Dedicated To The Outdoors


Family by Jeff Varvil
article copyright

The two rut, now defunct, logging road had long since been abandoned by anything that remotely resembled an automobile. Not that it was ever a great trail anyway; at least not in ways city folk would measure a great trail. It was too low and swampy in some spots and too rough to really walk without twisting an ankle in others. Too hilly here and no parking to speak of except on a slant gravel hill off the highway. Then there was the creek we had to cross to get in there. A two-by-four served as a make shift bridge. But to my Dad, my Brother and I, it was the best trail ever to be cut through a patch of woods since Lewis and Clark. It was our 100-acre woods where all was right and the world’s troubles never entered.

You could never really see it from the highway anyway, the trail that is.
It was cleverly left about a hundred yards short just to keep the local
traffic down to a minimum. It was a DNR grouse habitat project so many
years ago. At least that’s how I remember it being told to me. Now its
overhanging branches and new growth of poplar trees hide any scars left
from the clear cutting crews that once tore through our old oak forest.
What once was a maze of fresh clover ATV trails now resembled a new
growth wasteland with trees entangled so thick you could not walk through
them. Great if you’re a woodcock, not great if you’re a human trying to
navigate it. I shake my head in disgust thinking of my father’s reaction
so many years ago when he first saw the clear-cut. He was not mad as much
as generally hurt, almost as if losing an old friend. It would take me
years to understand this emotion and I am not sure if he has ever really
gotten over it. It sounds funny to think of a spot of land like that. But
so many memories lie within the land itself. So many memory’s of just him
and his boys together. A little peace of him died with that forest and
hunting would never be the same, at least for a long time, at least until
last year.

Dad drove for his customary half hour down the highway with a barely
audible country-western station playing in the background. I dozed off,
which by the way was also customary. My dad always said I had a lever on
my arse connected to my eyelids. As soon as I sit down my eye lids close.
On my own behalf it was a 12-hour flight and I had only gotten in a few
hours before. On dads behalf I would have slept anyway. I woke when the
old jeep slowed down and popped up just in time to see dad pulling the
rig over to put it in four-wheel drive to get on the little dirt road.
Our Two-by-four has been long replaced by a culvert and a small bridge,
“Progress” He says. I shoot a smile at dad as we switch places and I take
over the jeeps controls.

It’s a cold October morning and the headlights of the old Jeep cut
through the thick fog as I crawl along just fast enough to hear the small
trees rubbing the old girls undercarriage. The grass is knee high and
there are no signs that anyone has been in here for quite some time. The
right headlight light is a little loose and therefore jiggling allowing
me to catch an occasional flash of objects in the woods. It was like
having an independent spotlight with a mind of its own. It was a rental
vehicle that dad found for me at a local rent a wreck joint. He bargained
with the poor fellow until he got him down to $100 for the entire week.
I’m sure the guy thought the old man was nuts for wanting the ugliest rig
in the fleet. But coming from Alaska I need a rig to drive and not worry
about scratching. Upon picking up the heap the guy smiled when he asked
me if I wanted to buy the extra insurance. I shot him a smile back and
without missing a beat said, “Hell, Yeah, I’m going to $^%$ this thing
up!” “Just Kidding” I said “Relax, it’s not like I’m going deer hunting
with it!”

As we approached the first corner of the old trail not one hundred yards
off the highway, ancient memories poor back into my head. I built my
first ground blind near that thicket. Dad was so proud of me. This was
one of the first places I began to explore the woods on my own without my
father standing by my side so many years ago. It was a right of passage
so to speak for a young man in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At fourteen I
really never wandered more than about a couple of blocks off the trail
for fear of getting lost. No GPS’s back then, only a compass to guide me.
Had I known how many roads ran all around me I would have walked for
days! For all I knew back than it was endless forest where a young man
would be lost for days in a cedar swamp. Still though, it was
independence, and when I found my first deer rub and scrape without my
dad first pointing it out, there was a certain amount of pride it gives
ones self. Its not quite the same is it, shooting a deer out of another
man’s stand. It leaves a fellow with a bit of a hollow feeling as if you
have cheated the system somehow.

