|Maine Magazine - November 2012 (pgs. 63-67)|
What had not yet been revealed from this adventure, was the actual professionally published story written by Sophie Nelson and photographed by Erin Wallace (ALOVESUPREMEPHOTO).
Please visit Maine Magazine (themainemag.com) to see the article as published in the November 2012 edition, titled "Alive and Well in Lonely Country". As they have the photographic rights, the online version contains dozens more photographs than I am allowed to publish! So, be sure to take a look! So with that little introduction complete, here is the REST of the story . . .
ALIVE AND WELL IN LONELY COUNTRY - Written by Sophie Nelson, w/Photographs by Erin Wallace - The leaves have fallen and turned to rot, and the sky can only manage varying shades of gray. Photographer Erin Wallace meets me in Augusta and together we continue north into the fast-falling night. Beyond Brewer, we follow a scar of highway through endless forest, navigate gnarly back roads, and eventually find it: a camp with a set of caribou antlers over the doorway, the place my friend Steve Vose escapes to every autumn. In the warm interior, I encounter a blur of camouflaged limbs and Bean boots, rag rugs, and a wood stove. I take a seat and drink when they’re offered to me. Faces come into focus. I smile and receive several smiles in return.
|Dad plays the banjo|
“I want to tell you about a year when shooting a deer really mattered.” Steve senior says, confirming my suspicion that Deer Camp often has little to do with deer. He throws a glance toward John, who shifts his position and drops his gaze to hear Steve senior trace the story already etched in his memory. “Deer Camp 2005. It was the military group so we met in Calais. We were bummed because two were going to be deployed to Afghanistan. I had promised I would take John’s boys ice fishing while he was gone. After breakfast, we went out for a hunt and John shot a buck. It was the first deer we ever shot at Deer Camp, and it boosted moral so much we went to Walmart and bought one of those talking heads. It became the mascot. We didn’t meet again for another two years because of the war.” It’s Veteran’s Day, and I think about the way Portland’s Congress Street looked in the morning, filled with proud men in crisp suits and little boys and girls waving miniature flags with a fervor that didn’t quite fit the gray day.
As with any tradition, a healthy degree of nostalgia comes into play at Deer Camp. It’s clear that Steve and his brother Matt know the 2005 story well. I imagine that similar stories filled their home when they were kids, and that those stories, like this one, made them wonder—however subconsciously—what about Deer Camp wasn’t being communicated, or couldn’t be. “How old do you have to be to come to Deer Camp?” I ask, and Steve senior answers without hesitation: “Old enough to drink.”
|John and my brother Matt trade stories|
As a group, they are quiet at first. Steve is his usual jokester self, and I sense familial playfulness in Matt, but it takes a little while to emerge. John, in head-to-toe camouflage, seems to prefer listening to talking, and the same goes for Preston, Matt’s friend and a fellow engineer at the Bucksport Mill. They tell me that another one of their colleagues, a “city boy” from Waterville, will be joining us later. Preston pipes up when I ask the men about the first time they ate an animal they had killed. “It was a frog with a BB gun,” he says. “I shot it and my dad said, ‘You shot it, you eat it.’ So I cooked up some frog legs. They really taste like chicken.” Matt adds, “Partridge for me. It always tastes better when you killed it.”
|Erin plays us a song|
|Dad tells a story about a really BIG fish that got away!|
We wait. My fingers and toes prickle as they freeze. Steve tells me about the season he spent 200 hours in a deer stand. He saw some deer, but none that were shooting size. The rule is one deer per year, and Steve is after a deer that will meet or exceed the 10 pointer his Mom shot in 2008. He speaks bitterly about the hunters who “go out at night and kill 15, 16 a year.” As a boy, he used to wander around his family’s many acres in Calais without spotting a single deer, and he worries that his sons will never have the opportunity to hunt.
|I can never stop smiling at deer camp!|
|View from the porch at deer camp|
Later that afternoon, I see another partridge on the side of the road and it’s my turn to approach it with a gun in hand. I hold the heavy shotgun to my shoulder and “He tells me that he has the right shotgun, but the wrong bullets, and as if on cue the ducks ascend to form a flying V and come curling toward us, honking irreverently.” Steve follows closely behind, whispering instructions in my ear. Raw excitement overcomes him again, and rather than focus on the task at hand, I wonder about the source of it. I wonder where to aim to kill the bird, and whether or not I am capable of pulling it apart in the event that I somehow manage to shoot it, and, in that case, if I have any business killing it in the first place. I shoot and miss. To my relief, the partridge disappears into a dense, moss-covered patch of forest. Steve checks for it. We wait for a while. It never reappears.
|The young men of deer camp|
On the way back to camp, I think about the photos that hunters collect of themselves holding their kill by the antlers. Despite their unsteady smiles—or perhaps because of them—they don’t look happy, exactly. To me, hunting seems more about thrill than kill, about appreciating life in an acknowledgement of death and thereby living with a rare acuteness, even if only for the amount of time it takes a doe to flick her white tail. I think about Steve, who describes the habits of animals with the knowledge and tenderness of a parent prepping a babysitter. He wakes when they wake and sleeps when they sleep. He studies their miraculous anatomy and warps his mouth to mimic their sounds. This part of Maine is not in fact empty.
ALL PHOTO CREDIT IN THIS BLOG POST GOES TO ERIN WALLACE of ALOVESUPREMEPHOTO