when I spotted my secret weapon: a 4-inch, green tube jig with red flakes. This unsuspecting lure had caught more fish than any lure I own. In no time I was fighting a big ‘ol striper bass to shore…and then 12 more! Amazing! Only one more fish to go: the northern pike.

My first striped bass. Lake Powell, 2011.

Pike occur in abundance at Yuba Lake in Central Utah, which just happened to be on my way home from Powell. Could I actually do it???

Nope. Runoff was high that year, and the lake was flooded and freezing cold. I wandered all over the limited public access shoreline while tossing everything I had into the water to no avail. Then I went home empty-handed.

2012 was a great year, not because the world didn’t end, but rather I got several days off with my wife for a second round at the northern pike. My goal was simple: Fish all day, every day, and NEVER come home till I’d accomplished my life’s goal.

It was a warm and calm day, the 22nd of May, 2012. We loaded the old green canoe on the roof of my truck and headed south. (NOTE: You definitely need a boat when fishing Yuba. A canoe will work.) We canoed around while tossing spinners into likely pike areas…I think…though I’d never actually seen a pike in reel life. ANYHOO, I got good tug, set the hook, and reeled in a small pike, but a pike nonetheless.

Mission Accompished

I was ecstatic! Well, I was ecstatic for about 2 minutes. After taking pictures however, a deep emptiness set in. It caught me off guard. All I could think was, “Now what!?” I guess I didn’t believe it would actually happen. Now what?

Mission accomplished!!! Northern pike at Yuba Reservoir, 2012.

After 30 years, I’d fallen in love with the chase even more than the fish. Each new species was an exciting new adventure. Countless nights I’d stayed up late studying fish behavior and learning new tactics. Each new fish was accompanied by an adrenaline surge and a great sense of accomplishment. And now it was over.

Such is life.

Now What?

I have since set newer, bigger outdoor goals. I probably won’t live long enough to reach them all, but I now understand that it’s the pursuit I love most. Moreover, it’s the people who support your goals and accompany you on your crazy adventures. (Special thanks to my wife, Esther, who supported me whole-hardheartedly through my mad, mad life.)

Without goals we flounder through life and get lazy. Mediocrity sets in. Give me adventure, give me passion, give me conquest, or give me death!

Conclusion – The Art of Zen Fishing

The most valuable single piece of information I gained from my quest is fish Zen. No matter where I fish, I can pretty quickly get a feel for when, where, and what the fish are biting on. As my lure moves through the water I can almost visualize where the fish are and how they’ll respond to it. Infinite knowledge and experience is archived in my subconscious and conscious mind. I make my next cast and retrieve based not on speculation, but infinite data points, some of which I’m not even conscious of. What does it all mean? I’ll never starve. There’s a simple, primal, and invaluable confidence in knowing that you’ll never starve.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now it’s your turn, if you so desire. Utah has 30 game fish species strewn all over the state, and I’ve never met another person who’s caught them all. Close, maybe. So why not try it yourself! Send me any questions you may have and I’ll be glad to help you out. Truthfully, I’m sitting on way too much fishing information to just take it to my grave.

Happy Fishing!

Hunting Pillars vs. Zen Hunting Pillars

The Pillars of Hunting vs. Pillars of Zen Hunting

A few years ago I was fish-guiding a bright, twenty-something-year-old man named Cliff. He was eager to fish, but just as eager to converse about the wonders of nature. Throughout our impassioned conversation I laid out some personal Zen-like experiences I’d had in nature and how these experiences ultimately led to great success.

Cliff was fascinated with the concept of Zen hunting and asked me what the “pillars” of Zen hunting were exactly. I was a little dumbfounded by his question because, up until then, I’d never thought of Zen hunting in terms of ‘pillars.’ Long story short, I went home wrote down what I considered the pillars of Zen hunting to be.

Before we get all philosophical about hunting, let’s first examine the normal, non-Zen, hunting pillars, and then contrast them with Zen hunting pillars.

Note: The following isn’t an official list of hunting pillars, but rather a compilation of both personal experience and knowledge gleaned from experts in the hunting field.

Traditional Hunting Pillars of Success

  1. The right equipment
  2. Good physical conditioning
  3. Locating/scouting
  4. Stalking close
  5. Shooting accurately

Zen Hunting Pillars of Success

  1. Aloneness (quietness)
  2. Patience
  3. Letting Go
  4. Openness (humility)
  5. Oneness

(There you go Cliff! The pillars are finally written in stone.)

