Monday, October 17, 2011

Muzzle Loading Season

When I'm visiting my husband's family in Wisconsin, glorious absurdities fly from my mouth.

Growing up in suburban Phoenix, I never got to ask questions like, "How did bear hunting season go this year?" or "Tell me about the time Grandma drowned that pillowcase of feral cats."

And yet, when in the Northwoods, I'm just making conversation.

I beg people to tell me the story of the Muskie that ate the hapless fisherman's big toe. And, of course, there's always talk of logging accidents. It isn't Christmas until we hear about Gundersen's two mile trek to his pickup. Sans legs.

I ask these questions out of genuine awe. All of the women in my husband's family ride horses, sew, plant at least an acre of vegetables each summer, and dress their own deer. Leisure activities include running 5K snowshoe races over frozen lakes, and kayaking through raging currents. With their children.

When we have a Mid-Atlantic "snowstorm" of two inches, I race to Giant with all the other drones, stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin family cuts another cord of wood with an ax, and pulls some home-canned pickles from the root cellar. While wearing short sleeves.

I sometimes wonder what would happen to me if we moved to the Northwoods. Would I die? Or would I learn how to make venison meatballs and round my vowels?

I hope it would be the latter.

And yet, I know I still have a way to go. When I was up there in late September, the leaves were already dusting the earth's shoulders. The ground froze each night. And conversation turned to deer season.

"Tell me about it," I said. "And don't leave anything out."

"Well," replied a cousin, "First there's bow season. Then mentor-hunt. Next there's rifle shoot. And then there's muzzle-loader season."

"What's muzzle-loader season?"  I pictured deer in muzzles.  Who took the time to muzzle the deer first? And why?

The cousin stared. A moment stretched between us. Then, he replied, speaking as one does to such a question, "It's when you shoot the deer with a muzzle loader."

"Right," I said. "Obviously." I did not ask what a muzzle loader was. Obviously.

I sat in my lawn chair, listening to the Black River bubble away. I daresay it was laughing at me.  I took a sip of Leinie's (from the can), and changed the subject as only a city girl can.

"Tell me again about Grandpa's arm-wrestling days."

And then, I listened. With each syllable, I become more rooted to this family, and this golden-kissed land.


Kelly K @ Writing w/ Chaos said...


I grew up in The North, but in a city.

We didn't have horses, canned goods, or acres of garden.

We did, however, wear short sleeves when the subzero temperatures warmed above freezing.

My acclimated-to-Texas-blood shudders just thinking about it.

I love family stories. I'm trying to write them down.

Off to Google muzzle loader...

From Tracie said...

I feel a little like this with my husband's family. Although they are the southern version (all the hunting, none of the snow!)

There are times ten years into this marriage that I still find myself not quite knowing what it is they are talking about - this world that is not my own. But I keep asking and listening and learning.

May said...

This post has a feel of respect and love for this family that was not your own by birth but has become your own.

angela said...

I know what a muzzle loader is, and bow season, and what a freezer full of deer looks like.

Thankfully, I don't know much about feral cats :)

I love how you've written about this, acknowledging that it's almost like a new world to you, your love for your family members so clear.

Jenny said...

Thanks for taking me back to my Ohio days! loved this post! Well, all except for the drowning cats part. yeah, I'm a baby about stuff like that...sigh.

Cheryl said...

The Black River was TOTALLY laughing at you.

I am glad you connected with your family.. xoxo

Kir of the Corner said...

you know, it's Not what you told me here, but How you told it, that captured me from the get go.

I grew up in PA, and I have family that hunted and fished, but my family (and dad) didn't..I hated camping and rivers and deer season, but the way you brought it to me here with your words...well I am grateful for that.

I could have been sitting there with you.

Jackie said...

What a family! I could imagine the questions I would ask, as I love a good story!

Galit Breen said...

Oh, love this girl and as a newby(ish) to the midwest- I can so, so relate!

That last line? Pure love. And poetry. XO

CDG said...

Oh, Nancy... "Who took the time to muzzle the deer first? And why?"

The way you balance tenderness and humor dazzles me.

Now I'm going go defrost a venison shoulder from a buck my godfather shot.

John said...

I love the way you put deer dressing and rounding vowels together - as if, one by itself wouldn't be enough to help survive in the Northwoods. :-)

Skoteinia said...

I love the rhythm of your writing, the way your staccato sentences round out the paragraphs and emphasise... your differences. Great image of the muzzled deer (duh, mum! as my eight year old would say). Obviously. And so wonderful that you do find that you fit in your own, different, way.

Julie said...

Forget muzzle-loader. I'm stuck on mentor-hunt...

I'm assuming it's an event where the uninitiated are guided through the proceedings, but what do I know?

In any case this post is lovely and warm and funny and sweet, as your words so often are.

I, too, adore my in-laws although their lives in a miniature town in upstate New York is a far cry from mine in southern California.

The aunts/uncles/cousins/ grandparents all live in tiny one-bathroom houses in various stages of remodeling or disrepair.

There is not one fast-food restaurant or stop light; no Starbucks or gym. They are the opposite of fancy, which is a compliment and the best way I can describe them.

And yet. Each family (proudly) owns a second home they call a "camp" where they retire to hunt and fish and enjoy the Great Sacandaga Lake.

They call it God's country and they belong there.

I visit and watch and listen and love them fiercely.

Anonymous said...

Mm. This is a story. I would read a book with this narrator. For some reason, it reminds me (only in its straightforward self-awareness) of Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer.

But it's very real, too, feels like creative nonfiction done with style.

Anyway, really glad you wrote and linked up.

Anonymous said...

Your writing is a pleasure to read. To me you've capture the love of hearing a great story by writing a good story--It's story that binds people together. Following via email.

Ash said...

They sound like very good people. Your gorgeous words made me feel like I was sitting right there with you, and terribly jealous that I never will.

(using my iPhone to leave a comment on your blog makes me want to use a muzzle loader on myself)

Ash said...

Oh, and I think you just stumbled upon your plot for NaNo - a fish out of water learning how to use a crossbow. Let the insanity ensue.

Ash said...

I'm not kidding. A Laura Ingalls Wilder flunky - go!