Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Leaves of October

Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
(Part X)
     The beginning of a seemingly new era of hunting camp, Starlight has become our solid base and it continues to grow and develop.  But this month is more about the beginning of the season, of pumpkins and ghosts, of windy nights flecked with passing flurries and the anticipation of things to come.  In this old friends have bloomed new again.  "Big Chris" now visits with his "tribe" to lend a hand with camp chores and share drinks and tales by the fire.  Chris Hubert makes his annual pilgrimage to chase birds and rain clouds across the sky.  And Old Man Winter flirts with the forest.
     The annual Twin Pond pheasant hunt started three years ago.  It could be said that it actually began four years back with a family trip to the Equinunk Twin Spruce Lodge but the "boys" only trickled in when we switched to the Twin Pond site.  The inaugural trip saw the seven usual suspects gathered in the rain.  Tony, Danny, Drew, Jason, Hubert, my dad, and I all braved the chilly rain that day.  Most of them fled quickly after the birds and shells ran out.  By the second year everyone but Hubert, my dad and I had found better things to do.  Uncle George pretended to come for the hunt.  Nostalgia, more a walk down memory lane than anything else, was his true motive for tagging along.  While the hunt eventually washed out, Uncle George cruised the countryside visiting old haunts from a lifetime ago.  Hubert and I hunted a ground blind to watch the rain, waiting on a deer that was held at bay by our snores.  Driving straight up after work on a couple hours sleep left the two of us pretty much wiped out.  It turned out to be a perfectly gloomy weekend.
     Chris and I headed back to work soggy and empty-handed.  And Uncle George faded away, never to be seen in the woods of PA again.  It was as if he were an apparition of a hunting camp long forgotten clinging to the present but always knowing he could not stay.
(It is that time again.  Time to remember seasons passed.  Some of the seasons are as dark and grey as the sky that watched them but even those times need to be cherished.  Any day in the woods, even snoring, is a better day than one spent at work.  Enjoy the seasons.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Forgotten Day

      It should be right behind the Fourth of July. It should be held in higher regard than all the rest. There is no reason for it to be forgotten. Parades and ceremonies and fireworks simply are not enough. This is a day to truly be thankful, a day that should be met with football and giant dinners and family gatherings. It is the one day that should never be taken for granted. Today is Veteran's Day.
      The company I work for, like most companies theses days, does not recognize today as a day worthy of remembrance. It is a normal Friday. The union, as willing to accept dues as they are to concede recognized holidays, does not consider today a day worth fighting for. I wear the American flag stitched upon my work clothes, but can not recognize the heroes of this country without a sick day. The men and women who have fought and sacrificed for my rights and freedoms are not worthy of a day of recognition according to many, my company, it's customers, Local 807, and most of the rest of country included. The beginning of Summer is more important. The "unofficial" end of Summer is more important. A fictitious fat man in a red suit is more important. Watching a giant ball descend a pole while partying with friends is much more important. The veterans of this country are not as important as these things. However, without them we would not celebrate such frivolous matters.
      For many years, I hunted with my father on Veteran's Day. We used to meet in the morning and drive to the Delaware Water Gap and walk the fields there in search of small game, pheasants and squirrels mostly. We never mentioned that it was a holiday. We just walked the woods together. Spending time together was enough, no hoopla. As my parents left New Jersey to reside in the slower pace of Pennsylvania, my father and I still made plans to meet on Veteran's Day to walk the same fields. Times have changed since those youthful hunts. The holiday calendar at work has grown lean on what is considered an important or allowable day off. I, at one time, resorted to sick days to keep the tradition of hunting with my dad on Veteran's Day going. Recently, I have used seniority and vacation to ensure that this day is spent with family.
      My father is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He carries many scars of all kinds with him. There were years when those scars took their toll not only on him. I lost some years to those scars, too. The loss was of time and chances to make memories and I refuse to allow that to ever happen again. My children take pride in the fact that their grandfather was a soldier and fought for this country. I will not allow them to lose the opportunity to make memories of time spent with their grandfather. They proudly celebrate this day knowing they are, in some small part, connected to it. It is his day and he should have it. He has surely earned it and continues to earn it, everyday.
      My story is only one of thousands, perhaps millions by now. My experiences of the effect of war and the cost of politics and freedom are merely a blade of grass in a meadow of such experiences. All of those stories deserve a place, a day of recognition, a moment to reflect and remember, and a small word of thanks. These stories are attached to lives, to families. They can not be allowed to fade from the memory of a nation. They have sacrificed for every American. They have earned their day.
Who wants to be the one that takes their day away? Who wants to be the one that allows their memories to fade? Who wants to be the one that keeps their stories from being told?

It will not be me. Mine is but a small inconvenience compared to their scarifices. It will not be me.

