Deer hunting season began in Minnesota this weekend; yesterday was opening day. Though I don’t hunt anymore, I still get excited for news of a kill. My whole family is out in the woods with guns—as always, I’m hoping that the news involves a big whitetail buck and not my nephew.
I clearly remember the first time my dad took me hunting. I was thirteen and toting a muzzleloader, Katie Boone. As dawn broke and my dad prepared to leave me alone on a stump (so he could pussyfoot around me and scare up the deer) he put his face up close to mine and said, “DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT. DO NOT WANDER AWAY. DO NOT LEAVE FOR ANY REASON. STAY RIGHT HERE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Oh, I definitely got that one. It was part of the agreement that he’d made with my mother for being able to take me hunting in the first place. If he lost me, that would be the living end.
I parked my behind on the stump and watched my orange dad fade into the woods. It wasn’t long before I ate one of my Snickers bars, and then the inevitable: I had to poop. My dad had instructed me on this part too, stuffing toilet paper into my jacket pockets the night before and telling me if I had to go, just pick a spot AWAY from the stand. Now as my need made itself known, these instructions jangled in my head along with the part about DO NOT MOVE FROM THIS SPOT.
I decided that taking five long marching steps away from my stump would count as both “away from the stand” and “DO NOT LEAVE.” I took care of business, then carefully covered my droppings with a pile of sticks: camouflage. I was back on my stump in no time.
An hour later, as promised, my dad was back to check on me. He asked how I was doing and I confessed that my feet were cold (I assumed that they were anyway…at that point, in twenty-below weather, I could no longer feel them). In one of his most memorable displays of affection for me, he decided that we should build a fire to warm me up.
This idea sounded great for about five seconds until he said, “Let’s go gather some kindling,” and headed straight toward my camouflaged pile of poop. It was like a poltergeist pulling him over: a pile of dead sticks to start a fire. Never has a little girl worked her mental magic as hard as I did in the next couple of minutes as my dad gathered large sticks, medium sticks, and then…oh no…the little sticks off my poop. I imploded. I’m surprised I’m even here to write this.
Somehow we got to the point where my dad had built a little fire, removed my boots, and was rubbing blood back into my stiff feet. All thoughts of my poop pile disappeared as my dad tended to me, saying, “Your feet got this cold because you’re not moving around enough. You need to come with me; we’ll walk together.”
Decades later, as hunting stories got told around the kitchen table one night, I finally asked my dad if he knew he’d picked kindling off my poop. He gave me the smile and the nod I have seen plenty other times in my life: part smirk, part pride, part disbelief that this child could wonder for a moment if she was loved.