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.