I don’t so much go outside. I walk to my car from my office, my house to my car, and every once in a while I get exposure to the sun while photographing sports or theme park media events. I don’t hike, I don’t sail, I don’t sit by the pool, and when I was a kid my mom used to lock me out on the front porch without my books, probably just to make sure I didn’t get rickets.

I don’t recall anyone having told me Cody was Bear-Freaking-Grylls when we started dating, but in hindsight, the mountain goat pelt hanging on the bedroom wall should have been an indicator. (I have since named that pelt “Jeffrey”, but that’s another story.) Cody’s one of those born-and-bred outdoorsmen. He has boots for more occasions than I knew existed and knives for all the others.

Man's hands sharpening a knife on a block over a counter with deer meat and a meat grinder
One said knife, being sharpened by himself.

Since the beginning of us, there has been talk of the hunting lease. Often in reverent tones, always when referencing any free time to be had. I know people hunt; I saw all of the Hunger Games. What I didn’t know was that groups of Southern people (usually dudes – let’s be honest) band together and transform wooded lands into their own shoot-it-skin-it-freeze-it fraternities. If these wooded lands are rented from others, they are simply referred to as hunting leases, or “the lease” for short.

The lease is holy. Womenfolk are allowed on the lease by 1) marriage 2) blood connection 3) blood sacrifice and/or 4) a lengthy vetting period. (I’m kidding about the sacrifice. Mostly.) So while I knew it was possible that I could be allowed to step foot on hallowed ground, I also knew it would be a while before I was going to be asked to incorporate camo into my normal uniform-de-athleisure.

Or so I thought.

Things had been a little chippy between me and the Codester for a while before he called me at work one day and asked me to accompany him on the sacred road trip West. I had misgivings about his motivations for taking me to Mecca until, upon arriving at the lease and thumping down a rutted drive into the darkest dark I’d ever experienced, I figured it out. He wasn’t taking me hunting; he was bringing me to a place he could murder me and nobody could hear me scream.

Headlights Shine into a dilapidated animal barn creating an eerie feeling
The first thing I saw at the lease. It’s a barn, and there’s a nicer photo of it in the gallery, but can anyone say ‘horror movie’?

You’ll be happy to know I made it through the night. Sort of. More precisely, I made it until 3:30 a.m. when the alarm went off and for some weird reason I agreed to getting back into the truck and driving into the woods. I was dressed in someone else’s camo clothing, wearing deer-repellant red rain boots (all I had) and while I understood I was being shimmied into a harness, it did not occur to me (likely due to the ungodly hour) that harnesses are for strapping people *to* things. Like the tops of trees. I heard Cody say the thing on his back was “another stand”, implying that we were heading toward one, but again – 3:30 a.m.

We walked into the woods for what seemed like forever. I assume most things seem like forever when you’re walking with a light strapped to your head and wearing someone else’s clothes. I’m sure there wasn’t a deer within ten miles after I stepped on every stick in the forest, snapping it in 12 places and making more noise than a bulldozer. Quiet walking is one of those things I’ve since learned. I think. When we stopped walking horizontally, Cody went vertical. Up a tree. With a stand. And a bow. When he reached the top, he asked if I was coming up.

Quick recap: Morgan does not go outside. Morgan does not climb things. Morgan is kind of short and only mildly coordinated prior to 10 a.m. Also though: Morgan is stubborn as hell and would never, ever tell anyone she couldn’t do something.

I went up the tree on a ladder nailed into the side. I made it into the stand and did not die. My toes almost fell off because I didn’t wear two pairs of socks like Cody told me a million times I should. I almost dropped my camera. I watched a glorious sunrise and saw the first of the Fall colors creeping down into the lower elevations as a too-warm fall receded. I learned more about a person by being silent than I ever thought I could. I made a little peace with nature. It was, as they say, a start.

yellow leaves shine in the sun in the middle of gold, orange, and purple foliage in the treetops
The first of the yellows pop in the lower elevations in Middle Tennessee.

Post-script: I stepped on a log on the last step out of the tree and fell on my butt. My giant camera lens jammed into my side, breaking one of my ribs. Thanks a lot, nature.

Be sure to check out the gallery of Fall lease photos.

 

 

 

 

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