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Faith Focus: 2021 deer stand prayers

The first leaf to fall signaled the end of the season of bounty. It played its part in the busyness of the season of harvest. It brought reminders that nature’s season of rest was coming.

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Darrell Pedersen, retired ELCA pastor

I’ve been sitting in this deer stand for 10 seasons in a row. It was recently Minnesota’s fall firearms deer season. My perch, on a farm outside of Aitkin, Minnesota, leans against a big old oak tree. A tiny stream, snaking through a little glacier-formed valley, gurgles beneath me. My hunting buddies and I constructed this stand from reclaimed pallet boards, some home-milled lumber and some store-bought treated dimension stuff. It was thoughtfully assembled with odds and ends including used screws and straightened nails. No paint. Shaped much like a giant highchair, it extends 16 feet above the ground with a safety rail/shooting rest attached at armpit level. Each year we drape gunny sack material from that rail as a protective screen to hide our carefully limited movements. Otherwise, open air. No roof, windows or heaters, often below freezing. I have learned, over the years, that hunting stands are extremely helpful for spotting deer, but also provide a vantage point for reflecting upon my life and the world I live in.

A half dozen of our homemade platforms stand watch over the 90 acres where we hunt. Once in a while a new board or a few screws need to be added to ensure the safety and durability of our stands. My position allows me a vantage point for scanning the surrounding woods, seeing maybe 100 yards in some directions, far less in others. Sometimes I spot a deer. Sometimes I bring one down and with the help of my hunting partners, it ends up as food for our families.

Here in this place and also where we sometimes hunt outside of Pillager, there are dilapidated stands remaining from hunting seasons considerable years past. Their builders, perhaps long since gone from this life, were also eager for the hunt, food on the table and the perspective gained from spending as many as 10 hours or more a day sitting, quietly meditating upon that place, their lives and their world. In my stand, and I bet many others, prayers season the myriad hopes, dreams, struggles and fears that pass in and out of consciousness.

My hunting mentor/coach, Sid Johnson, 10 years my senior, can remember some of the remaining old stands being in use during his boyhood hunting forays into these woods back in the 1950s. He can name some of the fellows who built them. He can tell stories about their lives. Those stands now hang precariously. A few boards, once steps, cling to the trunk of the tree. A few more crisscross limbs. Some lie scattered at the base of the tree — ancient trees — Maybe 100 years or older, maybe barely standing upright at all.

Time passes. My son, John, and I have been hunting with Sid for over 30 years. Add Gary Whiteman and Mark Skinner and you have our gang. We are aged 85, 79, 69, 55 and 42. Sometimes Greg Whiteman, Ted Anderson, or an out-of-town relative join the hunt. Others have come and gone. Both Archie Crocker and Vernon Butson hunted with us until they passed 90. Lots of memories.

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Tucked into the land that surrounds us, here and there can be seen old buildings, tumbled down, roofs caved in, windows broken out. A one-room schoolhouse. Homestead cabins. Barns. Pig sties. Chicken coops. Rock piles. Fence lines. Once somebody’s Depression Era dreams, now gradually being reclaimed by Mother Earth. Pastures where cows and sheep grazed grow up to brush, then trees. The seasons come and go. The years pass. The deer stands rise and fall.

This day, high in the air, a half mile from the nearest road, I am reflecting upon last week’s 6-month bladder exam. My first 6-month exam was clear. Now, one year past completion of three years of immunotherapy treatments for cancer, a second scan and there are angry red blotches glaring at us from the monitor screen. It may or may not be cancer. Monday’s biopsy will tell. Then, one day at a time. Just like in the deer stand.

Is there a deer sneaking past behind my stand as I write this piece? Two sheets of lined paper, folded and carefully slipped into my pocket each morning now collect random thoughts as the day passes. Sometimes inspiration hits and rapid-fire writing occurs. At least I’m awake. Each day our alarm has gone off at 4:45 a.m. In the stand before 6:30 a.m. Accidental naps happen. This morning a balmy 40 degrees above zero. The leaves are almost all down. An occasional gust of wind dislodges a few more. Was that the flash of a deer flag or just another falling leaf? This year, six hunters harvested six deer by the morning of the fourth day of season. We’ve never done that well before. Sid’s motley crew. Good coaching. Years of teaching. Friendship. Thanks, Sid. Thanks, friends. Thanks be to God.

Has God been watching all of this over the years? Out there in the woods? In our homes? On the job? With all the hatred, lying and chaos in our world, does God still listen to deer stand prayers? Does God still hear this old world’s petitions for help and for hope? I believe it. Almost 3,000 years ago, the ancient Psalmist promised, “I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.” (Psalm 89:1-2) Forever. All generations.

Darrell Pedersen is a retired ELCA pastor.

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A dilapidated deer stand hangs in a tree in Aitkin. Submitted.

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