Hunting camp with Satch

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange greets the gathering darkness of fall with a favorite ritual: going to hunting camp with his son.

(Lange) My son was only eight years old, the night he first followed me up the old woods road to hunting camp. We stepped out of the warm truck into the icy darkness at the foot of the mountain. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel him shrink inside his heavy coat.

We slung our pack baskets onto our backs. “All set?”
“Mm hm.”
“Let’s go, then.” I turned and started up the first steep pitch, a hogback ridge of huge hemlocks. There were just enough snow and starlight for me to find my footing. But the poor kid had never been here before. Survival for him meant keeping close to the big, dark coat trudging up the hill ahead of him. And what horrors he must have imagined creeping up on him from behind!

Half an hour later we clumped onto the porch and stepped into the warm, lamp-lit room. Everybody got up to say hello.
“Who’s this?” asked old Charlie.
“This is Brother.”
“By god, Brother, you look just like your mother! And the seat of your britches ain’t any higher’n your old man’s knees!”
So Satchel-Pants he became, and Satch he remains to this day, though everyone who called him that is now dead.

With the end of October, we begin the icy plunge into the depths of winter. Ahead of us lie the cloudiest, the darkest, and the coldest months of the year. But there’s a bright side to this. It has to do with memories of the days when families huddled around winter fires to keep warm, to make and repair clothes and tools, and tell stories. They talked with each other then more than at any other time of the year. Kids learned the skills they’d need to survive. They learned their history and rustic cosmology by listening and asking questions. It was the origin of the term, “family circle.”

When our son was born, my wife felt anxious about applying her experience with daughters to raising a son. So she did all she could to throw him my way. When he was three, he had a favorite place he called “Tadadump.” Every Saturday morning at dawn he climbed onto the bed, sat on my chest, and cried, “Hey, Dad! Let’s get inna da truck and go tadadump!” Which we would. And on the way home stopped at the village dinette, where we joined a caucus of hunters, fishermen, volunteer firemen, miners, and mill workers.

As he reached puberty, we took up hiking and fishing, woods running, and going to hunting camp. We also began separate careers, and these days he’s far away in more ways than one. But now it’s late fall again, and the instinct to gather around a fire rises irresistibly. In a couple of weeks he’ll be here again to hunt. We drive up the camp road now, and in one long weekend try to make up for our years of separation.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.

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