Hunting Pillars Compared

When we compare the pillars of Zen hunting with the pillars of conventional hunting, you can see they are very different; actually I don’t see any similarities at all. That’s because each list is a completely different approach to hunting. The items in the first list are mostly tangible and readily available, while the Zen items are more of a mindset approach to hunting. As we analyze the Zen pillars, you’ll see that each is really a step—one leading to the next—and completed in consecutive order. In other words it’s a path.

Obviously you can’t practice Zen hunting without including some normal hunting pillars, like stalking and shooting. On the other hand, you can practice regular hunting without using any Zen pillars at all—heck, most hunters already do. Either they don’t know what Zen hunting is, or they’re already applying some Zen to their hunting style and just don’t know it.

The concept of Zen hunting (or Zen-anything) is mostly foreign to Westerners because we tend to be results-oriented and gear-minded. We look at nature as a commodity—something to be tamed or dominated. Moreover, today’s society has a decreasing attention span, the byproduct of this hyper-information age and its constant distractions. We get bored easily and lose our focus. All of this leads to an impatient or aggressive approach to hunting, and more often than not, to failure.

The way we combat this is through Zen hunting. Zen hunting is all about using down time afield to focus the mind and reconnect with our natural hunting instincts. This is best done alone since another person often serves as a distraction.

The Zen Process

The first step is to free the mind of distractions and expectations through the natural mediation that comes from just sitting or walking in the woods. This takes time, so be patient. Letting go of expectations is the hardest part because human nature expects instant results. As hunters we expect to kill something. We have a goal in mind and are dead set on reaching it. In Zen hunting, our eyes are open to the bigger picture.

The simple pleasure of communing with nature is satisfaction enough. Our newfound appreciation for the woods softens our kill drive, and when this happens we connect with the energy of nature and the life force of the planet (hopefully you believe in such things). This is what it means to be “one” with nature, or to achieve “oneness.”

Nature lives and breathes at a slow, rhythmic pace. You can see that rhythm in the way things move: clouds, trees, and animals, and hear it in the wind and bird songs. Zen hunting helps tune us in to that rhythm. No longer do we push our ego-driven “kill energy” ahead of us, but instead, we move with nature. In effect Zen hunting acts as a natural camouflage.

Zen hunting also gives us a heightened sense of awareness. We become more attentive to the infinite supply of subtle clues which will eventually guides us towards our quarry. Simply put, we become better hunters by using Zen afield.

That’s the whole process; easier said than done, but attainable all the same.

Final Thoughts

The goal of Zen hunting is to become a part of nature rather than apart from it. Since humans are nature in the first place, it only makes sense to reconnect with Nature to meet our needs. That is the goal of Zen hunting, and also the mission of this website: To reconnect modern-day hunters with the timeless rhythms of nature and to guide them towards a more successful and fulfilling hunting experience through Zen hunting principles.

Advanced Archery Technique: The Relaxed State

The Advanced Archery Technique

All suffering is caused by desire.  -Buddha

Over the past several years I’ve taught hundreds of people basic archery. Of all these students, only a handful are what you might call “naturals.” They follow instructions carefully, excel immediately, and break through to the next level at an astonishing pace.

But even these “naturals” eventually hit a wall: their accuracy plateaus, they fatigue out and eventually falter. At this point they often turn to me and ask, “What now? I’ve mastered the basics, but how can I hit closer to the bullseye?”

As their intrepid instructor, it’s my duty to guide these students to the next level. The problem I had early on–and what my students didn’t know–was that I too was wondering the same thing! When you’ve mastered the basics–that is, when you’re executing the shot sequence flawlessly and still coming up short–how do you increase accuracy?

Eventually I passed this question along to a famous national archer. When he didn’t respond I had no choice but to break down my own shot sequence to see where potential weaknesses could set in. Here’s what I discovered.

The Problem

The thing that gets between the bow and the target isn’t the arrow,  it’s you! Every archer, no matter how advanced, goes through slumps. A few missed shots can quickly erode confidence by allowing negative factors such as fatigue, discouragement, and desperation into the shot sequence. It’s a vicious cycle: the harder you try, the worse you do.

