Gratitude

I titled this post Gratitude because I’m truly grateful for having been recognized with some more blogger awards from a fellow writer, Julie Farrar, who writes at Traveling Through.  I’ve been doing this for just over a month, and loving it the whole time, due in large part to the people that I’ve connected with through my writing and theirs.  Julie tagged me with two awards, The Stylish Blogger, and the Versatile Blogger.  Julie’s comments about my writing put a smile on my face, and I’m thankful that she shared them.

“It’s an anonymous blog, with language and stories I envy to no end.”

In keeping with the spirit of the awards, here are seven more random things about me:

1 – Stylish is another term those that know me would never use to describe me (though, again, I appreciate the shout-out from Julie, regardless of the name of the award!).  I am the kind of person that buys 8 of the same shirt in different colors.  6 or 8 short-sleeve T-shirts, 6 or 8 long-sleeve T-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans in slightly different washes.  I can never manage to have more than two pairs of jeans at a time.  I generally wear one pair of shoes until they wear out so badly I really can’t wear them anymore.  As the shoes or jeans approach this point of disrepair, I panic a little at the thought of having to find a new pair.

2 – A few years ago, I found myself at the end of a 9-year relationship, and though I wanted to get out and meet new people, I had pretty much forgotten how.  Actually, I never really knew how.  A great friend told me, though, that all I needed was a haircut and a new pair of shoes.  I had been wearing sort of outdoorsy shoes because I have the flattest feet ever recorded in the history of flat feet, and I need really wide shoes.  I was informed that these shoes would completely impede my ability to get a date, so with the help of another good friend who is fanatical about shoes, I started buying tennis shoes that apparently have some style to them.  A few weeks after I bought my first pair, I was out for drinks with the friend who had coached me into this pair, and a random stranger on the street stopped and said, “Oh my god!  Where did you get those awesome retro shoes?!”  My shoe coach (a.k.a. grass-phobia girl), was prouder than a peacock, and could barely wait until the stranger was out of earshot to proclaim her brilliance.  In the end, my current mate wouldn’t have cared whether I wore the geeky outdoorsy shoes or these new retro-ish sneakers, but the coaching of my friends gave me a new confidence I sorely needed at the time, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

3 – When I was a kid, my favorite food was mashed potatoes.  Luckily, I grew up in the Midwest, where potatoes are part of practically every meal, but I even loved the sticky, gloppy, made-from-dehydrated-flakes-in-the-school-cafeteria mashed potatoes.  The stickier, the better.  I have a vivid memory from 4th grade, going through the lunch line at school.  The woman whose job it was to dish out the mashed potatoes asked me if I wanted butter or gravy on them.  I was paralyzed with trying to decide.  They were both so enticing!  I held up the line forever, deep in thought about which I might like more, and she finally just gave me both so she could get me out of her hair.  Today I still have a horrible time deciding what to eat at restaurants.  I have to imagine – visually picture – myself eating each thing under consideration, and even then I sometimes hold up the ordering for a long time.  Unless I’m at a restaurant that serves tapas or small plates – then I just order a little of everything.

4 – When I was fifteen, I wanted to be a cowboy.  I was already a tomboy, so it wouldn’t have been too great a leap.  My grandfather took me to Wyoming on a hunting trip.  It was my first foray out of corn and dairy country, and the second I saw the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota, I developed my own weird version of the romantic West.  When we got to Wyoming and met the people that lived there, I only got sucked in further.  We first stayed in a seedy motel near the ranch of a couple named Everett and Fredda Lou, around Lusk, Wyoming.  There were few paved roads in their neck of the woods, and they managed over 100,000 acres of cattle ranch.  Later, we stayed at my grandpa’s long-time friend, Melvin’s.  Melvin was a big, stocky guy, with a mustache that trailed down past the corners of his mouth to his chin.  He always wore a light-colored cowboy hat with a dark sweat-stained band just above the brim of the hat.  He taught me how to properly shape a cowboy hat over steaming water so you could take the “new” out of it right away.  It was very important that a cowboy hat be original, yours, and never look new.  He let me ride his ATV, and I couldn’t stop myself from going faster and faster, even as I started to lose control now and then.  Once, a tire jumped out of the rut on a dry dirt rode, changed my course, and I drove straight through a wire fence at high speed.  Probably lucky I didn’t kill myself.  I sometimes wonder whether it was really some primal draw to the rough and tumble area of the West we were in that made me love it so much, or whether I’d have had the same reaction to any place I might have gone outside the Midwest.  Regardless, those are memories I treasure, even if they expose my inner dork.

