A Heartwarming Deer Hunting Story in Chelsea
I ’ve never been a hunter. In fact, I’ve never even fired a gun. Those who are familiar with my roots might be surprised by this. I grew up in a family surrounded by men and boys who worship brown Novembers, the first dustings of snow, and the anticipation of the hunt. I went on to marry a man who also pays homage to these traditions, so recently our children began to show a passion for learning the ropes of the fall woods. I’ve never felt the fever myself, but I support it, I feed it, I clothe it, I cheer it on.
My three oldest children (two 11-year-old girls and a 9-year-old boy) passed their hunter’s safety course this fall with flying colors. They practiced shooting rifles at targets and studied the laws and nuances of being a responsible hunter with fervor.
Youth Hunting Weekend came with intense anticipation. Everyone went agreeably to bed early and rose with giddy excitement in the early darkness. We took pictures to mark the day; each child partnered with a father or a grandfather for his or her maiden expedition. Their smiles twinkled with mirth, new and seasoned, the right mix of hope and worry, and generations of such partnerships.
Pockets full of candy—check. Licenses and tags—check. Bullets—check. Radios—check. TP—check. And they were off.
The morning didn’t produce any results, but I put on a breakfast fit for royalty and they set off again. The afternoon’s trek also lacked results. But the late day push was the most anticipated, because there was a shared belief that deer would come out into the fields where each pair overlooked from a blind or stand. This is when the magic began…
On Saturday evening (before the time change) at 5:24 p.m., my daughter Keegan felled her first deer, a 121-lb. 2-point buck. It took two shots, but her resolve was calm and focused.
Then less than 24 hours later, at 4:10 p.m. (after the time change) her twin sister, Laurel, shot a 126-lb. spike horn. Again, patience, focus, and calm seized the moment.
Each shot her deer from the same hay blind, less than 20 yards apart. We knew things came in twos around here from the day Laurel and Keegan were born.
Two Years Ago
But never could I have imagined the depth of emotion and fever that these two moments of success were about to shower upon my entire family. To fully understand, we must travel back two years. My two brothers and my father had traveled to Ohio for a bow hunting trip. It was their first group expedition.
On their first morning in the woods, Paul, my younger brother, lost consciousness just as he made it into his tree stand and he fell 20 feet to the ground. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury, broken ribs, and a bruised lung. His paralysis extends from his sternum down, which means he now navigates the world from a wheelchair.
Since that time, Paul, his wife Tanya and their two young sons, now 2 and 4 years old, have led a dual life. After Paul’s initial recovery here in Vermont, they returned to Maryland, where they had started their family and built a life. Paul chose the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore for his restorative and rehabilitative therapies. But prior to the accident, they had begun laying the groundwork to return to Vermont, build a home, and be near family.
This August, they reached their goal and finally came home. They live in an apartment built inside my parents’ garage by family and friends for Paul’s recovery. It’s not perfect, it’s not permanent, but they are home.
My little brother’s journey since that November day never inspired me more than when he expressed his fervent desire to hunt again. In addition, he wanted to be in on the action for my kids.
He located the ideal place for a hay blind to be built where he could spy field and forest. He gets there in a four-wheel drive Ranger, transfers into his chair, and makes his way into the blind. Each of his tasks now holds multiple labor-intensive steps for once simple routines. The blind is the perfect place for a pair of hunters to sit and wait.
Needless to say, this time of year conjures up a myriad of emotions and expectancy for our entire family. We all look forward to a sense of healing, and yet, cannot help but look back and ask answerless questions. Our family’s version of hunter’s luck is now a tangled mess of optimism and pessimism.
The men in my family share the average opinion that hunting requires mostly luck. But one moment’s dance with the flip side of luck has jaded us all. We’ve all been imbued with the need to press forward for hope and healing, while always holding a hidden place for skepticism.
But during youth weekend, we stopped asking for answers and instead, steeped ourselves in healing. You see, Paul was with both of my girls when they shot their first deer.
It was his turn to shepherd them for a hunt and he guided them through with serene, unselfish love. I visit this vicarious experience in my imagination and it warms me. I am profoundly moved, though, by the notion that it will forever be shared in the concrete memory of my brother and my girls – and that inspires me. Only the three of them hold that sequential secret of patience, discovery, anticipation, focus, resolve, and sweet, sweet actualization.
Even those who do not hunt, do not approve of hunting, or are not familiar with it, have shown an appreciation for the uncanny, sentimental, even mystical nature of circumstances lining up as they did. I came to know this quickly on the evening of both celebrations when I posted proud pictures on Facebook so that our relatives and friends from afar could see for themselves. I was floored in a matter of minutes by the sheer number and diversity of people who shared in our glory and who Got It.
The Story Spreads
Since then, as the story has seeped out into the hills, I am never disappointed when I share the secondary sweetness factor: Paul was with both of them! And everyone’s eyes widen, perhaps tear, and they are overcome with an unarticulated emotion. Like my family, they hold their tears, as letting them fall would instantly transform them from sweet to sad. That glimmer of intense emotion rippled through my brother, Ken, my father, my mother, my husband, each of my children, and, of course, Tanya, for two splendid evenings of frenzy and jubilee.
For Paul, the feeling was one of pure, simple calm. His face held simultaneous inward and outward joy; a joy outside of self that mirrored pride and accomplishment and an inner joy derived from peace and a sense of pause. Of course, naming all these mindsets at the time would have somehow dismantled the magic, so we all just draped ourselves in it, danced with it, and simply kept saying, “He was with both of them,” a question and a statement to the universe all in one. It felt unmentionable, intangible, and yet so real, so bittersweet.
And I wonder, if we hadn’t swallowed the bitter, could we have ever tasted the sweet? Does the bitter define the sweet? If we hadn’t been so sad, could we have known such joy? And when it feels that good, does it matter?
My father-in-law said to me that Sunday evening on the phone, “You know, things always get better, they always do.” We’ll take our miracles, as ordinary and frontier as they might be. Pure joy is where you find it.