The Fatigue Factor

Physical fatigue is the greatest negative factor, especially for the beginner who hasn’t yet developed his back muscles. Just as he begins hitting close to the bullseye, he fatigues out. But there’s also mental fatigue, caused by trying to over-aim the arrow into the bullseye over and over again. Finally there’s spiritual fatigue, the byproduct of chronic misses. In the end, all this fatigue erodes confidence and creates a downward spiral.

Zen in Archery

From the Zen perspective, all suffering comes from desire. Desire, of course, is healthy and even necessary for any activity. But when desire turns into obsession, that’s when we suffer.

In archery you suffer from your very first shot. You strain physically under the weight of bow while your mind strains to aim the arrow. And when your arrow falls short of the bullseye, your spirit strains from the pangs of failure, resulting in desperation.  In short order, your whole being–mind, body, and spirit–is strained!

I see this all the time. The student grasps another arrow, and another, faster and faster while simultaneously grasping for the bullseye which is rapidly becoming an impossible target. Very quickly he creates the bad habit of high-stress archery, and this can take a long time to fix.

So, what’s the fix? It’s simple.

Instead of drawing the bow to a state of high tension, we need to learn how to draw to a relaxed state. Drawing to a relaxed state removes your self from the shot by eliminating negative influences over the arrow. Hence, your bow shoots itself. In Zen archery, eliminating your “self” removes desire, which in turn removes stress and suffering.

The Relaxed State Exercise

  1. Bring only one arrow with you on this exercise.
  2. Set up five paces from a large, blank target.
  3. Load the arrow.
  4. Stand up straight and spread your weight evenly between your feet.
  5. Grasp the string firmly and draw to your face while taking a deep, deep breath.
  6. At full draw, look up and away from the bow. Look at the sky and the clouds and the trees. Breathe out, and back in again. Feel the strength of your body as it overpowers the scrawny bow. Forget the bullseye; no one cares if you hit it anyway! Say to yourself, “I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been in my life.”
  7. Now let down the draw smoothly; don’t shoot the arrow.
  8. Catch your breath.
  9. Repeat the process, only this time, when you’ve reached your highest  state of relaxation, release the arrow. Don’t aim at the target. Just relax your shooting hand until the shot goes off. This is what a relaxed arrow feels like.
  10. Maintain this relaxed state as you walk to the target and pull your arrow. Repeat these relaxed shots over and over until it becomes habit.

That’s all there is to it. You are now drawing the bow to a state of high relaxation rather than a state of high stress. You’ve turned a bad habit into a good habit.

Real Life Example

One day I approached a talented young student who was literally drawing a circle around the bullseye with errant arrows. Wide-eyed and desperate, he turned to me and pleaded, “What am I doing wrong?!” I watched him fling yet another arrow just outside of the bullseye. I told him, “You’re trying to hard.” I went on to explain that missing the target wasn’t the end of the world; that his passion for archery–the whole meditative process–was far more important than a single bullseye. I had him breathe deeply and look around at the beautiful mountains. A moment later he calmly drew his bow and sank the next arrow into the bullseye. His face lit up and he hugged me. Years later he still talks about his enlightening experience.

Conclusion

Your bow is designed to shoot a perfect arrow every time. The arrow only misses when you let yourself get in the way.

For every student that asks, How can I shoot more accurately?, there are a few others who comment on how meditative archery is; how it relaxes and focuses the mind. These students typically aren’t the best archers at first, because to them the process outweighs the result. I view these students as the real naturals, and they even prove it when, eventually, their arrow finds the bullseye with seemingly little effort.

Shooting in a relaxed state is the secret to Zen archery. On a grander scale, you might say that living in a relaxed state is the secret to a Zen life!

100th Blog Post Celebration

Nate2015a

My 100th Blog Post

Hello Zen-bowhunter blog readers. Today marks my 100th blog post. A year and a half in the making, my little archery/hunting blog is still going strong thanks to you, my loyal readers. My sincere hope is that everyone has enjoyed at least some of my content. I truly believe there’s something here for everyone, not just hunters.

One of my greatest passions in life is seeking self-improvement through archery. Archery is an individual sport, which means each person learns and grows at his own pace. There is no competition or pressure to succeed, except from yourself. Most people find archery (and bowhunting) to be a wonderful, meditative way to achieve clarity and peace and even Zen. After all, Zen-through-archery has been taught in Japan for a thousand years. My goal in this blog is to help you succeed in both Zen-archery and in life. Once a person achieves Zen, he realizes he can do anything he puts his mind to.