5 – I moved out at 18, and after two not-so-great roommate experiences, I finally got an apartment with a guy who is still one of my best friends.  We were really broke, though.  We could barely pay our rent, often had to have friends bring us leftover food from the restaurants they worked at, and never had cash to spare to go out and do much of anything.  We did one of three things.  If we could spare a couple dollars, we would sit at IHOP, sometimes for 8 or 10 hours at a time with random friends dropping in and out, drinking that never-ending-cup-of-coffee or bottomless-pot-of-coffee, or whatever it was they called it, and reading Trivial Pursuit cards to entertain each other.  If our cable wasn’t turned off, we watched lots of talk shows – Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer – you know – the classics.  We tried to come up with ideas that might get us on those shows.  When we missed the talk shows themselves, we watched Talk Soup late at night to get the lowdown on what we missed.  Finally, when neither of those were options, and I’d managed to convince my grandparents to let me borrow their car, we’d sit in the parking lot of our apartment building in the car, listening to a very cheesy love songs station on the radio, singing sappy songs, laughing, and lamenting about our poor lives.  I often miss those days.

6 – Before my first car ( a 1980 Mazda 626) ended up in a metal graveyard, which precipitated the borrowing of my grandparents car mentioned above, it had some unusual behavior.  The car either had issues with the electrical wiring, or was possessed by the ghost of a gremlin.  I could turn the car off, take the key out of the ignition, get out, walk ten feet or more away, and then the doors would lock and unlock themselves in a frequent stuttering rhythm.  It was like watching popcorn pop.  My sister’s boyfriend once offered to fix the car for me when something went wrong – a bad starter or cylinoid, or something – I don’t quite remember what.  When he gave it back to me, the car would no longer go in reverse.  My roommate and I often had to sit in our seats with the doors open, each pushing with one leg hanging outside the car to back out of our parking spot.

7 – I think I’ve made clear by now that I am not a girly kind of girl – I grew up complete tomboy-style, loved to knock down boys, am a pretty good shot with a rifle or a shotgun – you get the picture.  That is why I find it particularly odd that the first thing I ever stole as a little kid was candy lipstick.  I don’t think I meant to steal it, but perhaps I’ve fooled myself into thinking that because I just can’t handle the shame of it all (the lipstick part, not the stealing part).  I was five, and when we got home and my mother realized I had the candy lipstick, which she had not paid for, she screamed at me, tossed me back in the car, drove back to the store, and made me go in with my tear-streaked face and my barely audible shy kid voice to apologize and pay for my pinched lipstick.

Now, to pass on the recognition to some fellow bloggers…  Enjoy!

Bottlecaps and Broken Bits – Besides having a great title for his blog, this guy writes some awesome stuff about food, drink, and travel, accompanied by his photography.  He is currently recording his travels in Thailand, a place I have visited twice, and would highly recommend to anyone.

The Wandering Atavist – Check out this blog whenever you need a good laugh.  The Atavist describes himself as a “fish out of water,” and you will likely agree as you read his hilarious posts about trying to be a normal functioning member of society, especially when he’s around anyone of the female persuasion.

Grammar Divas – This blog is great at dispelling grammatical myths and giving practical pointers on writing.  I check it regularly and you should, too.

bassasblog – This is a highly entertaining blog from the perspective of a shepherd dog.  I have to admit I found this blog from someone else’s listing of blogs they love, but since then, I’ve enjoyed every single post, so I’m going to share it again.

Dick Bishop’s Blog – This is a new find for me, but after reading just a few posts, I am enamored with Dick’s writing.  He offers a unique perspective, and posts that have some meat on their bones.  Lots of “tip” stories about blog writing say you shouldn’t write posts that are too long because people will get bored and skip them – I think Dick’s blog proves why you should not censor yourself to any given length, but you should write what you want to write and end it when it ends.

Hunting

Not long after I started to learn how to shoot, I started to accompany my grandfather on hunting trips.  I couldn’t carry a gun until I was 12 and had completed a hunter’s safety course, but I was allowed to go with him before then.  At first, he took me duck and goose hunting.  We could hunt ducks right on the lake they lived on, and the area around the Horicon Marsh in Central Wisconsin was a prime goose hunting area.  The night before we were going out, I could barely sleep because I was so excited.  That always made it a bit harder to wake up at 3am, but I didn’t really care if I was tired in the morning.  We got up, Grandpa made coffee and hot chocolate and filled our thermoses, and we jumped in the car to head to our destination.  It was always cold in the crisp Wisconsin fall mornings, but my grandpa had lots of warm gear for us, and even when the down jackets and foot warmers weren’t doing the trick, I could still shrug off the discomfort in favor of the magical experience of being out in the wilderness before dawn.

I loved every bit of it.  We set up decoys in the dark, positioning them to look like they were feeding on corn in the field.  I settled in to my tiny canvas tripod seat in a goose blind built along the edge of a cornfield just as dawn broke, keeping my face down so the camouflage bill of my hat covered my skin from the aerial view of the birds.  I sat in silence with my grandfather as we waited for the unmistakable honk of geese flying close enough for him to take a shot.  I listened to him blow on his goose call to draw some birds in when it was slow and we weren’t seeing any geese that were in range.  He filled my thermos cup with steaming hot chocolate to help take the bite out of the cold when it got to be too much.  Inevitably when he put his gun down and rummaged around for a sandwich in his bag or to fill up his coffee cup, a single goose strayed close to us, catching us by surprise.  Sometimes he reacted quickly enough to get in a shot and other times he just managed to spill his coffee trying.  He generally bagged a goose in the morning, and we packed up to go have lunch before we headed home.

