Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 2010

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XV)

     October has come and gone.  We strayed back to our roots as a family.  The Halloween festivities once again consisted of a scavenger hunt, bobbing for apples, and pumpkin carving.  The kids loved it, eating it up like so much Halloween candy.  Grandma and Grandpa seemed to revel in this return to tradition, Grandma especially.  And with those ceremonies we ushered in another hunting season.
     Grandma had requested a crossbow for her 60th in August; a request we willingly obliged.  It was sighted and ready to go, as were her bow and gun.  She speaks boldly of hunting, always pushing to be in the woods, but weekly calls invariably end in reasons for not going.  Perhaps it is just age, work, and life catching up with her intentions.  Most times it seems her heart really wants to be out there but her body betrays her, cold and tired being the result.  Sometimes it's just plain stubbornness.  I try to convince her with scouting and pictures that this time or that would be better, or that a certain spot looks promising, but it always ends up in the same place at 2:30.  It used to lead to frustration; now it only leads to a chuckle.  Somehow this year will be different.
     The first weekend of November this year found us hunting instead of scouting.  We pulled the feeders and cameras weeks ago because of a local poaching incident on a neighboring property that has led to increased scrutiny in the area.  We have always complied with the regulations, just never so early in the year, allowing the kids to get a look at some wildlife for Halloween before pulling the feeders and cameras.  Gun season has traditionally been the time to look forward to, but as of late, with the changing regulations and the ever-increasing demands on the schedule, archery season is slowly winning out.  Politics and hunting, most likely due to money, are walking hand in hand in the woods.  A situation to ponder in the stand or the off-season, but not now.
     The turkey blind was set prior to the spooky days of Halloween to allow the critters time to grow fond of it.  I don't know why because it seems this year that the turkeys have flown south for the winter.  The birds have been scarce this year on the woodlot, not the overflowing presence they usually are.  Somehow this year is different.
     Bailey and I took the crossbow to the turkey blind that first weekend in November.  The blind seats two easily with room to spare.  She enjoyed her time with Dad even as she fidgeted away, trying to fight the boredom and the promise of hunting with Grandma in the afternoon.  I soon had to call for "Mom's taxi" to pick up my short term hunting buddy as she needed to "get ready to hunt with Grandma."
     Left in the quiet clearing by myself at a time no respectable hunter would be out (between 12 & 2, mid-afternoon), I waited and daydreamed.  I imagined not 50 yards off a buck attacking saplings.  I could see their tops violently shaking.  Tiredly, almost indifferently, I turned the bleat can over.  The trees stopped moving and the high grass began to part.  My imagination was real.  The wind was not playing tricks on me.  A small spike trying to be a forky came walking purposefully through the clearing, head down.  I was ready for venison as he stood broadside not ten yards from me and walked away.  Somehow this year was different.
     At that same moment Bailey was preparing to hunt with Grandma.  They left the house at 2:30 on the dot for their short, steep hike along the horse pasture.  As they slowly made their way up the hill, short and shorter legs stopped for a break.  Peeking over the crest of the hill was a set of tall, shiny white tines.  Bedded in their ambush site was an eight, or was it seven, pointer, his girlfriend, and her little brother.  The two hunters belly-crawled to the crest only to see the deer sauntering away into the woods.  Bailey was so filled with excitement that she fell asleep shortly after reaching her stand.
     As the ghosts of this first weekend in November fade into the treeline, I've come to feel alone in the woods; not loneliness but strangely alone.  One kid would rather hunt with Grandma.  Grandma stubbornly disregards any helpful advice to achieve her self-imposed goals on her own terms.  The other kid would rather cook a hunter's dinner with Mommy, not daring the woods.  Mommy nurses her aching back from the warmth of the kitchen.  Grandpa hovers on the field's edge, simply stating that his heart isn't in it.  Perhaps next year will be different.

