The Son He Never Had

elk-hunting

My whole life, I felt the pressure to fulfill the role of the son my dad never had. I put that pressure on myself, of course, but I felt it nonetheless. He had me and my sister, but he was totally a man’s man. He needed someone to play catch with, so I donned my mitt. He needed someone to fish with, so I begged for a pole. I made tool belts look good, and learned how to put up a tent before I learned how to paint my nails.

Lucky for him (but really, for me) I turned out to really enjoy those things. I love playing catch. And fishing. And hunting. I used to joke and say I was the girliest tomboy to ever exist. Even as a joke, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to it.


It was the second year we had gone hunting together. The first time I went hunting with him, I told him I had no problem shooting an elk, but I wasn’t so keen on field dressing it. He expected to hear that. I was the same way with fish. I’d catch them and cook them, but I had no interest cleaning them. He agreed to take me hunting anyway.

Just before 5:30 one particular morning, while it was dark and mysterious outside, Dad’s headlights showed up in my driveway. I grabbed my gear, all our food I had prepared, walked out the door, and we drove to our spot.

I remember sitting in the cab of the truck until it was legal for us to shoot. With the window cracked, we heard the howls and yips of coyotes. Dad was convinced they had come upon a gut pile of a successful elk hunt. I didn’t care what they had found… they sounded evil.

Before first light, we began our hike. A few switchbacks over a dusting of snow led us into the tree line, crunching through some pretty solid snowpack.

Here is where I should mention, hiking with my Dad is like hiking with an unleashed Labrador. He walks (quickly) all over the place, and in order to travel two miles, you have to walk six with his meandering. He gets on a trail of prints or scat, and he follows every. single. hoof. print. Even if you can see where it picks up a few feet away, he’ll follow it as it winds, rather than heading straight on.

If you’re not in any kind of shape, you won’t survive while hiking with him. I know this, because he almost killed me with his merciless meandering.

As the sun came up, we made it to the top of a hill where we sat under cover of some pine trees, and hoped the elk would cross the valley before us. Just as the light peeked over the horizon, we saw a coyote – most likely one we heard earlier – make his way through the clearing below. We watched for a while as he walked away, and rabbits began to appear in the valley after he had passed.

Sitting still on the hillside in the early morning cold, I started to shiver. A lot. I was wearing a few layers – thermal underwear, jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweat pants, and snow pants, all topped off with my bulky hunting coat. With no more movement, however, I started to cool off quickly.

I turned to my dad and whispered through my chatters, “D-d-d-did you kn-kn-kn-know sh-sh-shivering is your b-b-b-b-ody’s way of st-st-st-st-staying warm?”

Without taking his eyes off the valley below, and without missing a beat, Dad whispered back, “So is wearing more layers.” Steam rolled out of my mouth as I let out a silent laugh. Easy for him to say.

We made a lot of memories hunting together. I never did get my elk. For the record, I would have field dressed it…

The thrill of the hunt was enough to get me out there, but that time with Dad was worth every unfilled elk tag. I live 700 miles away from Dad now. There are no early morning hunting trips together. No fits of laughter on the hillsides. No lengthy wandering on the hot trail of the herd.

Every year during hunting season, I think about our trips up the mountain. It wasn’t warranted, but I’m glad I put the extra pressure on myself to do those “manly” things. It turns out I’m a far better cook than I am a huntress, but I wouldn’t trade those little adventures in the big woods for any kind of fancy shoes or manicures.

I do really want some elk steaks now, however…

Just Another Old Soul

Just Another Old Soul

Well over five years ago, I penned this post about the importance of tradition and days-gone-by. I want to point it out for two reasons: 1) so you know this Little House obsession I’ve developed is not out of nowhere, and 2) to remind myself I’ve come a long way since my early days of blogging.

I’ve often set goals for myself of learning how to do those skills – canning, gardening, sewing, etc. I seem to always stop short of following through, though. Some of the tasks involved flat out scare me, and I know I’m destined to fail.

And yes, I know that’s a terrible mindset to have.

I believe I’m an old soul of sorts. Or at least I was meant to be, if that makes sense.

Recently, the wind in my sails has picked up a bit. I’ve been knitting up a storm (random trivia fact: before this blog existed, I had a blog about knitting.), I ordered a book on canning for beginners, and I’m going to try my hand at a few other traditional skills as well.

From as early as I can remember (we’re talking beyond 30 years ago now), I’ve had this “feeling” – I can’t aptly describe it – that I was not born for life in the concrete jungle. Big city living is not where I’m supposed to remain. I hate bugs, but I need to be where they are. It’s a sick dichotomy, really. I don’t want them in my space, but I need to be in theirs.

I’ve been praying about it. Are we supposed to stay here? Go somewhere? And I got an itch to move.

Lately, that itch has grown more and more intense. I need to get out of the city. I need to spread my wings in the mountains. Or in a forest. Definitely somewhere other than this apartment building.

As content as I am to live here and as much as this place and its people mean to our family, I have a growing sense it isn’t our long-term assignment.

Two years ago, one year ago even, I would have told you I don’t see us leaving here – maybe ever. Our daughter, Harlynn, is buried here. Our roots run deep. We have a large framily (friends who have become like family) I would be devastated to leave behind.

Yet the stirring grows.

It seems strange, even to me, a person who’s living depends on a computer and the advances of technology yearns so desperately to move further from the civilization it supports. But that’s my case.

I’m no hippie and I’m no recluse. I simply have a strong urge to things the way they were done for generations before us, and to know how to do them well. It’s one thing for me to be able to drive a car and get my family safely from one point to the next. That’s a really big thing, actually, because every day I’m out among people who can’t seem to do that safely. (PUT YOUR PHONES DOWN! I SEE YOU!)

It’s quite another, though, to be able to teach my children, and maybe one day some grandchildren, how to do things from start to finish, without a machine or possibly even a power outlet to depend on. (And this is saying a lot. Just yesterday I had to change the battery in one of our smoke detectors, as it started chirping right at the beginning of nap time. Once I had the battery replaced, I accidentally pushed the “test” button, which tests ALL OF THE SMOKE DETECTORS AT THE SAME TIME. During the children’s nap time. Because #expert.)

I’ll start with canning, and pray I don’t give my family food poisoning. I also won’t give up if I fail the first time. I’m going to learn to do it, and I’m going to learn to do it right. From there I’ll move on to other things…who knows what the achievement will be.

For now, though, I’ve caught the pioneer-spirit fever I believe has been suppressed within for nearly my entire life.

And if you need me – I’ll be out there. Somewhere.