Entry Forty-six: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Fifteen]

I sensed a certain "last day!" "Last session!" "Let's kill something!" fever sweeping the lodge, so I pulled myself off the sofa and returned to the woods for my last session. Everyone wanted me to shoot a deer, so I figured the least I could do was put in the time, if not for me, then at least for everyone else. I was taken to a spot I hadn’t seen before. It was set off deeper in the woods but it had a nice, clear, wide shooting lane. The biggest problem was it was very hot, complicated by the stand being very small. I was crammed in there. It didn’t help that by that time I had added a sterno plus a cooler packed with an obscene supply of Carl Buddig lunch meats to my supplies. It helped cut through the loneliness, but it cramped my space. I used my new trick of tying my backpack to the rope amenity and after knocking it off the top of the stand a couple of times and dragging it back up, I left it on the ground until I needed it. That, at least, gave me some leg room.

It was almost funny how little wildlife I had spotted while I was there. Outside of birds and insects, I had seen nary hide nor hair of God's creatures. While sitting in the stand, searching for wildlife, I realized you disappoint half the people whether you come home with a deer or not. The hunters want you to kill something and, if you don’t, will look on you with pity, or worse, disdain. The anti-hunters want you to miss and, if you do bag a deer, will think you are an insensitive barbarian. Great hobby, eh?

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-five: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Fourteen]

I learned some interesting things on this trip. How to load and unload a gun. How to sight a gun. What to cram into your backpack for the sitting sessions in the stands. This may not have been an officially sanctioned list but I found that carrying a personal stash of bug spray (unscented), bottled water, snacks, binoculars, ammunition, books, toilet paper and sinus/headache medicine served me well. I also learned that men are born storytellers. Whether it was about golf or hunting, there was nothing quite like rehashing the same shot over and over again. I found it humorous that, no matter how boring it may have been to sit through someone else's story, the story that I had to tell was incredibly interesting and well thought out. If only everyone else were as clever as me…

The good news was that Pablo and Tony picked me up a little after nine and we headed back to the lodge. The bad news was that my "special" spot wasn't very special. I didn't see a thing. In fact, none of us saw anything. Upon returning, I changed my clothes with every intention of being done for the day. My back was killing me and, having been shut out, I decided to eat lunch, stretch out and watch college football fed through the satellite dish. For lunch, dad, Jeff and I drove into Walterboro, bought subs and brought them back to the lodge to watch football. Everyone else headed back to Rachael's for their farewell lunch. I noticed that everyone had been telling a lot of snake stories and it was creeping me out. Our party had killed three copperheads since we had been there and news like that made me think twice before visiting the little men's room in the woods. Jason (the taxidermist) shot the biggest deer of the weekend on Saturday morning. In fact, it was so big that dad and I got our picture made with it. I figured it was like telling all of those stories. Before too long, dad and I would be arguing over which one of us shot it. Jason said he wanted to create a full body mount of the deer when he returned home. I'm not sure who was happier, Jason or his dad. I‘m pretty sure the deer was not pleased.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-four: Sitting in the Stand.

[A story in many parts: Part Thirteen]

Wake-up was, once again, at 5:00 a.m. but I could sense the enthusiasm for the hunt had waned a bit since Thursday morning. Everyone seemed to be dragging and someone recycled the continental breakfast joke from Thursday. Again, no one laughed.

That morning they took me to an entirely different place located on a separate tract of land, away from where I’d been hunting the previous days. I think it was a "special" place because word was out that it was my first hunt and everyone wanted me to kill something. The need for a "vicarious kill" had reached a fever pitch. Two new guys, I believe they were members of the Plantation hunting club, were my drivers that morning. Their names were Tony and Pablo and they were from Miami. It was a little weird taking off by myself with two guys I didn't know to an area I had never been to before, but I had to suppress all of the Hollywood scenarios that were rushing through my mind. A hunter had to do what a hunter had to do. I ended up in a tripod stand on the edge of a road surrounded by really dense forest. I was instructed to look down both sides of the road because the deer were supposed to cross at any number of places along the path. It was cloudy at the onset and it had started warming up, but it was very quiet. Maybe too quiet. I sat in the dark hoping Tony and Pablo remembered where they left me.

As I sat there I began to ruminate on the subculture that is hunting. I could not fathom doing this very often. Dad told me once the hunting season starts, these guys are gone constantly. And this is it. Outside of actually shooting something, this is what they do. Sit. Wait. Wait. Anticipate. I think that's where the adrenaline comes from—the anticipation. My problem was I had no experience to base any anticipation on, so I sat there and anticipated nothing. I was proving to be quite successful at that. I enjoyed the solitude and the slowing down, but was finding myself in a desperate need of a family fix. I started imagining what Hope and the kids were doing while I sat there. Eating breakfast, getting the kids ready for their soccer games; eating lunch; not sitting in the woods waiting for an animal to appear.