On a personal note, we are entering the peak of the mule deer rut in Utah. This means the biggest bucks will be climbing down from the high country to participate in their annual mating ritual. For those of you that still have an unused archery tag, it’s going to be an exciting (and COLD) month. Maybe I’ll see you in the hills.

Best of luck in your own endeavors, and may the Zen-force be with you!

The Lake Monster

lake_monster_2012

I’ve related this fish story many times since that fateful day in 2012. It’s a great story about a great fish, and should be written.

The Lake Monster: The Story of my Trophy Brown Trout

Causey reservoir is a small dam located in Northern Utah. I fished there since I was a kid. Ice fishing seems to be the most productive method, and my family has been quite successful over the years. The ice generally freezes around mid-December and remains fishable through March.

The best thing about Causey is the variety of fish you can catch. I’ve caught kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, tiger trout, splake trout, cutthroat trout and even a sculpin, which is a small bottom-dwelling fish that looks like a cross between a frog and a turd. The 15 – 19 inch Kokanee are by far the most delicious and alluring fish, and on December 16, 2012, that’s what I was hoping to catch.

As my teenage son Jacob, and I were loading the car with ice fishing gear, I asked my wife Esther, once more if she’d like to join us. It was a cold and snowy day, so she declined and wished us luck instead.

When we arrived at the lake, I was dismayed to find it wasn’t quite frozen yet. There should have been safe ice on the inlet arms, but it was a late winter and the ice was thin and slushy. It looked like we’d be shore fishing the open water after all.

The snow was coming down pretty hard as we trudged through more than a foot of snow along the shoreline towards the open water. I setup the poles with a couple bobbers and bait and casted out. The wind was picking up and blew our bobbers into the edge of the ice.

For the next hour the snowfall increased and the wind blew harder. To keep our spirits up, Jake and I foraged continually on crackers and snacks while staring listlessly at our bobbers bouncing in the waves. Occasionally I’d check our baits and recast.

After nearly two hours without a single bite, our hopes were dwindling. But I’m a stubborn fisherman. I don’t pack my car, drive to nowhere, and sit in the worst of weather for nothing! All I really wanted at that point was one dumb little trout for dinner. As is often the case, my mind drifted to thoughts of Zen. Zen is something that’s been on my mind in recent years. It came about after several miraculous successes in fishing and hunting amidst the worst odds. My theory was that if a person focused hard enough on nature, perhaps he could somehow sway the odds in his favor. Certainly, it can’t hurt! But in this case, no matter how much I concentrated on my pathetic bobber, and no matter how much I wished for a fish, nothing seemed to happen. I couldn’t take it anymore; I had to make something happen.

Breaking a long and cold silence, I turned to Jake and said, “Do you think a person can materialize a fish?” He looked at me with half-inquisitive expression. Detecting that I might be speaking both rhetorically and irrationally, he just shrugged and mumbled, “I dunno.”

With that, I stood up and reeled my line in. It was time for a more active approach. I proceeded to cut off the bait and bobber and tie on a small, silver Mepps #0 spinner. Surely this shiny, little inch-and-a-half piece of fluttering metal would coerce some little rainbow into biting.

I walked 50 feet down the snowy shoreline and casted out to sea. The light lure on my 6-pound line fell pathetically short of its mark. I bounced and reeled it in with little interest from both the fish and myself. I casted again, swinging the pole hard like a baseball bat, and repeated the process.

Ten feet from the shore my line suddenly jerked and hung up. Instinctively I jerked back and set the hook. A snag? I thought. Nope, it started bobbing left and right. Wow, a fish! About the same second I realized I’d actually hooked a fish, my reel began screaming. The fish tore off with no intention of putting up a fight. I tightened the drag and cranked the pole hard towards shore with pole’s tip bent 90-degrees straight out to sea.

As the line continued flying off the reel, it occurred to me that I’d hooked into a whopper of a fish and had absolutely no control over it. It felt like I’d tied my line to a pickup truck and sent it on down the street. My heart rate jumped straight up.

