Michael A. Sawyers
Have you ever been out in the middle of the woods during deer season and just busted out crying? I mean the kind of sob that makes you suck air, the sort that creates enough snot for two handkerchiefs.
Me neither. At least not until the day before Thanksgiving 2010.
The buck hunting hadn’t been very good on Monday and Tuesday, the first couple days of the season on our lease near Copley in Lewis County, W.Va.
Maybe it was because I was preoccupied. Brent Nelson and I had pretty much decided that we would drop out of the club with which we had shared buck hunting for years; 26 of them for me and not that many fewer for Brent. Somehow the hills were getting steeper and neither of us are ATV guys.
Knowing this might be my last day of hunting with friends who are more like family, I guess I was a bit melancholy. The late afternoon sun had dropped enough to put me in the shade, but it still illuminated the area we call Buzzard, giving it a red tint.
I thought about my dad, Frank, who had died in 2003, and then about his best friend, June Metz, who had passed a couple years later. Then I thought about June’s oldest son, Tommy, a few months younger than me, who had died that July. The photo of Tommy with a very nice buck that appears on the website obitsforlife.com is one I took of him on the School House Hunting Club.
I forced my thoughts back to deer. I thought how neat it would be if a 4-point walked out in the meadow below me during this last hour of daylight. I’d drop it, tag it and call it a fitting tribute and ending to more than a quarter century of hunting deer up Old Field Fork.
And then I thought, “No. I’d let it go and maybe somebody two generations younger than me might shoot it. Maybe Tyler, Chad Metz’s son might put a tag on it.
That thought was the tear trigger and it took some good little time before I could get the sudden rain out of my eyes.
Then I thought of my father again, a practical man who would have told me, “Have a good cry and then go kill a deer. There’s space in the freezer.”
We are lucky, those of us whose fathers showed us how to sit and wait for a gray squirrel to reappear on the branches of a tall hickory tree or how to watch a pencil bobber as a sunnie made it dance on the surface of a small farm pond.
Who knows? Show a boy how to use a J.C. Higgins bolt-action .22 rifle to shoot a squirrel and he may go on to be an outdoor writer. Show a lad how to watch a pencil bobber and hook a sunfish and he may grow up to be a professional fishing guide.
I’ve met a few hunters and anglers who came to the lifestyle without the guidance of a father or a relative, but not many.
My father was a salesman, a very successful salesman for Burroughs Corp. The product was banking equipment and in 1961 he sold more of it than any other Burroughs salesman in the country.
As a young man, I got to catch sunfish in Parkersburg, W.Va., ponds and brown trout near Altoona, Pa., because that’s where Dad’s job took us.
Then, in 1960, he got transferred to Cumberland, one of the nicest towns in the United States of America and a great place to live for someone who likes to hunt and/or fish.
You know that “Our Town” thing that was aired on Maryland Public Television? That’s the hour-long show that lets people know that the Queen City is a good place.
Well, I was interviewed for the show, but ended up on the cutting room floor, even though with the new digital photography such a room no longer exists. That’s fine. When I saw the first 20 minutes of the program I realized its intent was to say, “Hey, everybody downstate, look at us. We are more cultured than you ever imagined.”
I figured somebody talking about hooks and bullets and dead deer wasn’t going to mesh with that message.
Anyway, I was asked while on camera to recall my first impression of Cumberland.
That was an easy one.
My first view of Cumberland was on a Tuesday evening in September. The next day I was in a 9th grade classroom at LaSalle High School and, as you might imagine, a bit disoriented.
But, after a couple months went by, I found myself thinking, “This is the nicest town in the world. Nobody is trying to beat me up or push me around.”
Let me tell you that being a pre-teen growing up in Altoona in the 1950s was a tough task. Maybe it was the area where we lived, but if I got more than a couple blocks away from home it seemed that I had to either fight my way back to the house or outrun everybody.
Dad stayed in Cumberland, retiring in 1985. And, as you may have noted during recent decades, like a relocated bear I found my way back.
Now, let’s go kill a deer. There’s space in the freezer.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.