(Five years of hunting memories have passed since that November.  Where has the time flown?)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hunting Sunsets

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XIV)

      The sun had just touched the horizon when the shots broke the silence.  A few tense minutes later the two-way radio hissed to life, "I got one."
     I climbed out of my stand and took up my post at the corner of the trail and the ridge and waited for it......"She went over the ridge."
     My father met me halfway along the ridge trail just as the sun surrendered the woods to the night. 
     "I've got a flashlight in my pack."
     "It's not on the ATV is it?"
     "No, why?"
     The light aided us in following the blood trail over the ridge, down the hill, and into a little valley.  The floor of the valley was saturated from all the recent rain and we sloppily made our way through the muck.  Eyes glowed in the beam of the flashlight.  The big doe lay between two stumps.  My father went to stand over the dead deer, knife in hand, when the lifeless animal sprang up.  The flashlight spun and flew wild arcs in the air.  I shouldered my slug gun and let loose a magnum blast.  A flame erupted from the barrel, briefly illuminating the entire forest.  The deer crumpled at my feet, knocked dead by the concussive wave or simply exhaustion or a display of extreme marksmanship.  Ten yards away the flashlight still flailed.
     "Did you see which way it went?"
     "I think it's right in front of me."
     The light shone down on the doe, "I've got a knife this time."
     With the field-dressing done, the little valley turned into a hollow at the base of a mountain.  I think we've been here before.  And so I dragged that doe up over the ridge to the ATV.  My legs burned, my back hurt, the beer was cold, and the freezer was full.  I love hunting with my dad and the adventures we've had.  I can only hope that my kids have such tales to tell of hunting with Grandpa.  Perhaps someday they might even have some of the same tales about their dad.  I can hope can't I?

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Disappearing Knife

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XIII)

     The shots, who knows how many and who was counting anyway, were followed quickly by a crackle on the two-way, "I've got a doe down over the ridge," was the message. "Give her some time and come along the ridge trail."
      I climbed out of my stand and started making my way down the trail to the corner that would afford me a vantage point along the ridge.  Twenty minutes later I began the slow, careful walk along the ridge toward the other stand.  After every few steps a pause and then, halfway, the radio blared, "She's a spike and just tumbled down the hill."
     I made it a little farther along before my father left his stand and met me.  "He jumped when he saw you and I got a good look at him.  I hit him in the spine so he won't make it far."
     We followed the blood trail over the ridge and down the hill.  The deer had slid down into a little valley.  "Wow that spike has a decent rack.  Looks like at least five points."
     The five-point buck was near death but still breathing.  "I forgot my pack on the ATV on top of the hill.  Do you have a knife so I can put him down?"
     I will never forget my response, "Sure, I always carry the handmade one you bought me at the knife show."
     I handed it over and my father walked over to his deer.  Standing over the buck, I watched in shock as he plunged the hunting knife into the buck's heart.  The blade pierced effortlessly and disappeared, as did the entire handle.  My father looked at me, empty-handed, "You don't happen to have another knife, do you?"
     "Why would I need another one?"
     "I think I lost the other one.  But it was sharp.  We may need another knife to carefully dress the deer and try to find your good knife."
     Suddenly the little valley turned into a hollow at the base of the mountain.  I couldn't remember the slope being quite as steep on the way down nor could I recall all the stumps and deadfall.  Did I really slide down those exposed roots?  The ridgeline was nearly invisible against the grey sky and disappearing daylight.  If I'm trudging up there to get a knife on the ATV equipped with a winch I might as well take the deer and my knife with me.  And so I dragged that 5-pointed-spike-doe back up over the ridge to the backpack strapped to the ATV and found a knife to find my knife.  My legs burned, my back hurt, the beer was cold, and the freezer was full, and I never brought that knife hunting again.

     In this season of thanks, the time between Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas, it is a time to reflect on things great and small.  These are the small stories that have have meant great things to me through the years.  Time with family is the most precious and my father has always made it an adventure.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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 Wednesday. 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 the 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.