In earlier talks, Dad he told me how this particular trip was different than the previous ones. When they traveled to Texas, they all rode together and would have two days of sharing and talking on the way. The facilities in Texas didn't have a television and during their free time they rode around and explored the grounds. He was disappointed in the lack of "fellowship" time. The problem was we didn't finish until 9:00 at night and after we ate, there wasn't a lot of time to visit. He also said that, after 15 years, this whole gig may be getting old. I know I aged over the weekend. I can only imagine what multiple trips would do to me.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-three: Sitting in the Stand

After a brief detour through the holidays, we now return to our regularly scheduled programming...

[A story in many parts: Part Twelve]

We arrived back at the lodge at 11:30 but didn’t leave for lunch until 1:00 p.m. We were late in leaving because the other group had spent most of the morning trying to find a deer that Jeff shot. After they found it they discovered the reason it was so hard to locate was because it was so small. Someone cruelly asked if he could have one of the rabbit's feet for his kid back home. The positive side of the whole event was the bar had been lowered and, at that point, about anything would be accepted.

I was sensing a pattern in the driver’s. Whenever they picked me up, he would ask, “Did you see anything?” and when I answered “No,” he would look shocked, then shake his head in disbelief. The implied message was that, just yesterday, he had spotted 126 deer grazing in that exact field, yet today... I think I would have felt better if it weren’t the exact same reaction each time. I’m sure the manual on “Picking Up The Customer” had more than one accepted response.

I didn’t see anything during the afternoon hunt. Just five hours of sitting and staring. When it got dark, I climbed down out of my stand and waited by the road for the limo service. After a little while I heard someone approaching on foot and was glad to see my dad walking up. We visited until the limo arrived and finally ate dinner at 9:15. The vapor woman was a great cook. She had mastered the art of serving five starches combined with enormous portions of meat. Combine that with sitting all day where not moving is a requirement and I began to understand the girth of my fellow hunters.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty-two

Happy Thanksgiving.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Forty-one: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 7 of 7]

“Father God, we are thankful for everything you have provided for us and we want to take this opportunity, gathered as a family, to verbalize what we feel in our hearts…” As Father prayed, my mind started settling on some of the things I was thankful for. My wife, my longsuffering wife, who still loves me regardless; two wonderful kids; my family is relatively healthy; I’m employed and doing okay financially; we have two cars that, though not new, run; a great house; some wonderful friends; a cool dog; extended family that I get along with reasonably well; great parents who love my wife like one of their own kids; a church that cares about me; I still have a full head of hair… In the midst of all these things I was thankful for, I realized it wasn’t hard to come up with an answer to Father’s traditional question. After just a few moments of reflection I had been overwhelmed with choices. Then I started feeling bad about what we had just done, ruining Fathers tradition and letting our anxiety muck up the positives of the drill. I considered asking for a do-over, but didn’t know how to approach it without embarrassing everyone else. Then Father’s voice cut through my internal monologue with the close of his Thanksgiving prayer.

“…and I ask that you prepare all of us in these next few weeks as we search our hearts and minds, trying to come up with things we are thankful for to share at the Christmas dinner in just under four weeks. Remind the family that they have been warned. In Your name we pray, amen.”

I looked around as we all released hands and nearly everyone was smiling. Maybe I hadn’t been alone in my thoughts. Regardless, my “do-over” had been scheduled and that was one more thing for which I could be thankful.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Forty: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 6 of 7]

There was an audible gasp in the room as people worked diligently to process what had just happened. I stared at my cousin Rob, who was next in line, and began sending him telepathic messages, trying to force his will to bend to my bidding. I needed him to realize that we were on the cusp of a huge breakthrough and his answer, his lone voice across the dining table, his correct response, could alter our annual pre-dinner ritual forever.

Rob was wide-eyed, biting his bottom lip, grappling with what he wanted to do, unsure if it was right, obviously feeling the enormity of the moment on his 26-year-old shoulders. “Uhm… I think… what I’m thankful for is… what he said.” Bingo! The little Dutch boy had pulled his finger from the dike and no one was going to be able to stop what came next.

“What he said,” said Sarah.

“What she said,” said Catherine.

“What she said,” said Dexter.