As the fish ran, I would occasionally feel a weird bump and pause in the line. The fish was apparently hitting the lake bottom, trying to knock the lure from its lip. This was new to me; smart fish! When this method failed, he took off down the reservoir towards where Jake was sitting. Desperate to keep line on my reel, I followed along, running down the shoreline in its direction.

Anticipating a detrimental tangle with Jake’s bobber, I yelled ahead, “REEL IN! REEL IN! I have a monster on! Get your line in!” This woke Jake up. He did as I asked, then moved out of the way to watch the spectacle unfold.

I was still losing line, but less now. The fish, realizing that a hard left turn wasn’t going to free him, suddenly veered right and began dragging me back up the shoreline. After another desperate jog, the fish once again headed straight out to sea. Every minute or so I would tighten my drag down one more click. Surely I was close to the breaking point of my 6-pound test line.

Ten minutes into the fight and having gained not one inch, I knew, absolutely knew, two things: First, I would never see the humongous fish that I’d hooked. And second, I would do everything in my power and apply every ounce of my fishing experience to fighting the fish to the end.

My arm was burning and going numb; my heart raced faster. The last few loops of line were becoming visible on my reel. I winced, knowing that in a few seconds my line would break with a loud snap.

Then something amazing happened. About 150-yards out in the middle of the lake the fish broke the surface with an audible slosh, then waves. WAVES not ripples! There was a sudden pause in my line, then slack! The fish had finally reached its threshold of strength and turned its head my way. Instinctively I reeled to keep the line tight.

Then the tug-a-war began. I would crank a few loops back on my reel, then the fish would pull some off, and I’d crank ‘em back on again. This seemed to go on forever. But there was a twinge of hope. Maybe I’d catch a glimpse of my foe after all!

Jake stood by my side, cheering me on without a peep, as you’d expect from any teenager.

Nearly twenty minutes into the fight, and with almost a full reel of line, reality hit me. The shoreline was incredibly steep. The fish had to be well over ten pounds and my line was only rated for six. If and when I got him to shore, there was no physical way I could drag it out of the water, not even halfway out, without breaking my line. I would have to go in after him.

Wide-eyed and trembling like an idiot, I turned to Jake and barked these orders:
“When the fish gets close to where I can see it, I’m going to hand you the pole and jump in. Keep the line tight!”

A minute later, in the dark water, a huge, shadowy form came cruising along the shoreline. It was exactly what I expected: a lake monster!

As it drew closer I loosened my drag and shoved the pole into Jake’s hand. Without pause, I jumped out over the water, twisting my body mid-air and splashing down just behind the fish. Crotch-deep in the icy murk, I shoved my arms underneath the fish and I hefted it out of the water as it swung side-to-side trying to escape my grasp.

The fish plopped deep into the snow near Jake’s feet and we just stood there stunned. “Holy COW!” Jake exclaimed. After much excitement and jumping around, I realized that I was soaked from the waist down and standing in a snow bank in a blizzard. The trip was certainly over at that point.

Jake snapped a couple photos of me and the fish, and then I tossed the lunker brown trout in the back of my truck and raced for home. I called ahead to tell Esther to start searching for a fish taxidermist in the area. An hour later I arrived home, still shaking and unable to calm down. I taped the fish out at 33-inches and a whopping 21 pounds. After more than three decades of fishing, I’d never seen a brown trout remotely close to this size.

Although the Utah fish and game department doesn’t keep individual lake records, the few agents I talked to said it was by far the biggest fish they’d ever heard of coming out of Causey Reservoir, and that a brown trout of that size had to be well over 20 years old.

A year later the Lake Monster was hung proudly above my television. During commercials I would sit and watch the fish in awe and fascination. The thing that stuck with me most from this adventure was the question I asked Jake just before hooking the monster:

“Do you think a person can materialize a fish?”
The answer is a resounding MAYBE! Just beware the fish for which you wish.

Re-Finding Your Zen

Hunt001

Re-Finding Your Zen

If you’re following this blog, I apologize for my 6-week absence, the longest hiatus away from my writings yet. I guess I just needed to re-find my Zen.

As a general rule I don’t like to complain, but the past few months, as we transitioned into springtime, has been rather difficult and stressful for me. Here are some examples:

  • Being constantly let down by family, friends, and work associates
  • Having my hide tanner (taxidermy) disappear with my pelts that I needed to run my taxidermy business
  • Ever-increasing pain and difficulties with my right shoulder which has put a serious damper on the one thing I love doing most: shooting archery
  • My little “adopted” feral cat, Pickles, was viciously attacked and killed by the local dominant tom-cat. Before that, I had to shoot my old pet goat, Walter, in the head when he became too weak and feeble to even sit up any more.

