The things you see when you stop looking so hard

On the surface, it seemed a simple task: I was looking for a ground blind. A large ground blind.

My hunting buddy, Chris, had erected it a week before in the woods where we meet up to chase non-existent deer, and like the good Mainer he is, he left the welcome mat out for me … figuratively, at least.

What he really said was, “Feel free to use it any time you want.” And after spending far too much time sitting in trees and on stumps this November, I decided a nice afternoon in a folding chair, surveying a (potentially) productive piece of forest, sounded like a good idea.

So off I went, late last week. Into the woods. In search of a ground blind.

That couldn’t be too hard, could it?

Harder than you might think, actually. Let’s forget, for a moment, that the ground blind is essentially a camouflaged tent designed to make it blend into its surroundings.

My biggest problem was more basic than that.

The view from the blind

Chris’s directions to the blind were typically Maine-y, in that they relied on landmarks that no longer exist. In some Maine towns, instructions like “turn right at the place where the Ellis farm used to be” make perfect sense … so long as you’ve been around long enough to know the Ellises, or at least to remember an old farm house that is no longer standing.

In Chris’s case, the landmarks were more nebulous, and more difficult to remember.

“Go down the skidder trail that goes past the spot where I had my blind last year, then go toward where Pete had his blind three or four years ago,” he might have said (my head was spinning by that point).

Then, in classic “when you see a fork in the road, take it,” style, Chris unloaded this gem on me. “You’ll see some dark growth. It’s not in there. But keep going and you’ll come up on a rise. You’re not far from the stream at that point. And the blind is up in there.”

Up in there? On which side of the skidder trail? How close to the stream?

As it turns out, it didn’t matter. The skidder trail that Chris referred to was short-lived, or my ability to follow it was more limited than he had assumed. It petered out in a series of water-filled ruts, seemed to branch off in three directions, and the woods encroached on all three.

Hmm. I flipped a mental coin, eyeballed the fork in the road, and took it.

Wrong choice, apparently. I saw dark growth, but was soon bushwacking through prickle bushes and assorted puckerbrush. Eventually, after 10 minutes of alerting every deer in town that a bumbling fool was loose in the woods, the trees began to thin, and I saw an opening … and water.

I’d arrived at the stream — more accurately, at a swampy area that used to be a stream, before some hard work by nature’s engineers, the beavers.

Looking the other direction

Now that was a landmark I could sink my boots into. I wasn’t supposed to get to the stream. Or the swamp. So I’d overshot. After another 10 minutes of poking around, I found myself in a stand of massive evergreens that had been left to grow the last time this land had been harvested.

Sight lines were good — great, in fact — and I reminded myself to tell Chris about the spot so that he might consider it as a future ground blind site.

In the meantime, since I’d been wandering around for quite some time, I decided to sit on a stump, survey the surrounding woods, and wait. The swamp was nearby. Deer sign was everywhere. Why not sit a spell?

About 10 minutes later, I realized what kind of a fool I was. Or, perhaps, I discovered how good I am at following marginally helpful directions.

As I peered into the gloom, a mass of green bushes transformed before my eyes.

Have you ever looked at one of those hidden pictures in a book, where you stare at a page intently and the secret image unveils itself? Odd feeling, isn’t it?

So, too, is watching as the bushes you’ve been sitting 50 yards away from suddenly reveal themselves as the ground blind you’d originally been looking for.

Chuckling to myself, I ambled over, unzipped the door, and made myself at home … just as Chris had suggested.

Later, I related my story to him via e-mail. His three-word reply.

“You’ve got issues.”

“An issue with following marginally useful directions,” I nearly replied. But since he’s been nice and has offered me the use of his spacious ground blind any time I want to use it (or, more accurately, any time I can actually find it), I bit my tongue and remained silent.

Until now.




John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.