A succession of “he said/she said” answers followed and with each new proclamation fresh boldness permeated the room and the entire table was responding in record time. Every cousin, aunt, uncle and marginal relative was swept up in the moment and by the time it reached my chair no other alternative crossed my mind. “What he said,” flowed from my lips like a reflex, here and gone before I realized it was my turn. I was so caught up in the adrenaline of the moment that it wasn’t until the last person answered that I finally took notice of Father’s reaction to the whole episode. He was smiling, even laughing a little, but there was a hint of disappointment in his eyes as he said, “I’m thankful you all let me get away with this tradition as long as you have. I’ll pray and we’ll eat.” This was greeted with applause and laughter that quickly subsided as Father lowered his head to pray. We all grabbed hands and joined him.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-nine: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 5 of 7]

Next up was my younger brother. He is in possession of a big, giant brain so his Thanksgiving response is usually so obtuse that no one understands it. One year he spouted a rambling medical definition for his “thanks” that was greeted with complete silence by all in attendance. It wasn’t until after dinner when I asked him for a clarification that I found out he had just told a room full of beloved friends and family that he was thankful for being able to “poop.”

This year, he took a surprisingly different approach by placing his arm across my Grandmother’s shoulders and saying, “What she said.” He uttered it with no anger, no sarcasm and no malice in his heart. He just looked at Father with a large, sincere smile on his face. I was stunned. It was a brave line of attack and as with all such daring ventures, it bordered on stupid. He was confident even though he had to know it was a risk.

“Are you sure?” Father asked.

“Yes sir, I am,” my brother answered, his smile huge but still not showing any sign of being forced.

Father’s next words were simple but they held the potential to alter holiday tradition within the O’Neil household for generations to come. They resounded with such power that their mere declaration caused tiny fissures in the familial foundations on which we had long relied. He looked my brother in the eyes and, without blinking, said, “Okay. Next?”

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-eight: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 4 of 7]

Every year one of the cousins is going through their “invisible friend” phase so, on cue, my seven year-old niece did her part and told us she was thankful for “Beatrice.” It’s cute and it’s hard to be annoyed with it since she is so young. My brother tried it once, telling everyone at the table he was thankful for his friend “Sparky,” but it was creepy because he was 19 and in college.

My grandmother was next in line and she is a wild card because of her age. She just turned 96 and each year her answers have gotten more eccentric and, inevitably, funnier. There was a long pause while we waited for her to say something but she was staring at her reflection in her empty plate, making faces, amused and content. Father cleared his throat and she looked up, did a slow turn with her head, taking in everyone around the table, and then asked, “Why is everyone staring at me?”

“It’s your turn to tell us what you’re thankful for, Grammie.” My sister played the role of White Knight, trying to keep the momentum moving forward. Grandmother stared at her for several seconds and finally said, “Are we still playing that ridiculous game? I told your Father it was annoying the first year he came up with it. People want to eat, not talk! Apparently he doesn’t listen to his mother anymore.” She quickly looked away from my sister and resumed staring at her empty plate.

After a few moments of awkward silence, waiting for her answer, she blurted out, “Pass!” and continued looking down, defiant and obviously irritated. A few of the younger kids started laughing but were quickly shut down by glares and unseen grips on little legs under the table.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-seven: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 3 of 7]

The key was to go first, or at least go early, because the closer you were to the end the more creative you had to be with your answer. According to the unwritten yet firmly memorized rules the order was established clockwise based on the first person chosen. Dad was throwing Aunt Rose a bone. First was good and she knew it.

“I’m thankful for my children,” said Aunt Rose, speaking slowly with a big smile on her face that everyone correctly interpreted as having nothing to do with parental pride but everything to do with her knowledge that she just screwed the rest of the family out of the easiest answer.

“I’m thankful for my parents.” My cousin took the second easiest answer and the tension around the rest of the table congealed thicker than Uncle Neal’s giblet gravy. I conducted a silent, mental calculation and determined I was Designated Thanker #18, which, obviously, put me closer to the end than the beginning. That was dangerous territory, being so late, and I was going to have to come up with something particularly clever.

My aunt Phyllis mentioned she was thankful for the food, which, I felt, was a bit of a cheat since Father had already alluded to that in his opening monologue but she got away with it because she is old as dirt which allowed her to play the sympathy angle. She sealed it by pretending to have something caught in her throat then quickly taking a sip of water while cutting her eyes to my Uncle Phil sitting next to her. He picked up on the one-act play and reached over, patted Phyllis on the back and asked if she was okay. She nodded yes and he exclaimed, “I’m thankful my beautiful bride is okay.” It was brilliant, obviously rehearsed and I thought I was going to puke.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-six: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 2 of 7]

All twenty-three of us clapped politely although the spread that was laid before us probably deserved a standing ovation. The dining room table had been stretched to the maximum using every available extension leaf and it was covered in food, place settings and classy table top arrangements of pinecones, toile and dried, multi-colored corn cobs. It was overwhelming, the combination of colors and smells all mingling perfectly to tease eyes and noses, and it was killing me to have to wait to eat, but we weren’t even close to picking up our forks. Father continued.

