photo by Steve Oberlechner

For six hundred miles on the Appalachian Trail, Steve Oberlechner has been thinking of his dad, wanting to erase the guilt he felt for his dad’s disappointment when, on a hunting trip, he failed to pull the trigger to kill the deer that his dad had flushed his way. Finally, early in the morning at Ethan Pond in New Hampshire, the opportunity comes:

“Perhaps this summer-long hike is an effort to get back to the pleasure I felt sitting in the woods when no game approached, when I felt no pressure to kill, when there was only his company, the clouds, the crows, or the quiet. I lean from left to right, try to stretch my legs without dipping my boots into the water, take a breath and consider the trees and the birdsong, the blush of clouds before dawn, and think about how my father could have pushed me worse places than to all of this beauty.

“As night gives to pale morning, I blow at mosquitos that whine and hover near my face, twitch to shake deer flies that land and pinch. I squint at a shape over the water’s surface that I expect might be a heron or some loons bunched together, until the shape turns broadside and I see the slope of a moose’s neck from the top of its head to the hump of its shoulders. A cow—no basket of antlers, but still a moose, the first I have ever seen in the wild. I inch the camera up from my lap, careful to avoid quick movement that might send her great legs scissoring for the shore, the cover of trees. My heart flutters faster. When I have the camera high enough to sight through the viewfinder, I center the head in the frame like I would for a kill shot, thumb at the zoom wheel to draw the moose closer, her ears flicking and water draining from her snout as I press my finger lightly over the flash, ready to capture a memento of this moose, of this thrill, of this pond in New Hampshire, and of the long, cold Saturdays spent sitting with my father, looking out on a field, talking only in whispers if we speak at all, until a dull orange smear of sunset is all that’s left burning behind the black trees on the western horizon as he stands, walks downhill, and I follow.”

Excerpt from “Taking the Shot,” by Steve Oberlechner, in the just-released 2022 issue of Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry.

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