Sunday, November 11, 2018
2005 Hunting Trip with Dad
Dad, his Original Mountain Cur Jimmy Polk, and I went raccoon hunting together for the first time in East Tennessee on 01 January 2005. Very soon thereafter, Dad asked if I’d raccoon-hunt with the two of them near Bradford, Pennsylvania that coming November. I’d been anxious to spend some quality time with Dad for a long time, so I agreed to meet them. As the time drew closer, I questioned my decision: when I gave my word, I hadn’t anticipated leaving seventy-plus sixth-graders in the hands of a substitute. I couldn’t bear, however, to disappoint Dad, so I requested the two personal days in my teaching contract. On 09 November 2005, I stacked breakfast passes, lesson plans, seating charts, and worksheets on my desk and headed to the Allegheny National Forest in my Ford F-150.
At 2:15 AM the next morning, I finally saw the sign for Tracy Ridge, and—under it—Dad in his white Jeep. He came over to the truck and kissed my head through the open window. He said, “Child, I didn’t think you’d ever get here!” I followed him to the camper. Dad was noticeably relieved that Jim (in the almost-year since he’d seen me) hadn’t changed his mind about liking me. Dad pointed out my bed on the top bunk. Hello, Old Friend, I thought when I saw my sleeping bag. Dad had mentioned weeks earlier that he’d bring my sleeping bag, but I hadn’t realized that he meant MY sleeping bag: the one that my parents had bought for me when I was young enough to resent the
fact that it was a simple, rust-colored sleeping bag without Strawberry Shortcake on it. I thought of the countless camping trips on which my sleeping bag and I had gone, both with the Girl Scouts and with my little brother Buck.
I climbed up into the bunk and stared at the ceiling, which was only a few inches from my nose. Jim was excited that he’d treed me and proceeded to bark. After he settled, I fell asleep. I awoke a couple of times during the night, and—feeling claustrophobic—stuck my head out into the open camper to breathe.
By the time I got out of bed around 9:00 AM, snow had covered the ground, and Dad was slow-cooking beans and pork in the Dutch oven. We ate oatmeal for breakfast and left to get water from another part of the campground. I held the large container steady while Dad pumped water into it by hand. We then drove down to Slaven’s Country Cupboard, where Dad gave several quarters in exchange for an onion. We picked up Jim’s dog box while we were there. (Jim had proven to have wild affection for me and would afford me little peace in the camper.) We added the onion to the beans when we got back to the camp. We fiddled with the radio, ate noodles, and napped. I wrote a few letters.
At dark, I dressed in Jason’s warm clothes and hopped into the Jeep with Dad and Jim. We drove down to Willow Bay and parked. The night was cold (32-33°F) and windy, and the moon was half-sized with clouds around it. There were flurries of snow. The three of us traveled along the lakeshore and circled back to the Jeep by road. Jim ran off a couple of times, and each time Dad got anxious until Jim returned. Dad said that his anxiety, when hunting, comes from not knowing what the dog will do or what will happen. Nothing much happened that evening. We drove back to the camper and ate beans, and bread with honey.
The next morning, Dad made delicious pancakes from a sour-dough starter. Then, he, Jim, and I drove to Salamanca, New York, where Dad and I walked through an amazing antique mall. In all of his trips to the area, Dad had never been through the mall and seemed to enjoy it. He bought some garden stakes for one of Mom’s flowerbeds. He also bought a giant cookie cutter for me: one that will cut out at least twenty cookies in one fell swoop. In addition to many small things, I bought a yellow, Formica kitchen cart on wheels.
The hunt that night produced no raccoons but was more interesting than the hunt before it. We walked along the New York line off Wolf Run. It was a cold (28°F), clear night with very little wind. Jim treed things that we couldn’t see: flying squirrel, we suspected, because I thought I saw one, once. I took quite a few pictures with Craig’s digital camera.
After the hunt, Dad and I ate beans, and macaroni and cheese. I was tired from walking, and, with my belly full of hot food, slept soundly for the first time since my arrival.
On 12 November 2005, Dad, Jim, and I went to the Kinzu Dam. We drove down to the bottom of the dam in hopes of touring the fish hatchery, but, unfortunately, it was closed. Next, we visited the Civil-War-era Kinzu Bridge. Dad explained that the bridge had been a real tourist attraction until a summer microburst destroyed it. A friendly, red-haired lady took our picture in front of the bridge. Dad and I ate pizza in Mt. Jewett and headed back to camp.
That night, Dad, Jim, and I walked east—toward the moon—along an old mountain road on the Johnson farm. Vehicles hadn’t traveled the road for years, so it was more like a trail than a road. I felt as though we were walking in Sleepy Hollow, or a woodland tunnel: trees seemed to bend down and fold over our path. I stepped in a few, deep puddles. At about 38°F, it was a clear night with very little wind. Again, Jim treed things that we couldn’t see. We were convinced, however, that they were flying squirrel: we saw one glide out of one of the trees where Jim barked. Dad shook his head and pronounced that, unless there were a change in the weather, there would be no improvement in the raccoon hunting. The moon was sp bright, he said, that the dog wanted to hunt squirrel as though it were daytime. We headed back to camp early, and Dad made crab cakes for dinner.
Dad and I both cried the next morning, at our parting. It’s hard to know what more to write about our time together in the North Woods. I know it’s something for which we will always be grateful. I can tell you that it was overdue, but that really doesn’t matter in my heart, now. What matters is that we had the time. We made the time. I would encourage any man with a daughter to take her with him—to the woods, the garage, the racetrack, or anywhere he finds enjoyment. I would encourage any daughter to jump at an opportunity to go.
On our hunting trip, Dad told me things that I will never tell another soul; however, there was one story I’d like to share. He said that once, many years ago, he was tracking a giant buck who stepped behind an even larger hemlock tree. He waited on the other side, feeling sure that the deer would eventually step out from behind the tree. But that animal was so wise that it walked off in a straight line, in the cover of the hemlock.
Dad never saw it again. If you are a man with a daughter, you may think you know where she is. You may think she’s right there, just out of sight, almost within arm’s reach. She may be. Then again, she may be walking further away from you every minute.
Your daughter—even if she’s shallow, or silly—has stories to tell you. If you take her with you, your experience will be different than it would have been without her. Ask my dad is he expected to tour an antique mall in November, or eat pizza in a video-rental joint. He will tell you that he did not expect those things, and I think he will also tell you that he enjoyed them very much. He will tell you that his daughter accompanied him down some old, familiar paths and then asked him to travel down some new ones that he’d never trod. He will tell you that he understands her better, now, than he did before.
I returned to the chaos of the classroom. I looked at the faces of my sixth graders and knew absolutely that I couldn’t have given them—in the two days they spent with a substitute—anything close to what Dad had given me.