“As most of you know, the O’Neil’s have a little tradition at Thanksgiving and I would like to invite everyone to join us this year before we break bread.” My uncle kicked me but was staring straight down into his empty plate. The rest of our guests were reacting one of two ways. The ones who had no idea what was coming were smiling, their eyes full of anticipation, possibly expecting a gift or, at minimum, a handshake or hug. The veterans were sporting wide-eyed looks of fear, especially the ones who forgot what was coming and were not prepared. Their palpable fear helped me relax. This had a chance of being fun.

“What we like to do is go around the table and have each one of you share with us one thing you are thankful for. There is only one rule and that is you can’t repeat what someone else has said. That gives us a chance to hear a wide variety of responses before we pray and thank the Lord for all he has provided for us.” He scanned the faces at the table, smiling at them all, seemingly unaware of the knotted guts and dry mouths his little speech had just induced. “Aunt Rose, why don’t you start?” And so it began.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-five: Thanks.

[I'm taking a break from the other stories to bring you this holiday-themed chestnut in seven parts. Today: 1 of 7]

I felt someone nudge my foot under the table and knew Uncle Stan was signaling the time had arrived. As I scanned the faces of the guests at our Thanksgiving dinner, I imagined most of them forgot it was coming, which was easy to do since it occurred only one time each year. There were a few neophytes scattered throughout the guest list, blissfully ignorant of what was next on the holiday agenda and I worried about them. We were about to embark on a potentially painful activity but it helped to be surrounded by friends and family and not have to go it alone. Knowing others would struggle didn’t make me less anxious, just less lonely.

“I want to thank you all for joining us for our Thanksgiving meal.” Father had determined everyone was sufficiently in place and he wanted to begin the repast, so he stood and brought forth his traditional greeting. “It is always so wonderful to have friends and family here with us and, I must say, everything looks absolutely delicious. Thank you to everyone who participated in bringing food and especially thank you to my wife for all of her hard work in the kitchen and in preparing the lovely decorated home in which we are all sitting.” He motioned toward my mother with one arm, extending his hand in casual recognition. He smiled at her, she returned it and gave a small nod. It was corny but they were able to pull it off with a minimal induction of nausea.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-four

The woman leading the class was obviously in the final weeks, or possibly minutes, of pregnancy. Although she was engaging and funny, no one in the class noticed anything but her gigantic, ready-for-baby breasts. They were two scud missiles resting uncomfortably on top of her belly, prepared to provide enough milk for a medium-sized African village. Peace Corp Ready M.R.E.’s for that fortunate, future child, hiding behind the gigantic gingham curtain disguised as a dress on our substitute teacher.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-three

God is watching us [part two].

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Thirty-two: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Eleven]

We were awake and ready to hunt at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. We crammed seven guys (plus a driver) into the Suburban and it was a bit snug. Most of the hunters on this trip had long outgrown the small and medium racks at Walmart. Then add guns, cushions and bags to the payload and the space became cramped in short order. One thing I had begun to notice was most of the guys had been hunting so long they're all near deaf. If the highlight of your life involved loud explosions less than five inches from your ear, you had to expect some damage to your sense of hearing. They lived in a world of repeated sentences and blank stares. Or worse, the "friendly chuckle." That is the half-laugh people give when they don't understand what you said but they are too polite to ask you to repeat yourself. Or don't care. For some reason, I know that "chuckle" well and it has nothing to do with hunting or tinitis. The communication in the Suburban was rough, but, ultimately as complete as it needed to be.

The temperature had dropped a little bit, so everyone was hoping the coolness would help flush the deer out of the woods. I heard three shots early that morning, so I was thinking the weather was working its charm. I was sensing disappointment in some of the fellow hunters as each session went by and no deer were shot. Stepping back and analyzing exactly what we are doing made me feel a bit goofy. We were sitting in chairs for three to four hours at a stretch waiting for an animal to come out of it's comfort zone to eat corn that does not naturally exist in large piles in the middle of open areas in the woods. The whole time we are waiting we couldn't move, make noise or go to the bathroom (which required both moving and making noise) for fear of scaring away the unseen (and possibly nonexistent) animal. Of course, if I step back and analyze anything I do and break it down in black and white logic, it sounds ridiculous. Going to a football game. Eating. Working. Praying. So I figured what the heck, let's hunt. I sure wasn’t going to stop praying.

As the morning churned on, the wind picked up and the temperature continued to drop. The sky was still clear so it was just about perfect. For hunting? I couldn't tell. But for sitting around and relaxing? Absolutely. I hadn't seen a thing all morning, but I had heard a lot of shots both near and far.

