Whitetail season revealed gift in the woods

Sharon Kennedy

There’s an old fellow I know who built a structure in the woods. It started out as a simple shack where men could gather in November, shoot deer, and swap stories around the campfire. It was what you might call an outdoor man cave.

When year after year the guys complained about the cold and few deer appeared, the fellow decided to enlarge the shack and call it a cabin. With occasional help from his children, he downed trees, built walls, nailed on a metal roof, cut holes for windows, made shutters and some benches, and hung a door. These projects took two summers of steady labor.

During the winter he installed a small wood burning stove and built a loft. By May the place looked like a rustic cabin. The fellow carved hooks for hunting clothes and made shelves for miscellaneous gear. He built a front porch, an outdoor bench, and a lean-to for wood. He felled more trees and filled the storage area with a supply of birch.

In the summer he bought a wooden table at a yard sale. He found kerosene lanterns, rifle racks, and picturesque outdoor scenes which he hung around the cabin. In the evening, with his dog by his side, he watched the sun set from the porch and enjoyed the solitude and beauty of his surroundings.

The following spring he started work on an addition. Another summer passed before the room was finished. The simple deer blind had become a lodge. By now he had grandchildren. They were too young to appreciate the wonderful gift grandpa had built for them, but every now and then their parents brought them out and they roasted hot dogs and marshmallows around the campfire.

I was talking to this fellow the other day. He said it’s been four years since anyone spent a night at the lodge, and nobody uses it as a hunting camp. Maybe it’s too rustic or too outdated. He said he doesn’t work on it any more. I don’t think he’s given up, but folks tend to lose heart when something meaningful to them doesn’t mean much to others.

Maybe someday someone will discover the magical place he created. I hope so because it’s a shame the work of my brother’s hands stands forlorn and forgotten. But maybe life is like that. We build things we think are special and important. Things that tell people who we are, but maybe our gifts of labor and love are meant only for our eyes–something we can look at or remember as we grow old.

What got me thinking about the gift in the woods was the passing of deer hunting season. When I was young, my uncles and older cousins gathered at our house. The first light of dawn saw the men drinking hot coffee around our kitchen table and making plans for the day. Although there was always disagreement about who would watch where, the men enjoyed hunting and the camaraderie it inspired. My cousins grumbled about driving the woods, but every November they showed up early and stayed late. I don’t know why everybody congregated at our house unless it was for Gram’s cinnamon rolls hot from the oven or a warm scone slathered with Mom’s strawberry jam.

There was always plenty of snow. The men dressed in heavy woolen red and black plaid jackets, pants, and hats, and they all wore green rubber boots. Unlike today, the hunting actually took place in the woods, not the back yard. My cousins were the hounds. It fell to them to drive the bush and chase deer into the open where an experienced parent or uncle sat watch. Once a deer was in sight, the older fellow picked it off. If the deer was wounded but did not fall, the younger boys tracked it and finished the job, giving them bragging rights.

Mom took pictures of proud hunters standing in front of the deer hanging from the maple tree in our front yard. The temperature was low enough to freeze the animals. A few times during the season I recall hearing about “the one in the wood shed” but I never questioned why it was in the shed instead of swinging from the tree. I bet some gents reading this know the answer.

Memories of past hunting seasons and Thanksgivings remain vivid. Jude and I always sat on the bench next to the wall with our backs to the windows. We couldn’t enjoy our turkey dinner facing that maple tree. Mom got up early and fixed a good meal. How she managed to cook everything on a wood stove is beyond me. Although she was born on a farm and lived on one most of her life, she was a lady. Along with the usual fare, our dinner wasn’t complete without red Jell-o on a lettuce leaf. Nobody ate it, of course, but it looked pretty.

My Thanksgiving this year was the same as the last ten. It’s become tradition to gather with friends at Kewadin Casino in the Soo. We reminisce about the days of our youth, each person embellishing a story of hunting and holidays of long ago. Unlike my brother’s lodge that stands silent and hidden among the trees, our memories are laid bare for all to share and enjoy.

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Snowbound Books on North Third Street in Marquette.