My first turkey hunt was a disaster when after fighting through torrential rain, snow and mud, the giant tom I stalked and shot in the last hour of the hunt ran off with my arrow. We never found him. This was the breaking point.

turkey-snow
Blizzard scene from my recent turkey hunt.

And these are just a few examples! But again, I hate to complain too much because I know EVERYONE is fighting a difficult battle on a daily basis–that’s just life. Still, when too much happens at once, a person can easily lose his inspiration, his drive, and even his Zen.

This is why I’ve been away for so long. How can I write inspired Zen-prose when the well is dry? Fortunately, the answer is gradually becoming clearer, and is two-fold:

  • First, life is difficult so that we might become stronger. As they say, “the axe is sharpened by friction.” Overcoming adversity is closely associated with the meaning of life: we are here to learn.

Second, my life is currently sad and deflating, but later it’s going to be amazing and beautiful beyond comprehension. It always is. It’s just a matter of time and perspective. While stewing in my misery, I can simultaneously glance in the mirror and see a blessed, bright and healthy living being staring back with a loving, bowhunting wife at my side. I can simultaneously look outside my window and view deer feeding and pheasants strutting around in my wild, lush, and green backyard in the country, and I suddenly realize that I’m living the dream-life I always imagined.

wife
Loving, bowhunting wife. Awesome!

It’s all about perspective and embracing adversity. Yes, it’s taken a while to figure out how to mend myself, but I’m well on my way. My next several blog-posts will be dedicated to re-finding my Zen.

pheasant_strut
Male pheasant strutting in my backyard.

Finding God in Nature: Part 3 of 3

fogntrees

Finding God in Nature: Part 3

In this final section, I’d like to examine one last quote by Emerson:

Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.

What Emerson seems to suggest is that the answers to our seemingly infinite questions about life and purpose are accessible through the simple examination of nature. Unlike the previous quotes we’ve examined, this one is an affirmation of what I’ve already learned from nature.

Especially in recent years, I’ve observed a definite clarity achieved only through aloneness and meditation in the woods. Early in the hunt the incessant chattering and inner workings of the mind comes to a crescendo while sitting out the long hours of day. Whether out of boredom or lack of entertainment, the mind delves deeper and deeper into the psyche as it searches for meaning and purpose to all things. After a couple days it begins to quiet down. As the fragmented puzzle congeals and the bigger picture begins taking form. It seems infinitely big, blurring at the edges as you pull back further and further to see it. It surprises you because you so rarely see so much at once. Eventually there are no more questions. All of life makes sense.

clouds

All this transpires while staring blankly at stick or a rock or a leaf or stream. But the answer isn’t written under a rock or in the bark of a tree, but rather inside you already. You have the capacity to comprehend the universe because you are part of it. You are a microcosm of the universe, for to comprehend yourself is to comprehend everything. Nature is only the catalyst. The meditation necessary to achieve clarity and enlightenment is facilitated by nature.

Finding God in Nature: Part 1 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 2 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 2 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 2

Now that we’ve tackled the nature of man, good versus evil, and the entire Universe, I’d like to explore another quote by Emerson:

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance.

When I read that ‘nature never wears a mean appearance’, I wondered what it meant exactly. Certainly I’ve seen some ugliness in nature. I’ve seen one animal killing another, and I’ve seen many-a-decaying carcasses. Surely these are ugly things, right? But, if my perceptions of these ‘ugly’ experiences are set upon the rule of nature—the rule that states that nature is neutral and therefore neither good nor bad—then perhaps I simply failed to see the beauty in death–death being a integral part of life–and instead projected my own negative emotions or misunderstanding of death upon nature. Then I remembered a photograph I made in 2010. It is the rotting carcass of a dead pelican washed up on the shore of the Salt Lake and encrusted with salt.

saltybird

When I encountered and photographed this bird, I remember feeling rather neutral about it; it wasn’t sad nor ugly, but not beautiful either. Later on I found myself admiring the beauty and composition of the naturally arranged bones and feathers. Indeed, it was quite beautiful; as beautiful in death as in life perhaps. In a neutral and open mindset, there really isn’t any meanness or ugliness in nature.