On the ride back to the lodge I found out the morning session had produced a couple of kills. Lee shot his second deer but, unfortunately, it was a "button buck." In other words, it's horns had just started growing and they hadn't broken through the skin yet. Most hunting camps frown upon the killing of a "button" because, if allowed to live one more year, it would have a chance to get bigger and develop into a possible "trophy" deer for someone in the future. The problem was, from a distance—even through a scope—it was hard to distinguish the "button" from a doe. Lee swore that he checked it as best he could and thought it was a doe. But, as someone so colorfully pointed out, "Oops! That doe has balls!" Lee was embarrassed about killing it, but it was hard to throw the deer back.

We arrived at Daryl's stand but he wouldn't come down. He had shot a doe and it had dropped in some thick brush and he wanted to guide us to it from his stand, afraid we’d never find it without his help. We drove out into the field and when we located it we waved to him and he came down to join us. The deer was actually a spike buck, not a doe, and it was pretty big. Apparently, Daryl's eyes aren't what they used to be. Some of the veteran hunters decided to play a trick on Daryl. I witnessed for the first time the dark side of The Hunter. We switched Daryl's buck with Lee’s deer and when Daryl walked up, we led Daryl to believe he had actually shot a “button.” He was heartbroken and he took it pretty hard. If it had not been so funny, I might have felt sorry for him. We let him off the hook after 15 long minutes. My only concern was that we had just carved several months off Daryl’s already limited life expectancy.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Thirty-one

The Living Room of Mystery

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Thirty: Love God. Love Folks.

“Can I pour you a glass of something?” Naomi’s mom was in the kitchen, visible from the front door Naomi had just entered. Her mom was holding a bottle of red wine in the air, cleverly hiding the label from Naomi’s view, offering a drink. It was probably cheap but it was free. The universe remained in balance.

“Sure,” Naomi said. “But don’t be chintzy with the pour.” She smiled, both of them aware that her mom was notorious for offering a full glass. It was part of her hospitality gene. Or it could be an alcoholic gene. Either way, at this moment, it worked in Naomi’s favor.

“Do your students know how much you drink?” Naomi asked.

“It’s their fault that I drink at all, whether they’re aware of it or not.” She handed Naomi a glass, careful not to slosh any over the edge. “They’ll understand one day. And on that day in the distant—or near—future they read about their former teacher in the obits, discovering she came to her demise via acute alcohol poisoning, they will say to themselves ‘I may have had something to do with that.’”

Naomi set her glass down on the bar and slid on to one of the stools, stationing herself in a favorable spot to enjoy her wine and freely converse with her mom as she prepared dinner. They were quiet for a few minutes, reverently allowing the Pinot a few moments to itself as it led the charge to relaxation and release. Finally, Naomi asked her mom how her day had played out.

“Typical Monday. I handed back their writing projects today.” She was mixing flour and eggs in a glass bowl, preparing a cake for dessert. “The slackers received them without comment. The overachievers sweated and chewed their fingernails until they could lay eyes on their magnificent, weighted grades. It’s why I always give them their papers last.” She set aside the bowl, pushed a strand of wayward hair off her eyes with the back of her hand, leaving a white swatch of flour on her forehead. Unaware, or unfazed, she offered her wine glass in a mock toast, proud of her devious mind.

“Why do you take so much joy in torturing the brainiacs?” Naomi knew the answer but felt humanely obligated to ask if for no other reason than to offer a slight defense of the students.

“I tell you, daughter of mine, the smart kids are consistently the most obnoxious, competitive twits on the planet and I feel it is my civic duty to tweak them when the opportunity is afforded me.” She began mixing the cake ingredients again, folding in more flour and causing minor dust dervishes above the mouth of the bowl. “Everyone else in academia tends to kiss their little, pimply, puckered asses and I don’t think a few whacks with an emotional ruler will kill them.” She took a sip of wine, the pause providing just the right touch of dramatic effect. “In fact, it will probably do them some good in the long run.”

“And you’re okay playing god?” Naomi didn’t find this side of her mom to be her best.

Her mom laughed. “I don’t see myself as god, so much. More like an intervening angel, sent here to give them one small taste of the real world in the midst of their glory. It’s a minor role I play, but it’s quite fulfilling.”

Naomi stared at her mother, not sure whether to admire her or despise her. The fine line between boldness and idiocy was never more blurred. As she struggled with her maternal evaluation a knot began forming in her stomach, not severe, but not so subtle that it could be ignored. She brought the wine glass to her lips hoping a coating of alcohol would appease the knot, but it was still on the march, moving slowly, crawling northward into her chest and finally into her throat, constricting and making it hard to breathe or swallow. Naomi had one clear thought. “I’m just like her.” And her lurching, gasping physical reaction was an answer without words. Or oxygen.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-nine: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Ten]

I had been immersed into a very funny subculture. That refers to funny “ha ha” as well as funny “strange.” For example, the only topic of conversation the entire weekend was hunting.

