I AM A hunter. I am a meat eater. I hunt for much of the meat I eat during the course of a year, although the older I get, the less I worry about whether my meat comes from a deer feeding on an oak ridge or a cow raised on a farm.

When I do hunt, I typically walk considerable distances during the course of a morning or afternoon outing. My patience, which should be getting better as I advance farther and farther into the realm of senior citizenship, is actually getting worse.

Whether going to the woods to sit quietly on a deer stand or heading for the edge of a local duck pothole to hide in a blind of brush and cattails, I find myself more and more of a roamer after a short stint of sitting than I ever used to be.

Truth is, ever since I was a little child roaming the woods around my parents’ house anywhere from 100 yards behind the house to maybe 2 miles away, I have harbored the need to see what was over the next ridge and what was to be found down in the next valley.

It strikes me now, as I think about the paragraph I just finished, how today’s snowflake parents would recoil in horror at the thought of an 8-year-old child wandering by himself deep in the woods with nary a cellphone, adult companion or GPS navigation unit to his name.

“Horrible parenting!” I would guess most of them would shout, but for me, my brothers and cousins, it was merely our way of life. As long as we showed up at home before dark with all our limbs still attached and working, my parents were happy. 

Today, when so many children think there is nothing to do if they don’t have an electronic game in their hands or are at the wheel of a child-sized ATV, I find myself wondering what would happen if those sorts of things were taken away and they were forced to actually get out into nature on their own hind legs to explore the wonderful woods which surround them.

Personally, I have never gotten past the stage of being perpetually in awe of our woods and waters, and all the natural wonders they are happy to share with anyone venturing out to them. Twisted burls on a gnarled oak tree trunk, great clusters of cones hanging from the topmost branches of a spruce tree, dirt piled around the entrance of a fox den; all of these things capture and hold me in wonder as much today as when I was an 8-year-old boy.

Sitting along a windswept lakeshore on a late autumn afternoon is special to me, so special that I find myself almost unable to leave such a spot. 

Over the past 60 years of roaming the woods, either by myself, with a friend or two or, as is most often the case these days, with two canine companions, I find myself hunting less and reminiscing more as I tramp through familiar stands of pine or ridges covered with a mix of oak, maple, birch and balsam fir.

On any given tramp, I might find myself passing by the spot where I killed my first partridge or past another place where I killed my first flying partridge. More often, I might find myself in a small copse or coming around the corner of a long-abandoned and overgrown logging road where I missed an easy chance at a partridge, woodcock or deer.

Edging up to a woodland pond which wood ducks have often called home for all the years I have been around, I see the beautiful crested head of a drake as it sits on a barkless fallen tree at the edge of the water. I see early autumn leaves of crimson, orange and yellow draping me in their beauty and I hear the soft sigh of a brisk October breeze blowing through the topmost boughs of a 200-year-old white pine.

Oftentimes, these places I visit, these places where I pause to remember, look nothing like they did when I first discovered them. The woods across from my childhood home and the house a half-mile from it that I have called a home of my own for 40 years is a good example.

I was probably 8 or 9 when the first logging roads since the late 1800s and early 1900s, when loggers cleaned out the giant white pines of the day, were bulldozed through a roughly 4-square-mile section. I rode my old single-speed bike over all those traces back then, looking over valleys and up sidehills that had either been clear-cut or selectively cut to leave wide open vistas for the budding explorer to enjoy.

In short order, those barren or nearly barren places filled in with new saplings and thick stands of hazel brush; 25 years after that, they had progressed to the stage of a young, but maturing forest. In another 25 years, those woods were the home of oak trees up to 16 inches in diameter, birch of nearly that size and as it had been before the logging of the 1950s, it had turned full cycle into a closed-in, aging forest.

In the last 10 years, the same area has seen some logging and now, as I did in the ’60s and ’70s, I see the new cycle in full swing. 

I see all this every time I wander through those woods and as I wander, I stop often, remembering a long-gone broken rampart that was once a guidepost for a young explorer and I see in my mind’s eye the place where I once stopped my bicycle to watch a bear tear into a rotten popple log where fat and tasty grubs lived beneath the bark.

These days of autumn, I most often walk without a gun in hand, with two galloping dogs chasing this way and that way through the woods, stopping often to sniff something of interest that perhaps they will remember on another walk sometime in the future, just as I remember all the things I saw, heard and smelled so many years ago.

I walk a little slower now, a bit of a nod to aging legs, but I enter and leave the woods I walk through with more appreciation and sense of wonder than I felt back then.

These are my woods. They are my place to find peace and serenity. They are my refuge. Most of all, they are my treasure, the wealth of which is immeasurable.