Another example is my annual ritual of butchering a deer carcass on my kitchen countertop. Some people may cringe at the thought of cutting up an entire animal in ones house, as I probably cringed long ago. But amidst the blood and guts and bones and sinew, there’s a certain admirable order of things inside that deer. Even Mother Nature, as cunning as she is, surely could not create the miraculous complexity of this animal’s internal structure on her own. From snout to tail, the intricacy of this deer’s inner workings is brilliant beyond comprehension. It continually attests to a higher intelligence.

Each hour that I dissect the sacred meat and package it for future use, I feel closer to my maker. I come away from the butcher block glowing with insight and appreciation for the food I harvest. My role as a hunter and predator becomes clearer; it is a necessary and beautiful symbiosis with the planet. It inspires me to be a better conservationist of nature and preserver of our hunting heritage. Without fail, I am inspired to be a better person. In the thoughtful killing and butchering and ingesting this deer, there is never any meanness.

Finding God in Nature: Part 3 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 1 of 3

fireclouds

Finding God in Nature Part 1

And so it starts again. Each year around this time, just before springtime, I find myself chomping at the bit, ready to reconnect with nature and the woods. Throughout the spring and summer I will rebuild my mental and physical strength, and come autumn I will be once again focused and ready for the great hunt. But the cycle always begins around this time. Some call it “spring fever,” but for me it’s just a long-awaited reunion. Outside or inside, I’m at home. But too much time inside leaves me quite homesick for what I consider my real home.

The recent cold snap has kept me indoors lately, but like a good student of nature I’m preparing myself by reading some of the great literary masters like Alan Watts and Emerson. I’ve always admired and revered the writings of Thoreau as well. But it is Thoreau’s predecessor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, with whom I feel a kindred spirit. Here’s Emerson’s back story:

Emerson was born in 1803. He was a brilliant man who studied at Harvard College at the age of fourteen. He was also a pious man who attended Harvard Divinity School in 1825 and became a religious pastor in 1830, a year after marrying the seventeen-year-old Ellen Louisa Tucker. In 1831 his young wife died, leaving Emerson and his faith in shambles. Unable to reconcile his conventional faith, he headed off to Europe where he met up with some other naturalists and started the movement known as transcendentalism. Following his newfound enlightenment, he spent the rest of his life writing about individualism and the art of living in harmony with nature. His most famous work is simply entitled Nature.

The basis of transcendentalism is the melding together of nature and God and common sense. It is not a strict “religion” per se, but similar to Eastern Zen in that it is a way to balance yourself. Think of it as a religious parachute. If for whatever reason your religion leaves you feeling a little unfulfilled, don’t despair, you can always find God lurking in nature; nature being the entire universe from the dirt to the trees to the ocean to the clouds to sun to the stars.

Humans are strangely compelled to search for God and meaning all throughout life. Some humans are compelled to enter into a direct relationship with a human-like being who is God, while others only need to find a little objective truth oozing out of their existence. Either way, the path toward God and goodness is a path towards nature, and away from evil and materialism.

In today’s Sunday-school lesson…uh…I mean thoughts on nature, I’d like to end with a quote by Emerson that has stuck with me for some time:

…let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and vulgar things.

This quote sticks with me because of my own personal observance that my annual assimilation into nature rejuvenates my spirit, answers my deepest questions, and makes me a better person. I always come out of the woods with more patience, love, and understanding than when I went in.

As a general rule, evil doesn’t exist in nature. Nature is always neutral. It has no soul or mind; it’s simply an environment and set of physical laws. Evil is a man-made concoction created when we act upon selfish impulses. Now, humans aren’t inherently evil. After all, we are nature ourselves and therefore can’t be inherently evil. But unlike nature, we have a consciousness, and a consciousness allows us to make good or bad decisions. Therefore, we are not neutral. To do good or evil is always a decision that we are responsible for.

Now, the premise of this article isn’t to suggest that people in nature won’t make bad decisions, but only that that a person in harmony with nature will make better decisions. He makes better decisions because nature inspires goodness.

The danger that modern society faces is that he is drifting further away from nature with each generation. And the further mankind gets away from nature–through selfishness, busy-ness,  technology, or other distractions–the further he gets from goodness.

Finding God in Nature:  Part 2 of 3