"I gotta' buddy who went down to Peru…"

"I 'member that one time in Texas…"

If they weren't talking about their own trips, they were talking about a trip they heard about from someone else. I believe that's why they listen so intently to each other's stories. If they re-tell someone else's story enough times it could eventually become one of their own. And they were always zinging each other, reminding each other about an undersized kill, a missed opportunity or any bonehead thing that anyone ever did. That did not bode well for me, the rookie.

There is a certain etiquette and courtesy in their story telling. Everyone gets to tell one story and then they wait while everyone else shares. If someone hesitates, they lose their turn. The elder statesman of the group gets to end each round. In that particular group, the elder statesman was Daryl, and he could spin the stories and lay out the ribbing as well as anyone. He was not only the oldest member of the party, but he apparently had the most money, which meant he had the most hunting toys. Everything from cammo wraps for your gun to odor-less soap to bathe with (so the animals can't smell your scent of Irish Spring). And it isn't cheap. I was thumbing through some of the leisure time reading materials the lodge had laying around—outdoor magazines and hunting supply catalogs—and the prices were shocking. Scopes, guns, ammunition, little camaflogue buckets to pee in; they had thought of everything. I gathered from the tales being spun that the guys hunting that weekend weren't restricted to hunting in the south. A lot of them had taken hunting trips to places all over the continent. Moose hunting in Canada. Bear hunting in Montana. Elk hunting in Colorado. The costs incurred to take the trips must have been enormous. Then, just when I thought they had run out of hunting stories, they started telling fishing stories. The energy in the room would get resurrected and everyone would get cranked up all over again. It was quite entertaining and pervasive. No moment was lost. On the way back from lunch one day, we listened to a book-on-tape called "Life Lessons from a Deer Stand." I had entered my dad's world and it smelled of gun powder and stale canvas.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-eight: Love God. Love Folks.

As she wound through the corkscrew of the parking garage it became clear that Naomi was going to have to park on the top level where her car would be unprotected from the elements. “Great, just great,” she muttered. “Monday’s suck.” She found a parking slot in the partial shade of the building but knew it was only good for the morning hours. By noon her car would be in full sun and the interior a furnace by the end of the day. She shifted the gear into park but she didn’t move, staring straight ahead, unblinking, mind landing on nothing in particular but flying past a hundred little things. Her headache had eased off but the heaviness, the deep funk she kept fighting, was lingering a little longer this morning. It was a rude guest, overstaying its welcome, lingering for an extra cup of coffee fully aware she had to get to work. Naomi abruptly snapped out of her stare, opened the door and grabbed her briefcase and bag full of workout clothes from the backseat. She had almost forgotten that she promised Erica she’d go to the gym with her at lunch and was glad her gym bag had been sitting by the front door as a reminder.

She made her way to the elevators on the first floor and promptly zoned out again as she waited for a portal to slide open and lift her to another workday. “How are you doing this morning?” The question cut into her personal fog but she didn’t react right away. She cut her eyes toward the voice and recognized the man who spoke. She didn’t know his name but his reputation for being one of the happy ones was well known throughout the building. He was safe, if only marginally.

“Oh, you know, it’s Monday so that cuts into any possibility that the morning can be great. Good is the zenith, I’m afraid.” She was surprised at her clarity.

He chuckled and asked, “So are you good this morning?”

She looked at him and tried to smile but the result was not convincing. “Not yet.” Then she turned away from him and stared at the closed elevator doors, hoping he would figure out that the conversation, according to her, had run its course.

“Well, it’s early,” he responded. “I hope your day improves.” She didn’t respond which might have been rude but she had no energy for happy talk this early in the morning. The elevator arrived and they rode in silence until the car stopped at the twelfth floor to allow her to exit. She expected him to say something else but was relieved when he let her leave in silence. She hated being impolite but sometimes that was the only way to fend off the happy ones. It was a small victory and maybe it was an indication her day was starting to improve.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-seven: Homage to Fromage

The original purpose of processed cheese food squares.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Twenty-six: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Nine]

I was picked up around 8:00 p.m. and, after gathering everyone else, we made it back to the lodge at 9:00. Part of the "end of hunt" tradition is for everyone to wait outside the lodge and greet the other hunters as they roll back into camp, hoping someone had some luck. If you had already killed something, you wanted to see if anyone bagged anything bigger. If you didn't kill anything, you wanted to enjoy a vicarious kill. "How'd ya' do?" was the consensus greeting. Lee was the only person who shot a deer on day one. Of course he sat in his stand all day, never coming in for lunch. I believe I heard that is referred to as "hunting hard." His persistence paid off, although he was so stiff he had trouble walking. I had a lot to learn.

