The sounds of nature awakened as the beautiful rays of sun began to break through the clouds. As I drove, my thoughts drifted to a time when covered wagons traveled, perhaps, through these same plains. Those early settlers must have possessed great determination and faith in the unknown to travel great distances. Those easy settlers also had to overcome adversity and harsh conditions as they worked toward dreams of making a better life for themselves. As I return to the present and look around at the untamed prairie in the National Grassland south of Fort Pierre, I begin to contemplate the reason that brought me here to this place. I have discovered that my affinity with nature is simple— it a place of independence where I can use the skills I have learned to prove to myself that I have what it takes, a place to listen to Gods soft encouraging voice, as well as an opportunity to step back from my daily struggle of dealing with chronic pain and its effects.
The Fort Pierre National Grassland, south of Fort Pierre, SD hosts a spectacular 116,000 acres of gentle rolling hills, prairie grass, draws, pockets, and creek bottoms. This land which is managed by the US Forest Service, is home to a variety of plants, fish, and animals and is the perfect setting for my first “Do It Yourself” mule deer archery hunt. Coming to the end of the road, I parked, unpacked my supplies, and found the perfect spot to set up my tent overlooking this beautiful oasis. After putting away my personal belongings, I dressed, strapped on my backpack, grabbed my bow and my camera, and headed out into the unknown to document this journey and recover from the one thing that brought me here in the first place; chronic pain and its companion the ugly beast known as depression. The magnificence of the sun put me on center stage basking in its rays, as I hiked with confidence in my hunting skills and my ability to tackle a “DIY” archery mule deer hunt.
After I had immersed myself into nature, I encountered a small herd of mule deer as if God was welcoming me into this adventure. Using the wind to close the gap on these majestic creatures, I fought a case of “buck fever” and switched from hunter to photographer in order to document this part of the adventure. As the day progressed under the bright rays of sun, I also encountered a herd of antelope, a bald eagle, a covey of grouse, a red tailed hawk, a rattlesnake, and a couple of coyotes before the sun went down and the clouds and winds moved in. I enjoyed the quiet as I ate supper, before settling into my tent and thanking God for this amazing day as I quickly drifted off to sleep.
The weather changed throughout the night, but I was happy and confident that my new weather resistant tent could hold up to the adverse conditions that I might face. The next morning, I decided to pack up my belongings and move to a new location since the open prairie is no place to be if you are caught in a thunderstorm. After I had reached the new location, I walked for a couple of hours in fierce winds under an overcast sky. There, I located a big mule deer buck with his doe companion bedded down behind a large “slide” which they were using to escape the harsh windy conditions. Even thought I did my best to use the hilly open terrain to close the gap, the seasoned buck and his companion gave me the slip and escaped out the backside. After walking for a couple more hours, my sore shoulder, back, and tired legs had all that they could take for the day.
Chronic pain is a debilitating phenomenon that serves no purpose. It is often misunderstood by people on the outside looking in. It often defines who a person is and what they become, and I can tell you through personal experience that it can negatively affect your mind, body, and soul…if you let it. It can make you feel like you have lost control of your life, affecting your relationships (family and friends) and your quality of life; even affecting your desire to participate in the activities that you once enjoyed. Fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and irritability are some of the challenges I face traveling along my chronic pain journey. Like those of you living this nightmare, I continue to struggle along my way. But when the going gets tough, I try to focus on the one thing that has stayed constant along my journey; my faith and God’s promise to never leave my side. On the other side of your fear you too will find a place of hope, purpose, and meaning; if you change the way you think. When things seem to get out of control, I encourage you to take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other, and remember that this is not a bad life, just a bad day. Each day begins with a new sunrise and ends with a new sunset. Life is meant to be lived. Awaken your spirit, embrace the unknown because hope, healing, and recovery await along your adventure. See you in the wilderness where you can focus on the importance of life andthe lessons that can be learned. You are not alone.