A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Friday, October 31, 2014

Deer Camp

All over West Texas the whiskey sippin' has begun, as the hunters arrive at the ranches. Opening day is tomorrow and they'll be ready, and they'll be sober, but tonight they greet friends and family they haven't seen in a while, maybe not since this time last year.

Sometimes they own a small place they hunt on, sometimes they go in with other hunters and lease a place. Some hunt where they live; some hunt on the old home place. Some have leased the same place for years, as did the fellas I talked to at the gas station in town last year. They said they were headed toward Rocksprings to a lease they've had for 30 years.

Those that hunt where they don't live have been coming out since September getting things ready. They put feeders out and clean the blinds. Some haul a camper out if there isn't a house to stay in; some make sure they have motel reservations. Feed store owners are smiling over deer corn sales and lease payments have paid the taxes on many a family ranch that can't make a living on livestock any more. 

Some come with guns handed down from dads and grandpas, tried and found to shoot true. Some come with a new rifle, anxious to try it out and see if it will get the muy grande that has been elusive the last couple of years. Some use a friend or uncle's gun, often borrowed once they get together at the camp.

Some are looking for a big buck complete with bragging rights, some just come to get away from the big city, all want some meat for the freezer. 

They've stocked up on food and take turns as camp cook. If anyone has been successful hunting, someone is hustling the backstrap to the kitchen. Fried backstrap takes precedent over any other planned meal. There's sure to be ribeyes and baked potatoes one night. A pot of pinto beans goes nonstop during the weekend and if there are Cajuns present, you'll find some gumbo on the stove. Breakfast is huge, cooked and consumed after the morning hunt. Homemade biscuits, bacon, sausage, eggs, leftover beans and backstrap. 

They sit around the campfire at night after the evening hunt and supper is over and sip whiskey. This is the time for stories. Tales of what they got today, what they saw that got away, what blind or draw they're going to try tomorrow. Someone will tell a story on one of the hunters from a year past, sometimes favorable to the hunter, sometimes not. If the hunters are family or long time friends, there will surely be tales of dads and grandpas. For sure there will be some laughter and it's possible someone might be seen wiping a tear away.

An area has been set up for processing the deer and the young ones learn from the older ones what needs to be done before you take the deer to the processor. In times past, the deer might have been totally processed and Rick and I have even made our own sausage and cut all the steaks and roasts out. Nowadays, the deer is gutted, skinned, and quartered and taken to the processor to be turned into steaks and sausage, adding some pork. Some people will just field dress a deer and take to the processor that way. But as Sarah says, if her dad is teaching anyone to hunt, they're gonna know how to skin and clean a deer.

It's dark now and the last hunter has come in. The old fellas are watching over the young ones as they clean their first deer. They've got new knives, a gift from a grandparent usually, and they help each other, the ones that have done this before holding the deer as the new hunter skins it, the way their dad did for them. Lights have been set up so they can see and once they finish several of the guys will go down the hill to put out the part of the deer that is offered to the scavengers.

Time slows down and shadows creep in. Stars come out and there's a quiet most of these hunters don't know the rest of the year. The kitchen is cleaned, the deer's been iced down for the trip to town tomorrow, the old fellas are starting to fade and the young ones are talking among themselves. Soon it's lights out with the alarm set for an hour before daylight. 

The young ones will be dreaming about tomorrow's hunt and the old ones will dream of hunts past.

(Note: In the first photo my brother Andy is holding a 30-30 rifle that has been used for 4 generations. Our grandfather, Pop, bought it used for $7 when our dad, Perry, was 12 years old. It's a Winchester model 1894 made in 1898. Perry has 27 notches on it for the deer he killed with it, Andy has 4 (including his first deer), and his son has 1. Andy killed the deer in the photo with it. My boys John and Larry are in the photo with Perry and Andy and our older brother David, who passed away this year. Below is Pop with his hunting and fishing gear.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hear That Lonesome Whippoorwill...........

I was 62 when I came out here to live alone. My mom had passed away a few months before and I no longer needed to be close to help her. Rick was still tied to the city with his job but I couldn't imagine staying in the apartment we had there all day while he was at work. I'm not the kind of gal that enjoys that for very long. I need to be outside and I need to have projects to do.

Alzheimer's had robbed my mom of her ability to live with dignity. The capable and independent person she had been was gone. I looked at the years I probably had left and didn't want to waste any of them. Each year that passes as we get older brings slight changes to us and to what we are capable of doing. I had some things I wanted to do out here while I could. And a place needs to be lived in and taken care of and looked after and there was no one else to do it but me.

I gradually moved all my possessions from the apartment to the ranch until all that was left of me there was a pair of pajamas, a jacket, a pair of sandals, and a photographer's picture of us taken the year we met.

And Rick, the other half of myself.

I brought fears with me, some of them deeply embedded, ones that walked with me since childhood. A fear of the dark and an unreasonable but paralyzing fear of spiders. And I acquired at least one new fear out here, a fear of wildfires. And a healthy respect for rattlesnakes.

Three years of living by myself hasn't lessened any of these fears. I still have them. Facing them doesn't make them go away, no matter what people say. And whether we have nothing to fear but fear itself or not doesn't really matter. We're still scared sometimes.

Living in this country of no subdivisions and shopping malls, where much of the land hasn't changed in the last 150 years, you look out and can imagine how it was for people here back then. When darkness is settling in and the moon is rising, you look down the hill and easily imagine a Comanche slipping quietly through the live oaks. Their ghosts walk these hills still.

And you understand that people have always lived with their fears and you're no different. You go on in spite of them and are thankful most of yours are just in your mind unlike the very real fears so many people the world over live with.

A person learns a lot about themselves living alone, far away from family and old friends, where neighbors are spread far apart.

I've learned some pretty good carpenter skills here and I've done some projects that I didn't think I could do. I've done my part to finish out two cabins and built an outdoor kitchen from recycled objects. I've built shelves and organized three storage buildings. I've tiled a kitchen island and painted the deer blind. I wasn't raised around cattle but I've learned to enjoy the company of two 1200 pound longhorns and to care for them. I've learned how to winterize the water lines and I've worked in the freezing cold to try and save the garden. I've hauled hay and unloaded feed and filled feeders. I've shot rattlesnakes and tracked deer and found mountain lion scat. I've hauled trash to the landfill. I've photographed and learned the ways of deer, turkeys, and birds. I've stacked and burned brush and cut thousands of small cedars. I've pulled on my boots and gone out in the snow to feed and break ice for animals both wild and tame. I've moved tons of native rock and gravel with a shovel and wheelbarrow and I've taught myself to do masonry work. And I've written a blog about it all.

I've had a great time and I'm proud of the things I've done on my own. But I miss my partner. He hasn't left me totally alone out here. He comes out a couple of weekends each month, although much of the weekend is spent traveling back and forth.  And we're counting down the days now until he makes it here full time. Each of us at the end of our rope and hanging onto the knot we've tied, ready for a change.

We've paid a price all these years to have this place. Trying to hold onto it while having to make a living somewhere else. And we continue sacrificing now, being apart. It gets lonesome out here, even for an independent gal who likes her own company. But it's a peaceful lonesomeness. I share it with those souls both past and present who inhabit the land. I've put my stamp on it these last 3 years. And it's put its stamp on me.

"I don't want to be alone. I want to be left alone." Audrey Hepburn

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, went I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Henry David Thoreau