We ate a late dinner and the cook lady came and went like vapor. It was either a vapor or the smoke from her cigarette. The biggest news of the evening was that everyone got a shower. I had noticed that the bathing facilities had remained relatively quiet and I didn't know if I was being treated to another hunting trip "tradition." I was a tad bit concerned about the ramifications of that one, but my fears disappeared with the first sound of the showerhead being engaged. Everyone else was clean and asleep in their beds by 11:00 p.m. I sat up, watching a few shows on The Sundance Film Channel and the Independent Film Channel. I would have asked someone to sit up with me but I'm not sure anyone else on the trip was interested in watching a short, symbolically charged Indian film about a boy and his duck. With subtitles.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-five

Janice exited the large, gray, stucco building from the side entrance, dropping her exactly 112 steps away from the lot where her car was parked. As she slid her security badge into her purse it started raining. Not a hard, apocalyptic rain but more what her mom would refer to as a “mizzle,” which was one of a thousand descriptors her mom makes up when she can’t recall the globally accepted phrase. She then incorporates it into common conversation until it is Webster’s ready and becomes a part of her every day speech. In mom-speak, a “mizzle” describes a rain that is at the exact point on its evolutionary journey between a mist and a drizzle. Regardless of the noun used to describe it, a mizzle is an annoying weather system. Janice hesitated under the awning and thought, “What looks more ridiculous: using an umbrella when it’s barely drizzling or walking through the mist and not using the umbrella you are obviously carrying?” The indecisive insight was another gift from mom, one in which Janice doubted mom had created a word for since she would deny she possessed that gift. And then she wouldn’t. And then she would.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-four

Posted without comment.

Dang it, I did it again...

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Twenty-three: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Eight]

When we got back to the lodge, we cleaned up and everyone headed into "town" to eat at a restaurant called Rachael's. "Town" was a six building stretch of farm road about ten minutes from the lodge. Rachael's was a diner that occupied the first floor of an old house and it was known for its all-you-can-eat buffet of country-style food. Fried chicken was on the menu every day along with the usual suspects of greens, mashed potatoes, corn, beans, etc… A sign by the door informed us that on Thursday they added pork chops to the meat selections. Everyone ate their fill. I got a little concerned when we made a quick trip across the street to the supermarket and everyone bought some aspirin and antacids but that was before I realized Rachael’s was the only restaurant in town. Everyone else knew what was coming. Back at the lodge everyone fell asleep. Five a.m. wake-up call plus AYCE buffet equals nap. That particular brand of math was not rocket science. Amazingly, at three o'clock, everyone was awake and ready to hunt some more.

The late afternoon shift found me sitting in a stand on the edge of a plowed field. This particular stand was quite different from the one I had graced that morning because this one was really high in the air, almost like a tree house but without walls or a tree. In fact, I felt more like a sentry than a hunter. The stand was bigger which made it more comfortable. Remembering my cushion added to the comfort as well, plus the breeze had picked up which cooled things down somewhat. I assumed it was a breeze. As high as I was sitting I could have been experiencing a jet stream.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see a deer or not. If I saw one, I had to make a decision whether to shoot it or not. If I didn’t see one, the decision was made for me. I never had a burning desire to shoot a deer, yet I've never been opposed to it either. Does that make me an agnostic in the religion of hunting? At that time, only one person had even spotted a deer since we'd been there, so I decided to let it play out and deal with things as they came.

After an hour of solitude I noticed something out of the corner of my eye moving along the edge of the woods to my right. I slowly put down my book, set down my box of ginger snaps and reached for my gun. I looked through the scope and slowly scanned to where I thought I had seen the movement. As if materializing out of nowhere, a deer walked out of the woods into the open field. It took three or four steps and just stood there, broadside. Almost like it was on a kamikaze mission for quadrupeds. As I looked it over through the scope I figured out two things: it was a doe and it was really small. I stayed locked on to it through the site. All I had to do was squeeze the trigger and I honestly believe I would have downed it, but a lot of thoughts were careening through my mind. Did I want to shoot a deer that was the size of a Doberman and face those jokers back at the lodge? Should I be a little more selective and wait for something with horns? Or at least a valid I.D.? I felt like I was settling for a "last afternoon of the hunt/desperation deer" on the first day. So I let it go. Oddly enough, it stood there broadside for a long time, almost like it knew it wasn't worth shooting. There is nothing worse than a deer with low self-esteem. I've heard that low self-worth deer meat can tend to taste "gamey."

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-two: Love God. Love Folks.

