The holiday season began in October, with Columbus Day. We didn't actually celebrate Columbus coming to America and discovering people living here already (I guess the Indians do not count as explorers or discoverers). As I have previously chronicled, Halloween comes early in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire. That is the kick off to our holiday season. Maybe holiday season isn't an accurate description, outdoor season could serve as a better label. For it is with the changing of the leaves and the cooling of the air that we truly begin to embrace the coming months. It is also the start of hunting season and time to be in the woods.
Through October and into November, we prepare for the snow, and the holidays, by preserving our hard-earned garden harvests. We finish putting up bales of hay to keep the animals through the snowy months. The tractors and farm equipment are winterized. Firewood is stacked, with excess piled near the splitter just in case. The chores are many but between we fit hunting and the preparations that go with it. It is a family endeavor, with even the kids pitching in. Placing stands, clearing brush and downed trees, cutting back intrusive branches along the access trails, just being in the woods together.
During this time, we dabble in hunting, taking advantage of the cooler, sunny days. We set aside a few hours on the weekends to take the kids out to chase squirrels in the colorful treetops, or tromp through the thickets to jump at grouse bursting out of the brambles, or try to teach patience to a seven-year-old by sitting at the base of a tree straining our eyes in an attempt to spot a turkey before it can spot us. It is only a few short hours, sometimes not even that as the fidgeting starts early, to share, but the memories will last forever. It is not about killing our prey but spending time outside, away from phones and video games, from work and school, just family time without distraction. It is amazing how slowly time moves perched in a tree waiting for deer with my daughters beside me. If I could only bottle the essence of that quality time.
Thanksgiving marks the middle of our holiday season, the calm right before things begin to ramp up. Opening Day is near. Deer Camp is about to start. It used to be a busy time for us. A Thanksgiving meal filled with friends and family. It has slowed some as everyone has grown older and further apart. But this time is important to our family. With the hustle and bustle of life pulling on each of us from every direction, we have set this time aside for family. Raising two daughters, I have made it a point to try to instill the meaning of these family traditions in them. I understand that with time and life, they will eventually grow up. They will establish their own lives and families. Hopefully, they will remember these lessons from the woods. Thanksgiving is a tradition of family, deer camp a place to return to each year, the forest a sanctuary to escape from the rigors of everyday.
I can only pray, as I sit quietly in my tree and watch the forest come alive, that along with my wife and Grandma and Grandpa , I have nurtured my daughters' love of the outdoors and their sense of pride in family traditions. No matter where life takes them, their seat around the campfire, their plate at the Thanksgiving table, and their places within my heart, will always be here. For now I will cherish every moment of those little hands holding mine as we walk through the woods together.