A large mound of dirt catches my eye and I remember shooting a nice buck
somewhere in that mess on the edge of a tag alder thicket. I drug the 9
pointer all by myself to the edge of the road just so Dad could see it
when he topped this rise on his way back to the truck in the evening. I
waited for two hours for him to come over that hill. The smile on his
face told the story. I’m not sure to this day who was prouder. Looking
back, I think we, as parents know we have succeeded when our children
succeed with whatever they do. Nowadays if they manage to stay out of
trouble, get a decent job and contribute to society we are happy, at
least I am, or will be as the jury is still out on my kids being too

I bottom out on an old birch root and I am snapped back to present day as
the one good headlight comes to rest on a new rub on a sapling along the
road. I smile and exchange glances with dad as the words come out of my
mouth almost unconsciously. “There still using the same trails”. “Yep”,
my father replies as a warm smile tells me he’s once again in the game.
“Let’s go check it out Garrett!” Dad says to my now 5-year-old boy. Dad
had waited a full year for this moment. It was exactly 1 year ago that he
did it with my first boy Josh now 13. Now he had even a little more
patience, a lot more time, and the hunting was certainly secondary to the
time we were all spending together. I guess patience is the key to
parenting. My Father-in-Law was the King of patience, he would sit down
with the kids and spend hours on end explaining even the smallest details
of things. He would lie on his back in the grass with Garret on his
belly, as they both would stare at the clouds overhead, pointing at
shapes and making imaginary animals. The thing is, kids just like to talk
and to be heard, when an adult takes the time to listen, well, they
become a kid’s best bud. Garrett was eager to learn and yet too young to
retain much, the perfect student for my dad. I hear it said that we as
humans are better grandparents than parents. It is true of my family,
both of my in-laws and my own parents. My dad was always a little short
with me, a little busy in the day-to-day grind to explain things, except
here, in the woods. Of course it is not a grandparent’s job to scold,
they just speak and kids listen. They don’t speak as often as parents;
maybe there is something to be learned in that. Oops, off track again,
regardless we were all back in our old haunts and anxious to explore.

I parked the rig and got out my G.P.S. and satellite photos. My father
got out the .410 just like I have seen him do a thousand times before,
first uncasing the weapon from the soft genuine imitation leather case,
breaking the barrel and checking it for obstructions and then gently
pushing in a shell. Then he leaves the barrel broke, bent over his left
arm while watching me plug buttons and read coordinates, all which he
finds very monotonous since he always seems to know exactly where we
are. He humors me by politely nodding as I show him how the new gadget
works. He likes the crows view photo’s best and I smile believing I am
some how contributing. I’m off like beagles on a rabbits trail following
the bucks scrape and rub line. Dad hangs with Garrett and I can hear him
muttering something about rubs and scraps. Garrett soaks it all in like
a sponge thirsty for the old man’s knowledge and just enjoying someone
talking to him like a grown up. I return 20 minutes later and my dad is
just finishing Garrett’s orientation by saying “And your father knows
better than to follow this buck any further into the woods, because
number one, this deer is just rubbing his antlers on the road, number
two, he probably did it in the night, and number three, if that buck is
back there, now he knows there is someone after him.” “But he won’t find
anymore rubs back in those woods!” I smile coming to that conclusion
myself after the walk. The highlight for Garrett is just being able to
pee in the woods.

We spend most of the afternoon scouting somewhat familiar territory. The
clear-cut changed the tree line but the overall lay of the land is of
course the same. It has been 16 years since I moved to Alaska and
although I truly enjoy hunting up there, Whitetail deer hunting is a
passion of mine. They are by far one of the most challenging animals to
hunt in North America.

This spring I took a beautiful brown Bear with my bow and it was nowhere
near as challenging as taking a mature white tail buck. I return every
year, to hunt these magnificent animals and to of course spend time with
both of my parents. In the end we set up three tree stands in areas I felt
would produce deer in different situations. One of them did and I
harvested a beautiful mature 8 pointer. I made an easy shot, if there is
such a thing, deer hunting, and a double lunged deer produces a good blood
trail. I then backed out of the area and made the call home for Garret and
my dad to come help. What a joy it was to watch Garrett trail his first
deer. His nose was to the ground right up until he bumped into its tail.
He was so surprised he began jumping up and down yelling, “I found him, I
found him.” Dad and I shared another smile and no words were required.

Moose hunting will start here in Alaska on the 10th of August. It is hard
to concentrate on Moose when I know I should be in the woods scouting my
deer. I will again fly home and hunt during early October. With God’s
blessing I will again accompany my dad and my boys into the woods. We as
sportsmen lead busy lives; please slow down sometimes and just appreciate
the little things you have, while you have them. Bring a kid into the
woods or onto a local stream or lake. Spend time with your family. We
really don’t appreciate things until they are gone from our lives and
whether that is a chunk of woods or a loved one, when they are gone a
peace of you disappears with them. Fortunately, the world keeps moving
forward and new forests will grow and the young replace the old. In the
end we are judged not by how much we own or how much money we have, but
instead we are judged by who is left behind to judge us. The next time
you are out having a great time with your family, just stop what your
doing and say “Remember this moment, this is a great day.”

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