The above passage was written two years ago.  I intended to put new words to paper today but could not say it better than this.  I did not wish to just rehash old words, so I present it here in its original form.  I am reposting it annually so as not to forget the most important holiday.  For now, just know, that I will not forget the day and I hope anyone that reads this will not either.  We take too much for granted today without wondering at the price.  Our veterans know that price and should not be forgotten.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Spooky Times

     To make up for the loss of Halloween due to Sandy last year, the day seemed to run the entire month for my family.  It was a month filled with spooky times and laughter and the creeps.  It had roller coasters and candy and baked apples and parades and ghosts.  There were road trips and headless horsemen and pumpkin funnel cakes.  I tried to jam as much of the spirit of the holiday into the month of October as possible.  And we are exhausted but quite happy.
     The fun began at Knoebel's, a place of happiness that I have praised long before this.  Halloween is different, however, and this was our first visit during the fall.  The park is only open on weekends in October and the grounds are decorated appropriately for the season.  Witches line the walkways and fly high above the kiddie rides.  Each ride is adorned with a different scary theme and some boring attractions take on a whole new atmosphere in the dark.  One such ride, the Antique Cars, is remarkably transformed into a wildly scary ride filled with costumed ghouls popping out at every turn.  The roller coasters speed through the dark night with strobe lights and shrieks.  The concession stands trade corn dogs for baked apples and pumpkin spices make it into every sweet treat on the menu.  For us it was a great beginning to Halloween and a tremendous family outing.  Even the road leading to the park gave up a little autumnal smiles passing by the Red Deer Farm and filling our cooler with jerky and summer sausage and bologna.  The kids marveled at the racks of the stags strutting out in the pasture and happily gobbled down the snack sticks.
    I could not pretend to try to top the Knoebel's adventure.  The next trip was a more relaxing affair held atop the Palisades in Fort Lee.  There were campfire stories told by Revolutionary War-clad re-enactors and a hand-picked team of cannon brigade.  Cannon fire echoed eeriely down the Hudson as our girls, along with a few Girl Scout friends, manned the antique firearm.  Apple cider donuts and warm cider kept our grumbling bellies happy until we could retreat to the warmth of a nearby neighborhood restaurant.  And we would need the nourishment for the following days events.
    The morning brought a corn field maze for ATV's.  The Girl Scout troop would be testing their skills aboard the machines as they scooted through the brisk morning air.  The lessons would flow into the afternoon until the girls tiredly climbed back into the truck.  But their naps would be short-lived as I headed back up the Hudson, across the Tappan Zee, and arrived in Sleepy Hollow.  Only a few short days away from Halloween, the small hamlet along the river was bustling with revelers.  Philipsburg Manor had been transformed into a nightmarish spectacle of horror.  Tickets were not for the faint of heart as screams could be heard clear across the roadway.  All the streets and walkways were lit by candlelight.  We enjoyed a hay bale seat under the horseman's statue as the kids stood in the town square trying to take in all the sights and sounds of Halloween.
     We made our way to the Old Dutch Church for a telling of the tale.  A lone storyteller walked amongst the 200-year-old pews of the church.  His voice boomed as he recounted the life of Ichabod Crane.  He skillfully played all the characters of the story and enthralled the audience with his telling.  The tale played out in the flickering candles of the church as the old organ supplied the background mood.  It was with pure enjoyment that I sat on the wooden bench, not just because of the story or the acting or the warmth of the wood stove but my family sitting quietly without phone or TV or any other screen or distraction, captivated by the voice in the musty air, a transportation back in time.
      The cool night air woke us from the dream, stinging our faces that were aglow from the wood stove back inside.  We shuffled down the dark paths back to the truck, past the living incarnation of the horseman as he sat upon his steed in the town square.  Both the rider and mount posed for pictures with haunted manor guests.  We quickly hustled passed the horse and ghost back to our truck.  The place a little further down the road held more Halloween for us.  Our reservation was for 8:30 and the time was near.  The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze held in Croton-on-Hudson would be our last destination for the evening.  The crowds were heavy to view the pumpkin art that filled the place.  Most of the folks attending the event were not very pleasant as they shoved their way through the maze of gourds.  Some did not even seem interested in the art or the event.  This was a definite departure from the quiet confines of the warm church we had just left.  The place was loud and crowded and quite crass.  The art was remarkable but hard to enjoy as the throng moved as one down the narrow roped paths.  The concessions here were over-priced and the overall feel was one of commerce and not one of tradition.  Though the carvings were incredible and a visit to this event should be had at least once just to see what all the hub-bub is about, it is doubtful that we will make a return trip next year.  Our truck will most likely stop a few miles prior at the Old Dutch Church.
      Halloween ended with bags full of candy and little sore feet, great big smiles from thoughtful costumes, and hair still slightly tacky from Mischief Night escapades.  We had more than made up for a lost Halloween from a year ago.  It was now time to dream of turkey and sweet potatoes and backstraps and hunting seasons, and, hopefully, snow.