Thursday, December 11, 2014

In My Father's Footsteps

I grew up the youngest of four girls. I also had two cousins that lived across the street that for all intents and purposes were like two more sisters. We grew up on 60 acres of shared family land that made our small world feel huge and limitless.

As a little girl I was into girl things but also was a huge tomboy. I loved to climb trees in my tutu and play with my Barbie dolls in the mud. I loved to wear my mom's lipstick and I loved to play with my dad's tools. I loved to bake and I loved to spend all day exploring in the woods. When my sister, Jaynelle, and I would play Hey Dude in my dad's lower garage, she would be Tiffany (the pretty, dainty character) and I would be Bradley (girly, but tough). These divided interests followed me as I got older. I became the athlete in my family and the one responsible for the outside chores (including, but not limited to, standing outside for prolonged periods of time in the freezing cold holding Christmas lights for my dad like I was Russ Griswold in Christmas Vacation). I liked to wear dresses and makeup and yet found it perfectly acceptable to poop outside when necessary or even just convenient. I dreamed of growing up and taking over my dad's contracting business or joining the army. I enjoyed painting my nails, and didn't mind getting sweaty or dirty. I was, in short, my father's only son. It was inevitable, I suppose, that I would one day hunt with my dad as well.

My father is a meticulous man. He is careful and calculated and doesn't miss a detail when carrying out a task. This is the kind of leader he proved to be in the woods as well. The first time he ever took me out, it was to hunt small game. Specifically, squirrel. I can't say I remember a lot of that experience, but I do remember two things. One: squirrels were simply too cute to shoot. And two: I enjoyed spending time with my dad out on the land. So, when I became old enough to hunt deer, I was there. The first couple of years, I decided hunting deer was more fun to talk about than to actually do. In reality, I had to wake up when it was still dark when most of my friends got to sleep in, and then spend the entire day in the frigid cold seeing and shooting just about nothing. But the draw for me was in the memory making.

Now, my sisters didn't hunt, but my two cousins did. Although I consider us kinda tough, we were still girls out there hunting. We horsed around, laughed too loud, peed too often (like, it happened more than once that we missed a shot because our pants were around our ankles and our guns were out of reach...oops), took naps, and had our dads build us a fire if we couldn't hack the cold. A typical day hunting would start with an early get together for pancakes and sausage at my uncle's house. Then we'd get dressed and eventually get to our "spots". If you grew up on family land I'm sure you are familiar with the way certain areas acquire names over the years. On the Brumbaugh farm, we have names like 'the bottom', 'the beaver pond', 'the hollo', etc. And then we have our "spots". It is common knowledge where 'Denny and Heidi's' or 'Mandi and Uncle Dick's' spots are. Once we arrived in our spot, my dad and I would stay there for a few hours. For me, this was sometimes the toughest part of hunting. It was cold. And quiet. And usually really cold. And mostly really quiet. I would fight sleep and wait in anticipation for my dad to say, "Well, you wanna go check in with Mandi and Uncle Dick?" "Sure," I would casually say...but you know I was pumped! Not only would I get warm from the walk up to their spot, I would get a new energy being able to move around, and they always had better snacks (things like Starbursts and salt & vinegar chips). Usually once we got to their spot our dads would leave us girls there and they would go drive the woods for us. Later in the afternoon I would go back with my dad to our spot and finish out the the sunset on the open field where we sit and listen to my dad tell stories of his upbringing, his hunting experiences, etc.

It was my third year hunting, I toughed it out through the early morning cold and quiet and my dad suggested we take a walk up to see Mandi and Uncle Dick. As we walked through the woods I tried very carefully to walk exactly behind my dad, stepping only in his footsteps, to make the least amount of noise as possible. I was busy concentrating on this when we heard it...a loud gunshot not far away. My dad instructed me to stop and be still and explained that sometimes a close shot might send deer running our way. We didn't have to wait long before we saw them. Three deer coming. Two doe and a buck. My dad told me to be quiet, maybe one of them would stop. As if on cue, the buck stopped. My dad told me to pull my gun up, take the safety off and shoot. I did. The deer took off. We both breathed, laughed a little, and my dad told me it was a good try and at least I now had practice shooting at one. I was reeling with adrenaline. My dad said we should walk over to where the deer had been standing just to check. When we got there we saw a little bit of fur and some blood. A new excitement swept over me. We began to track the blood. After a time we found him in a swamp. The deer had apparently run up the bank by the swamp and fell backwards when he died. We happened to come across a neighbor who graciously helped my dad drag my deer out of that black, murky swamp. I stood back watching. The moment I realized I had taken the life of something so big, really so beautiful, I cried. I sobbed actually. It was a foreign feeling to me. Being responsible for taking life. After a few minutes a different feeling crept in. One of excitement, and satisfaction, and pride. I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do. Finally hunting took on a new meaning to me. It had a purpose. A goal. And I now knew I was capable of meeting that goal. I was proud that I was successful and happy that I could go to school and tell the boys that I shot an 8-point. But more than anything in that moment, I was simply inflated by my father's pride in me.

We now call that swamp 'where Heidi shot her first deer'. It may be used in reference to give direction to some other destination on the land. In eighteen years I have only missed one season, when I was 2 weeks postpartum after having my third baby. But, I've hunted through three pregnancies and through nursing two infants (my mom would just text me and say, "Baby awake. Send boob!"). During those years I'm not sure if I spent more time in the woods, or trying to get in the woods! I have realized that hunting isn't necessarily just something that I do. It is a part of who I am. It is a part of who my family is. It is something special I have with my dad, as his only son:)

Over the years more people have joined us on the land. Another uncle. My brother-in-law and his brother. My nephew. More spots have been designated. More memories have been made. I watch my dad gain a new energy with my nephew out there. This year it was my nephew who joined my dad at our spot, and I actually got my own, new spot. A tree stand. I felt so grown up. Like graduating from the kid's table to the adult table at Thanksgiving dinner. I'm happy to see him lead my nephew. Happy that my nephew will hear the same great stories I've heard a hundred times. And my nephew is blessed to learn the ropes from such a great man, to learn to walk quietly in my father's footsteps.

Me, my dad, and my 8-point swamp deer.

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