Thursday, November 28, 2013

The tree stand

Sketch on Flickr

A coming of age tale, Part II

The wind was out of the north west on opening day, surging straight out of Canada as if to warn a deep and dark winter was coming fast. The tree Avery was strapped to swayed back and forth in the cold, in the dark. His tree stand was roped into a gnarly bunch of hard maples, 15 feet off the ground, sitting atop a ridge of mixed northern forest which was criss-crossed by manmade and deer-made trails alike.

“Looks like a highway of rutted up bucks through here, all these scrapes and rubs. Look at this one,” Hurly, his uncle’s stogie smoking friend had told them when he’d led the boy and his uncle out scouting the area two weeks prior. Indeed, there was plenty of deer sign in the spot - fresh tracks, scrapes on the ground every 15 yards, and rubs that shredded three inch poplars down to twigs.

Uncle Amos was hunting the opener nearby, only 150 yards through the woods on the other end of the ridge. Hurly was somewhere far to the west of where they were, or perhaps still in bed up at the hunting shack. Here in his stand though, in the silence of this frozen, pre-dawn day in late November, Avery sat alone, with only his thoughts to occupy him. In fact those stories he played out in his head were the best defense he had against the cold. Sure, he was bundled up from head to toe in eight layers of wool and fleece, tucked into a sleeping bag, with a wool blanket about his shoulders, a thick wool sock pinned around his neck as a scarf, and wearing a beaver fur hat on his head, but the freezing gusts of wind on his back were relentless, and thoughts, any thoughts, were a good distraction.

I am warm enough; I will stay in this tree all day, whether I see deer or not, I will not climb out until the light begins to fade late this afternoon.

His uncle had taught him the trick - a sort of zen practice he’d learned from spending time in the military. While abroad, Amos had been part of a special operations outfit, the kind that ran missions nobody was supposed to know about. He did not speak of it much, but Avery was under the impression his uncle had spent some of those years in the far east. When he came back, the fiery persona that was common in his father’s family had been sapped from his bones, and in its place was only a phrase Amos uttered repeatedly, “This too will wash over, as waves to sand.”

“As waves to sand,” Avery recited quietly each time the wind cut through him.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The hunting shack

A coming of age tale, Part I

The hunting shack looked a little different each time Avery saw it. The first time, he remembered, was many years ago as a young boy. He was with his father, one of the last memories he had of him. It was a good memory, father and son, an initiation for the young boy into the ancient tradition of manhood known as deer season.

“The guys are gonna try and play tricks on you,” his father told him as the dim lights of the tiny cabin compound came glaring through the smudgy truck windshield that night. Through densely packed hardwood and balsam trees, the truck rolled up and over roots and rocks in the narrow driveway which twisted its way up a gentle hill to a series of low-slung buildings with heavy, sagging roofs. Surrounding the main structure were smaller, saggier out buildings and flood lights grouped together atop tall poles. They illuminated everything. Those bright beacons were hard to forget, shining every which way into the woods, as if there was an imminent attack from bears or wolves.

Inside the truck cab, Avery pulled nervously at the fingers of his gloves. The dim dashboard lights emitting a quiet glow of safety from the unknown. The metallic clang of brass and nickel keys a familiar comfort as they slapped against the steering column of the truck.

Back then he was a bashful boy. Now though, Avery road up to the shack not as a boy, but as a man - or so he hoped. Now he visited with his uncle, taking up the tradition. Success in this year’s whitetail gun hunt would prove his maturity into the masculine inner-circle. It would prove he could scout out the right spot, recognize sign from big bucks versus little bucks, and plot out exactly where to be and when. It would prove how well he could shoot, how well he could track, and his endurance to withstand wind, rain, sleet, and snow for hours, even days, on end. It would prove he could eat and drink his own weight every night, wake early every morn, and piss straight into the wind at will.

They will test me, all of them. The men, the boys, the deer, the weather. I will be challenged at every turn, and if I flinch, I will fail.

His hands placed palms down just above his knees, he kept an even face as the shack lights brought the truck into view of the men inside. His jaw was set; he let the anticipation boil just under the surface of his skin, let it simmer until it was only a dull roar, and then, quiet. I will master my fears. He pulled at the hairs on his chin.

Men began to pile out of the shack, adorned in brimmed hats with ear flaps, wool pants, and orange coats. Some of them were already stumbling, while others were determined not to. Avery did not know all their names, these were his uncle's men. They were from a different generation, when men sprouted from the earth full of spit and vinegar, made of oak roots and red granite. They were hard men, relentless in willpower and stubborn in thought.

“Amos, we thought you’d decided to stay home this year,” said a tall and lanky man with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. He stooped a bit, as he reached up to handle the stogie and take a puff.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Journals can be great for recording one’s thoughts,
whether you share those thoughts or not is up to you.

The notebook-letter-journal

When I was a boy, my mother gave me a notebook and told me to write in it. She said that I could write whatever was on my mind, that I could tell her anything I wanted in it. 

She also explained when I had finished writing to her I should leave it on her nightstand next to her bed and she would read it and respond. In this way we would be able to write letters back and forth to each other.

It worked well. As a youth, I had a very difficult time talking about sensitive topics. Whether that be bullies at school, fears or aspirations, the notebook gave me a way to reach out for advice and support.

She would always tell me that no matter how bad a day was, how sad or mad I felt, I could always come home and write about it. I could tell her about it in the notebook, and if I wanted her to read it, all I had to do was leave it on the nightstand. And if I didn’t want anyone to know, then I was allowed to just hang onto it myself.

It was cathartic for me, this process...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

White pine virtue

High above the river bend the great, noble pines of the north
beseech the attention of generations of man.

An old-growth tangent

Recently, someone asked me what my favorite tree is. I had to think for a second; I was a little taken aback. We were driving, so my first instinct was to look out the window at the close-knit forest blurring together at 60 mph. Maple, balsam, poplar, birch all mixed together into one brilliant painting. I kept thinking, spying up the road to see what was up there - a tall batch of red pines.

Minutes later and still I didn’t have an answer, but I was definitely thinking hard about it now. What should certify a tree as my favorite? What qualities should I be looking for? Were we talking about a nice shade tree in the summer or something that has beautiful colors in the fall? What trees are most common around here, I began to think.

Maybe the tree should be selected for its overall value on the wood market or its intrinsic value to Northwoods habitat. Or, maybe I should pick something that is more rare so as to stand apart from the crowd. Wait, am I really thinking along those terms?

Then it dawned on me...