Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love and Skinning a Deer

During my college years in Portland, Oregon, I loved to hike in the Columbia River Gorge. My favorite trail was at Eagle Creek, a place lush with deciduous trees and punctuated by breathtaking waterfalls. I remember one trip with some of my college girlfriends. A long trek provides plenty of time for conversation, and as we walked through the forest, our talk turned to one of our favorite topics at the time— what our future husbands would be like. Cary hoped hers would be musical, as she was. Robynne was looking for an athlete, and all of us wanted a man who was good with people, who was smart and funny, and who loved us deeply. Wild Game Hunter wasn’t on anybody’s list, not even on anyone’s radar. Love can take us to places we don’t expect. When I married Don, hunting, and everything that went with it, was part of the package.

Fortunately, Don didn’t expect me to hunt, but he did appreciate a little help processing the meat. From the beginning, he did the messy stuff; the gutting and skinning, discarding the unused parts and cutting the deer into manageable sections. He brought those into the kitchen, and that’s when I started to help him.

At first, I was squeamish about even cutting up the meat. When I grew up on the northern California coast, we didn’t have venison at our house, but we had shrimp and crabs. Processing them was a smellier proposition and a little more painful, but the result was the same--food on the table. On one occasion, a friend who was a commercial fisherman brought us a crab box full of bay shrimp. Mom and I stood over the kitchen sink for what seemed like hours and shelled them. We reeked of shrimp, and long before we were done, our backs were aching and our fingers raw with little cuts inflicted by the tiny claws. But Mom was looking closely at those marvelous creatures in our hands and using them as a teaching tool. She reminded me that God had designed them in His infinite wisdom for a particular purpose and that He had a purpose in mind for each of us, too.

It was a good thing to remember as I examined the muscles, cartilage, and connective tissue of the deer. There was much to appreciate there, even beyond the meat that would soon be on our plates.

After a few seasons, my queasiness disappeared and I began enjoying the process of preparing the venison, the camaraderie with Don and the satisfaction of preparing something that would benefit us for a long time. I even managed to watch him gut and skin the deer, and then I started helping with that a little, too.

Last Saturday, on the opening day of the deer rifle season, Don got a buck. Thankfully, it wasn’t a big one, because after he gutted it and we got it hung up in the skinning tree, someone called and Don had to leave to meet a client at work. I started skinning the deer while he was getting ready for work, and as he was leaving, I asked him for some final instructions. "Just get rid of everything that's not venison," he said. So that's what I did, and when I finished skinning it, I cut out the steaks. I thought about what my college friends would say if they could see me. But then, I imagine love has taken them to places they didn’t expect, either.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Flying Leaves and Falling Wings

bluebird in dogwood tree

bluebird in dogwood tree

A skiff of snow fell overnight, and in the morning, the dogwood tree in the front yard, so glorious just days before, wore its leaves in patches like a mangy dog. A bluebird flew in and landed on one of the thin branches. 

cedar waxwing in dogwood tree

Another joined it, then another, followed by waxwings and robins, as if the fallen leaves had sprouted wings overnight and were back, standing in as replacements. It isn't a bad trade-off. For the leaves, their first flight is their last, but the birds keep flying. They animate the tree in a way leaves never can.

The few dogwood berries that remained were strewn on the ground. Taking stock of the inventory, the birds hopped to the ground to bolt down their breakfast. One bluebird peered under a leaf, located a neon red berry and swallowed it whole in one gulp. Within a few minutes, the flock had cleared the yard of berries and moved on. 

Purple finch

Not all of the birds were so fortunate. A purple finch crashed into our sliding glass door and laid on the deck like a fallen leaf before struggling to its feet. Listing to one side, it perched wobbly, hanging on to life with a tenacity known to wild things. Hoping to shelter it from the frigid breeze, I took an old towel outside, shaping it with a cavity for a windbreak, and gingerly set the bird inside.

The finch rested there, unresponsive for some time, an uneaten sunflower seed still in its beak. 

Purple finch

After a while, it dropped the seed, lifted its head, and surveyed the surroundings with a renewed recognition. It seemed to remember, for the first time in a while, that it could fly. 

Purple finch

With a swift motion, it picked up the seed again, hopped to the top of the towel, and lifted off. One fallen leaf had taken flight.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Sky Glory

Don called on the way home from work yesterday. "There's a rainbow in the east," he told me. "If you want to take pictures from the other side of the lake, I'll pick you up in a few minutes." Don has a good eye for photographic opportunities, and it's always nice to have a spotter. As mercurial as rainbows can be, I was also grateful that my personal chauffeur had offered to save me a few precious minutes. We drove to the other side of the bridge and clicked a few pictures. In a matter of 3 minutes, it was gone. 

If Don hadn't called, I would have still been sitting at my computer, unaware of the glory in the sky.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gulf Fritillary

Last week a bright orange butterfly visited, floating over the zinnias, flourishing delicate orange wings, then touching down and dancing on tiptoes. Dressed in an orange and white striped fur coat, it sipped sweet nectar through a straw-like proboscis. It was here a couple of days, and we saw another one two miles from here. They both left just before the weather turned chilly. We think they liked it here. We'll be watching next year and hope they come back and bring their friends with them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Last week I went with my neighbor to a secluded parcel of farmland where she trains her two dogs. Toby, her 3-year-old lab, is a titled master hunter/retriever, and he takes his occupation seriously. He swam through a pond laden with lily pads and emerged on the opposite shore, running up the grassy hillside. At the sound of his master's whistle, he stopped, pivoted and sat in one smooth motion, giving her his full attention. Her hand signals sent him to the right or left, forward or back until he hunted out the decoy she had hidden in the grass and brought it back to her.

If Toby is serious about his job, Smarty, the 7-month old lab, finds nothing but fun in training. She has the energy of a bronco on steroids, and if Toby out-performed her, it was not for lack of physical ability or desire, but only something that time and patient training will change. Chances are, she'll be a master before long and have a good time getting there.

Smarty and her trainer paused for a moment before we left, just long enough for me to snap this picture of her, wet and happy.