The season is over. Yes, life has its season. This one was hunting. With its passing, I am left with its memory.
Was it a successful hunt? Yes, in more ways than you know—and I never even shot.
My tent-mate, Larry, was successful in his hunt. He got to be part of a beautiful moment in nature and “the hunt” as he found himself in the middle of a courting between 3 does and one buck—all within 30 yards of his position.
The best discovery after helping him carry the 5X4 from the deep woods of a wind-fallen ridge and the buck dangling from a 10’ pole upon our shoulders was the mere fact that it was his first buck . . . ever. No other buck in his career of hunting will ever be his first. Being apart of this experience reminds me much of myself standing with my father in my first kill. Kill is a heavy word that carries much responsibility.
I remember him standing above his kill with knife in hand ready to begin the arduous task of prepping the deer to be taken off the mountain. He stood there, hands at his side, and thank the deer, nature, and God for this gift that will provide for his family. That’s hunting.
I think that so many non-hunters think hunters to be destructive or savage. In reality, all the hunters that I have ever hunted with respect God's gifts both big and small. I never take for granted the harvest that I bring home to feed my family.
Why We Hunt
Personally, this season was also celebrated in the past. You know that saying, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after” –Henry David Thoreau.
Well, hunting ain’t much different. This was the second season that I didn’t get to share camp with my longtime friend, hunting partner, and mentor Mel McCuddin. As I sat upon a high peak with Mel's life-long hunting rifle in my hand, I shared with his Gloria, wife of 69 years, via a lonely text, “Most people knew Mel as a great artist. However, I knew him as a great hunter and a great friend.”
Last year, I placed upon a tree in an area that he loved to hunt a memorial plaque in his honor along with his favorite hunting hat. I will visit the site each year if I am able to muster the strength for yet another hunt.
On even a more personal level, missing from our camp for almost 10 years now is the greatest hunter that I’ve ever know: Joe Kiki, my father.
Not only have I hunted with the gun that my father and his father hunted with but also most of my hunting gear was passed from him to me. I see, smell, and hear the woods because he showed them to me.
Though he is unable to hunt anymore, I call and share each year in detail. For without him, not a single memory that I create with each trip would exist.
There were seasons that severed many at our hunting camp. It has been at this camp that my brother-n-law, Chris, showed his own son, Nick, how to hunt and become that man he was destined to be. It was at this camp that my Brother, my nephews, and my brother-n-law, Jason, learned the finer skills of hunting. It was at this camp that friends joined our home away from home and saw for a couple days what has brought us back for decades.
Final Hunt of the Season
After my last morning hunt, where the snow dropped like blankets for 3 hours, I stepped from the woods onto the road, brushed myself off, looked up, and saw him. Hunters say that he is everywhere in these woods. Upon the tree in front of me, it says, “Kiki.” He left his stamp throughout the woods.
During a 40-year span, my dad hunted about every square inch of the Monumental Mountain basin and drainage. In the moment that you are deeper in the woods than you ever thought anyone has ever gone, you might look up at a tree to the simple reminder that Joe Kiki was there first. (Zoom in on the right tree.)
Man, I really miss them both up there. ￼. . .
Few young men get the opportunity to get mentored by two great men and sportsman like Joe Kiki and Mel McCuddin. They both would sacrifice the greatest haunting spot to help a young hunter like myself get one more step ahead.
Finally, as I stood atop a mountain that morning as the blankets of snow fell upon me, I came to the realization that I can hear snow fall.
Standing there alone listening, I was reminded of the seasons ahead—It’s time for me to pass these gifts on to my own son. I will also savor the years that I have with the last two of the old guard, Jim & Margie, as they find themselves marching the woods around the age of 70 and in the realization that their bodies don’t propel them through the woods like they once did.
Yes, life has its seasons. Until next hunting season, I will live each day in the memories and stories made and shared inside a tent.
Don't get lost in the woods known as daily life. See, smell, and hear life as if you are meant to.
Having read The Great Gatsby many times over, I am reminded of the words that narrator Nick Carraway spoke of Gatsby's need to build up the greatness of a love long gone but rebuilt daily in his own mind. Am I doing the same with each passing year of a hunting camp that looks little that it once did decades ago? Maybe. . . .
"No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart." --Nick Carraway