Ihave no idea if the grand old oak tree is still there.
It's been nearly 20 years since I last laid eyes on its long, arching branches and its towering trunk. Back then, the tree was an oasis -- it stood bold and tall like no other tree in that rolling patch of forest.
Each fall, the acorns dripped from the old oak. As squirrels prepared their stashes for the winter, the tree was their prime target. That meant it was our target, too.
Squirrel hunting, as un-exotic as it sounds, hits at the epitome of our hunting heritage. It gets us in Penn's Woods at what is a magical time. The season starts Saturday.
We can take our trusty .22 and sit beneath our favorite oak tree. Or we can grab a scattergun and a couple of buddies -- or better yet, a youngster -- and take a slow stroll through the woods. There's no better way to soak in the atmosphere of autumn -- the smells, the rich color of the leaves and the bustle of wildlife preparing for winter.
Squirrel hunting is the most basic form of hunting, yet it's often the most rewarding -- at least if your idea of a successful hunt doesn't rely solely on putting a trophy on the wall.
I remember my first-ever hunt. It's as clear today as it was two decades ago. My father, my uncle, my grandpa and I circled that beast of an oak tree. The nervous gray squirrel was surrounded. His tail flickered as he ran to jump for cover. But an eager 12-year-old got him before he made the leap. It was the first shot of many. I was hooked.
The next year, I didn't have a sleepless night waiting for deer season. No, that's cold, solitary hunting. I spent the fall counting the days and waiting for that crisp October morning when a team of us could go after the bushy tails.
Now that I have a son of my own, the passion is reborn. It will be another decade until he's ready to aim high into the tree. But that's OK. The woods are patient.
By then, the old oak tree that means so much to me may be gone. A storm or a chainsaw could bring it crashing to the ground. It may already be a pile of firewood.
But nothing can erase the memories that grew from its branches decades ago. I have no doubt that my son and I will find our own mighty oak.
It has plenty of time to add a few more rings to its trunk.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.