As I got a little older, I went with him on deer hunting trips, too.  We rarely hunted in the immediate area, so these were longer trips – a couple days sometimes, depending on how quickly we got our deer.  The whitetail season in Wisconsin runs for one week – the week of Thanksgiving.  It can be bitter cold by that time of the year in Wisconsin, and the experience of deer hunting was entirely different than bird hunting.  We often went with a handful of people – my grandpa’s brother and some guys from his family, and sometimes my mom and step-dad came along.  It was even more important to get out into the woods well before daybreak so everyone could settle in and have a lengthy period of silence before the sun came up.  Deer are generally nocturnal, so they can hear you as you set up in the woods, and they’ll catch your scent if they’re downwind from you.  Things like the wind affected where we each set up, but we always had a well-defined plan that everyone was aware of.  Each of us knew where all the others were so no one ever shot in a direction that would be dangerous.

In most cases, we spread out quite a bit, trying to strategically cover a large area, working as a team, with the goal of each person filling their quota.  Early morning passed in stillness, and these hours spent alone in the frozen woods were some of the most relaxing moments I had while growing up.  As the sun rises, so do the sounds of animals in the forest.  My senses seemed amplified as I noticed tiny sounds and saw all kinds of birds as they moved from tree to tree – woodpeckers, the occasional kingfisher if I was near water, a whooping crane off in the distance across a field.  You rely first on your hearing when you’re trying to spot a deer in the woods – the crack of small branches as it walks quietly through the forest or the scrape of leaves against its body as it pushes through the brush.  When you spot a deer, you have to make a few split second decisions – first, do you have a clear shot?  Are there many branches in the way, or tree trunks that obscure your view?  You can’t move because the deer will notice you, so if these obstacles are in your way, you wait – tense, but silent – hoping it will move so you can get a shot in.  Next, has the deer spotted you?  If it has, you cannot move at all, because even slight movement may spook it.  If it hasn’t, and isn’t looking in your direction, you can slowly move to get in position to take a shot.

I learned early on that it’s never worth it to take a shot you’re not pretty confident you can make.  There is no worse thing to a hunter than to wound an animal and cause it to suffer if it gets away.  In the event you do end up wounding the animal, you have an obligation to track it, find it as quickly as possible, and end its suffering.  Many people who don’t grow up in a culture that values hunting as I did don’t realize how much a hunter values the animal he or she pursues, as well as the environment those animals live in.  I was taught to be utterly grateful for the animals and place a high value on their lives and their deaths.  We field dressed any large animal we bagged when we hunted, and then it was carefully butchered by a professional, and packaged for us to take home and eat.  Smaller animals, like birds, we cleaned and butchered ourselves.  I was also taught that conservation was highly important, and many of the lower middle class families that lived where we did gave money to charities that were dedicated to preserving the habitats these animals lived in.

There was one year of hunting that was particularly memorable.  We went hunting for whitetail deer in the Southwest corner of Wisconsin, and I shot a large doe in the middle of the morning on the first day of our trip, from the spot I had been in since the early morning hours.  Around mid-day, we changed our tactics.  Deer bed down in tall grass to sleep during the day.  We positioned a few guys who hadn’t yet shot a deer in strategic locations at the end of a grassy field that was surrounded by woods.  Then a handful of us spread out in a line at the opposite end of the field and began walking slowly across the field.  This is called “driving.”  Our goal was to spook the sleeping deer so they’d get up and run away from us in the direction of the other guys at the end of the field.  This type of movement can be effective, but also dangerous.  Everyone has to know exactly where everyone else is, and the shooters at the end of the field need to make sure they don’t shoot in the direction of those driving the deer towards them.

A few others got deer that day, and we were all together in the woods ready to field dress the animals before we took them into town to register them and have them butchered.  My grandfather was a little concerned about how I’d respond to the act of field dressing my deer.  It’s not an activity that is for the light of heart, or weak of stomach.  The reason you do some initial dressing in the field is that it’s important to remove things like the intestines and bladder because leaving them in place can poison the meat.

It’s not a simple task, but my first opportunity was a success.  I wasn’t afraid of what I had to do – I had learned it was a part of hunting to properly take care of the animal right away.  My grandpa had to help me with a few of the knife cuts because I wasn’t strong enough to open up the chest, but I had no problem diving in and pulling out all the entrails according to his instructions.  I was probably fifteen at the time, and he spoke with pride later about my calm and methodical work, which left me covered to my elbows in blood, while a 30-something guy in our party was off puking in the bushes.  His pride didn’t end there, though.  He still swears to this day that I nabbed the biggest doe he’s seen in his 50 years of hunting experience.  That year for Christmas, he had the hide of the deer tanned and gave it to me as a gift.

That year was also the first time I went with him to Wyoming on his annual big game hunt.  This was the most exciting thing I’d ever been able to do in my life, and I couldn’t wait to go.