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John Eggers: Closing down the deer camp

The happiest moments in deer camp happen before the season even begins.

Deer campers talk about the hunt weeks and even months in advance. They prepare their cabins/shacks, get the trails cleared of brush, clean out the deer stands, decide on what meals they will have and tell some stories. Those of you who hunt know all about this.

The next happiest moments in the deer hunt occur when you close camp. You walk the trail for the last time, take one last look at those familiar trees you have been looking at for a few weeks, clean up the cabin, pack your gear, and, just before you leave, you sit around and talk about what was and maybe what will be for a few final moments.

My brother is the last one to leave our camp and I know he will take those last few looks around and, like the rest of us, look forward to the next hunt when we all meet again, God willing, and relive those memorable moments.

Have you noticed the best things in life, the most enjoyable things in life seem to be of short duration? The deer season lasts for a few weekends and that’s it, and I’m glad it is that way. For some, it may last just one weekend or a few days. Maybe this is the origin of the cliché, “short and sweet.” Whoever said it first was referring to a deer camp experience.

We enjoy the deer camp because we leave the complicated things in life behind and trade them for a more simple way of life. We tend to forget all of those issues each of us faces back in the real world. Sitting in your deer stand you think about many things but not about the health care debate or our constant verbal battle with Iran or poverty here in Beltrami County. Sitting in a deer stand is one of life’s best natural therapies.

Closing down the deer camp helps you realize once again that the big things we face everyday really aren’t all that important. Appreciating a Chickadee sitting on a branch, hearing the whistling sound of swans overhead, and seeing the smoke coming from the cabin tell you what life is really about.

Well, my father joined us in deer hunting again this year. Although at 96 he never bagged his deer, the fact that he was with us was the most important thing. Just eating with us, enjoying the conversation, talking about past hunts and all of these little things made for a few big days for my dad who, as I write this, just lost his sister at the age of 98. She would have enjoyed hearing about his deer camp experience and learning about her nephews.

Using a generator my brother showed some videos of a 1989 hunt. My mother was in it and when my father saw her he said, “Hi, Helen.” It was as if she were right there with him and they were about to go into the cabin for a cup of coffee.

Another poignant moment on the video came when my brother asked Dad about the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 “When All Hell Broke Loose.” There were 49 deaths in Minnesota and at least half were duck hunters.

Dad and his friend were among the hunters that day and they were just about to head out to the islands in Lake Sakatah, which is one of two lakes in my hometown.

Just then the wind began to blow accompanied by heavy snow. They decided to head for shelter. If they had gone on to the islands, they probably would have never made it back like so many of the hunters who froze to death stranded on the islands in the Mississippi River. The temperature went from above 60 degrees to below freezing in just a short period of time.

This will probably be my dad’s last hunt. He has a hard time getting around and he doesn’t want to be a bother to us. I know I will feel the same way some day and you will, too.

But that’s okay, as long as you lead a good life there should be no regrets. As long as you appreciate the little simple things in life and take time to enjoy them, we can say that we know what life is really about. I know my father knows.

 Yes, closing down a deer camp is as enjoyable as getting ready for deer camp. I am glad I have had the chance to be part of it and I hope you do too. I also hope we have many more opportunities to do the same in the years ahead.

JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.