When I started dating Jon 28 years ago, I knew that he was a hunter and an avid outdoorsman. I did not grow up in a household of hunters, which in Wisconsin is pretty rare! So I have to say that I did not truly understand what I was getting myself into. Even as we dated, I watched as his family would prepare for the big week, packing, re-packing, and unpacking. Every detail was planned, from the over-abundance of food, the truckload of outdoor apparel, sighting in the guns, target shooting, the travel route to the Big Woods. It all seemed a little excessive to me, but when I saw the joy it brought to Jon to come back with a deer, it was all worth it. The hunter-gatherer instinct in him is strong.
It wasn’t until we were married, and then had children, that I began to understand the depth of the ordeal, for a deer hunter’s wife! Just to give an example of what the past 3 weeks have been like…
In order to reduce the stress and bickering surrounding preparing for such a big trip, I got a jump start on preparations. What does that mean? Well, the Big Woods (an extended trailer with no running water or electricity) can make things tricky for cooking and cleaning-up meals. So I prepare as much ahead of time for them as possible. So far I have sacked away in the freezer Chili, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Chicken Noodle Soup, Venison Potpie, pumpkin bread, and cinnamon bread. I still have to make a few batch of cookies and some muffins. Yesterday was spent grocery shopping for the troop – which resulted in a $200 grocery bill and grocery bags packed with the essential dry goods that will sit in my dining room until they leave on Friday. Today’s agenda is laundry. Did you know that you can’t hunt if your clothes have been washed in anything other than no-scent laundry detergent? I didn’t! But so I’m told. So today I will wash clean clothes to remove any scent of our humanness. Right now I have 4 laundry baskets full of long underwear, sweatshirts, pants 3 sizes too big, and wool socks, in addition to the every-day clothes they will wear for 9 days. I have suitcases spread out on my bed, which must be quickly removed to the screen porch once I put the newly-washed clean clothes into them, to avoid picking up our stink (and so that our 6 month old kitten doesn’t decide to make it her new napping place). There are strict rules surrounding this whole ritual, most of which make no sense to me. Sometimes I don’t think they make sense to Jon, either, but it is the way he learned to do it. He must carry on the tradition…
So after an expensive, time-consuming process to get the gang up for their 9 days of leisure, I will then spend 2 days trying to get my house back to my standard of living. The remainder of the time, Lulu Grace and I will try to spend some quality time together. She doesn’t have school next week, so she will have sleep-overs in my room. (Yes, this is for my benefit. I can’t sleep without a warm body next to me!) We will have an at-home spa day. We will go to see a show. We will visit with her cousins. We will have Thanksgiving with my family. We will sleep late, eat what we want when we want, and enjoy each other’s company. This is important, because at the end of the 9 days, they bring all of their junk home so I can reverse the whole process. I’m going to need my rest!
So why do I do it? Why don’t I wash my hands of the whole affair? Trust me, I have considered it many times over, including last night as I bickered with Jon over whose long underwear was whose. I do it because it brings my husband joy. I do it because it allows my children to slow their pace in this crazy world. I do it so that Queenie and Bass get to spend some precious time with their grandfather, dad, aunts and uncle. But most importantly, I do it so that Jon, Queenie and Bass can create memories together that they will always carry with them.
This is the photo of Jon and Queenie with her first deer. She and Jon still reminisce about their experience together in the woods when they brought this deer home. Jon loves when Queenie asks him for advice or looks to him for answers about hunting. He really is quite a hunter. He amazes me sometimes with all of the knowledge he holds, waiting for moments to pass it on. He has instilled in them that safety is always first. He has taught them the importance of respecting animals by shooting only if you know you have the shot. If you don’t get a clean shot (which will happen to even the best hunter), you track and track until you find it. You do not waste what God has given you, but utilize as much of your kill as possible, for food, suet for the birds, tanning the hide. He has taught them respect for nature, the ebb and flow of life in the forest, the give and take of the life cycle. These are all lessons that I could not teach them. They have been taught values that are not taught in our every day lives. If we want something, we go to the store and buy it, without ever thinking about where it came from. These experiences Queenie and Bass have had with their father will help instill values of respect, grace, gratitude, and commitment.
Bass is not a hunter. I don’t think he will ever be able to shoot a living thing. But his time with Jon, learning to drive on the gravel roads, playing cards, listening to the adults tell their stories, is so important in his life right now. At home he’s too cool and tough to want that interaction. But there’s something magical about the woods, that time away from the daily stress and anxiety of life, that allows Jon to sneak in to Bass’ world for just a little while. Bass will spend time with his grandpa, fishing the creek, getting water from the spring, maybe heading into town for lunch and a movie. He and Grandpa love to just hang together, doing every day stuff. Grandpa is getting older, struggling with daily life with painful joints and a lot of fatigue from a heart condition. I know that Bass, even if he is too cool, appreciates his relationship with his grandpa. I think he is beginning to understand that Grandpa is not always going to be here. I hope that as much as he and Jon are able to spend some time together, he will create some special memories with Grandpa.
After all of the packing, cooking, washing, and preparations are done, I’m going to breathe a sigh of relief that I was able to pull it all off, get them on the road, and then wait to hear the stories they come back with.