The Gift of Life Outside

By Doug Humphreys

There is an absolute satisfaction that comes with the sound of sizzling meat. At the sound of the sizzle, the tangy smell of raw flesh is immediately replaced by the earthy aroma of meat cooking in olive oil.

While the meat browns, there is a tok-tok-tok of a knife pecking a cutting board. Soon there are piles of onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, and potatoes. At once they are scraped into the pot with the meat, another splash of olive oil to keep the sizzle.

When the meat is brown, a vegetable stock is added. Next are frozen peas and limas, some cilantro, a shot of gin, salt, and pepper. Then it cooks. All day it simmers. The flavor getting better with every minute that passes.

When you sit to dinner you realize that on the table before you is a gift. You are keenly aware that for you to consume the meal that will nourish you, other living things had to die. Vegetables were severed from the root and a deer fell to a bullet . . . your bullet.

You don’t feel bad or guilty; this is the natural order of things. But the point is not lost. Just because God made it this way doesn’t mean you can’t be thankful for it. Just because you can kill to eat doesn’t give you the right to take it for granted.

While you eat, you realize the gift extends beyond the meal itself. You remember time spent digging in the dirt—sowing, tending, and harvesting. You remember sitting in the woods, waiting quietly and patiently and watching the miracle of nature around you. The gift is not only a bowl of stew. The gift is a life spent outside.

‘Tis the season for gifts. There are few among us who aren’t thinking about them at the moment.

For those whose age is still in the single digits, the end game is the size of the pile. Those in their teens are concerned with gifts that are cool, like really cool. Twenty something’s want what they need, and that which will save their hard earned money. Those in their thirties are once again concerned with the size of the pile, but now for their own single digit family members.

The forties, for me, have been the most challenging age for gift giving because I’ve come to believe that gifts must mean something. Piles of plastic made in China and token gifts acquired because of a T.V. commercial now feel hollow and insincere. The problem is that finding a gift that is meaningful to the gifter and gifted is a tough accomplishment. It is far harder to find a thoughtful gift than it is to save for an expensive one.

If you are having trouble coming up with a gift this holiday season, try thinking like an outdoorsman.

Give the gift of sunrise. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but once you are out of bed and staring east there are few things as beautiful as dawn. This summer my family and I watched the sun come up over the Atlantic from the bow of a fishing boat. It was impossible to tell where earth ended and the heavens began, but the clouds were surely a red carpet to whatever comes next.

For friends who are burdened by the daily grind and rarely escape the bonds of the concrete jungle, give them the gift of a sit in the woods. It’s hard to understand how tightly we are wound until we truly give ourselves a chance to unwind. There is no better way to decompress than sitting beneath the canopy of a hardwood forest. If the view won’t relax you, the smell surely will. Not to worry if few words are spoken, you’ll be surprised at the connection you can have with another person when you sit still and say nothing.

For family you haven’t seen in a while, give them the gift of a meal. Tell them about the potatoes you dug, the beans you picked, and the deer you hunted. Don’t give them your secret recipe, show them. Share the sizzle of meat and take turns chopping veggies. While the stew simmers, ask them how they are doing and then listen to their answer.

Just before you serve the meal take a moment to give thanks for all the gifts that surround you, whatever they may be.