Summertime and the living is easy, but the soporific sounds of nature can lull you into a slumber from which you may get a rude awakening, warns Alasdair Mitchell
At this time of year I travel to Hampshire for a spot of trout fishing, which invariably involves afternoon naps by the water. You might think sleeping is a criminal waste of good fishing time, but I beg to differ. (Read just how much of the day does a dog spend asleep?)
When the trout are rising, so am I; but when the sun is high the fish tend to keep low — and again, so do I. For me, a snooze amid the sounds associated with the waterside is part of the experience. The sound most likely to close my eyelids, at any time of day, is the patter of raindrops on the roof of a veteran Land Rover, accompanied by the rhythmic wet clacking of the short wipers on the flat glass windscreen.
Parking up to spy a misty hillside for deer, while at the same time waiting for the weather to improve, is a recipe for sleep. Catching some zeds outdoors can be surprisingly easy. I once managed to fall asleep up a tree. I was trying out a climbing tree stand, of the sort used in the US by deer hunters. I climbed up to it in the predawn darkness of a still, frosty morning. Being built for the American market, the seat was wonderfully comfortable. Ensconced in it with warm clothing, I soon drifted off. Then I began to dream that somebody was cutting down my tree with a saw. I awoke with a start — to find that the sawing noise was my own snoring.
Once, in Canada, it was my guide who got a rude awakening. We had gone out in the late afternoon to wait near a game trail, travelling the first mile or so by canoe, before tiptoeing into the cathedral-like gloom of a stand of huge old spruce. The plan was to sit for an hour until last light, hoping to ambush a black bear. I sat on the ground with my back against a tree, rifle propped on my knees. My guide sat against another tree. I remained alert, peering intently at the game trail in front of me as the light faded. But my guide’s head soon slumped forward. I later discovered that nobody had ever actually seen a bear in this locality. Perhaps the guide, who had been working his socks off for us all week, regarded the vigil as a chance to relax. But lo, on this particular evening, a bear materialised. I stared at the apparition, hardly daring to breathe as I tried to confirm that it was a shootable male. My guide couldn’t be woken without alerting bruin.
Having made my lonely decision, I took careful aim, thumbed the safety off and slowly began to tighten on the trigger. Now, I was using a bare-barrelled .30-06 and we were under a closed canopy of trees, in half-light. The rifle went off with a blinding flash and a noise like a howitzer. The guide reacted as if he had been zapped with a defibrillator. When order was regained, we went to look for the bear. Fortunately, it was both stone dead and a male. Lugging it out to the canoe, then travelling back to camp on the river in darkness was an ordeal I shall never forget. I certainly slept well that night.