Naomi stepped out of the shower and quickly wrapped herself in her robe even though she was not completely dry. The large mirror directly across from the shower door was in place whether she chose to give it credence or not and she would rather face it wrapped in bulky terry cloth than stripped, flaws exposed. No matter how hard she tried to place all her focus on her face, which was attractive, even pretty, with a small nose and even-toned skin carrying few wrinkles, the extra weight around her middle and backside always grabbed the attention. As she towel dried her hair she glanced over at the corner of the bathroom, eyeing the floor scales. She knew she would eventually drag herself to their shifty steps no matter how many memorized positive reinforcements she repeated to herself or how convincing the inner voice sounded. She diligently fought the urge but it was more for the salve of continuity than for any real chance it would succeed.

As she applied her eyeliner and mascara, the red lines crowding her eyeballs were a snarled reminder of her weekend. Too much alcohol, not enough food and practically zero hours of sleep. According to all senses of propriety and reason she should have grown beyond that behavior but she wasn’t even to the point of desiring to slow down, much less nearing the place of taking a vow or pledge. Of course, difficult mornings like this had a way of releasing some of those thoughts for a quick lap around her mind. She usually began her emotional and mental attack on Mondays in the waning hours of Sunday but last night was a particular blur, starting with friends and drinks at O’Callahan’s downtown and ending someplace bright and loud where the name of the establishment was less important than its closing time. Along with the dull throb at her temples, the previous nights activities gave her a late start on her Monday prep. She had a staff meeting at 9:30 and was free until two when she was scheduled to meet with the project team to discuss the upcoming weeks milestones. And she was supposed to go to her mom’s for dinner. “Ah yes, the weekly grilling,” she confided to her reflection as she brushed out her hair. And she wasn’t referring to chicken or hot dogs.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle


Entry Twenty-one

Conga Dreams.

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

Entry Twenty: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Seven]

I finally got settled and waited. The weather was clear and warm and if it weren't for my throbbing back, I would have been comfortable and relaxed. The scuttlebutt at the lodge was that the weather was too warm to see any deer but I was hoping that wasn’t true. I hated thinking this was a lost cause before we ever started. I wanted to at least come out every day believing that something would show up. Initially it was quiet, except for the occasional plane or train that blew by in the distance. I say quiet in the sense that any noise outside of the normal forest noises were absent. There were a lot of critter sounds surrounding me and it made for a fairly disconcerting start to the morning. It was pitch black and, for a while at least, I couldn't see my hands. I was in an unknown stretch of unknown forest and all around me was rustling, grubbing and scratching noises. It didn’t get any more comforting as my eyes adjusted to the dark. I couldn’t help but start putting "faces" with the noises; I was seeing stuff moving all around me. In the trees. Coming down the road. If I stared long enough I could see anything. I regretted not buying any night vision equipment.

I heard the first shot ring out through the woods around 7:30. It was over to my right. I thought either someone shot a deer or they got really bored and did a "maintenance check" on their equipment. Or maybe they chose not to use their rope amenity and had an accident. I heard another shot 15 minutes later, so I started believing that gunfire meant there had been deer sightings. Meanwhile, I sat and scanned and imagined some Native American hunting spirit had materialized and was walking toward me through the trees. Would a rifle stop a spirit? Would a cushion?

The Plantation Suburban ferry picked me up shortly after10:00 a.m. and we started the slow crawl back to the lodge. The truck was hampered by the rutted roads of the woods plus we had to stop every four minutes to pick-up another hunter. It was more like riding a Greyhound bus only without the vending machines. It was very somber in the Suburban because every hunter we picked up had the same sad story to tell: saw nothing, shot nothing. When we stopped to pick up Mike, he told us he had been the one who had squeezed off the shots earlier in the morning. That little bit of information spread through the truck like the flu. Minutes earlier the truck had been filled with quiet, introspective adults heading back to the base camp. Before I knew it, everyone rushed out of the truck and started quizzing Mike intently about what had happened. When he revealed that he had shot at the deer but it had run off ("but I'm sure that I hit him"—that was not the last time I heard that phrase that weekend), you'd have thought that someone had just placed in our hands clues to the treasure of the Sierra Madre. Everyone immediately spread out looking for signs—blood, tracks, a note—that would lead us to the dead or wounded deer. In retrospect, it probably looked pretty funny with all of us in broad daylight, dressed in cammies, carrying guns and walking around very slowly, staring at the ground. Kind of like a bunch of golfers looking for an out-of-bounds ball—but with no time limit. Yet, I felt a real sense of obligation to help. I was part of the team. I was a hunter. If one of the team happened to find the tracks or the deer itself, there was attached some sense that they helped drop the animal and therefore could get some emotional credit. Unfortunately, after an exhaustive search, we had to surmise that Mike had missed. I looked around to see everyone's reaction at someone missing a deer and it wasn't too critical. Maybe they wouldn't be too hard on me if I suffered the same fate. Of course, no one else had even shot yet, so who could talk?

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle