Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Appreciation for the Great Outdoors


Now that the hunting season is in full swing (and because I am an avid hunter), I thought it would be appropriate to share a little bit about my true love for the outdoors and appreciation of my hunting experiences thus far. There is no better way to explain this than by sharing an article written by my incredible father. This article was submitted to Safaris Club International, where they publish a monthly journal highlighting international hunts and information about the great outdoors. Enjoy!

“It had already been a long journey but the rewards were starting to stack up. The three of us sat on the steps outside our cabin going through our gear in preparation for tomorrow’s hunt. Down the boardwalk stood the rest of the camp, watching the evening sun reflect off the calm waters and stealing glances our way. When I realized I didn’t have duct tape, I asked my two hunting partners to check with the other hunters to see if they had any we could borrow.  I watched with a happy heart as the other hunters scrambled, dug and came up with an assortment of duct tape all too pleased to help out. Guess it didn’t hurt that my two partners were my identical twin 12 year old daughters. “Red carpet treatment isn’t so bad”, I thought.
That location was Leaf River Lodge, Quebec as the girls and I enjoyed one of the best weeks of father-daughter time possible. Although we took caribou, we also reconfirmed what makes a truly successful hunt. The barometer of success included the kill. But most of all, it included the value of spending quality time with those who are closest to you. How can you explain what it means to be with your daughters, influence them by listening and visiting as you watch the sun disappear and the stars explode over the tundra? How can you explain the “I love you dad” good night coming from a sun burned beautiful little red head that just shared a phenomenal day of caribou hunting and trout fishing with her dad? The answer is that you can’t. It is like trying to wrap your hands around the entire experience knowing full well when you try to explain to someone else, it will never be perceived the way you experienced it. But - most important - in the heart of your hunting partner, you have shared in a way that most people never will.
In a different way I did the same thing at another location with a different daughter. Amie was 12 years and had just finished her swim season. There was literally no time to make things work with swimming and basketball overlapping and school mixed in. So, I did the logical thing and made it work. We drove from Minneapolis to Fargo where I picked up my loaded suburban and headed west. Montana was our destination as we looked forward to a short eastern Montana white tail hunt during Thanksgiving break. This time, there were no stars and the temps were much different but yet the experience was the same. We sat in a ground blind, heavy snow falling and deer moving. Between sandwiches and snacks, we were busy stuffing hand warmer packets anywhere on Amie we could all the while visiting about school, boys, swimming and family. Amie made a fantastic and memorable 175 yard shot on her first white tail but I am certain that when she looks at that mount she will talk about the snow, the visits, her and I sharing a tiny little cabin and the entire experience as much as the shot she made.
Since those days we have been fortunate to hunt internationally as well as hunt our back yard of Minnesota. I recognized a long time ago the value of trust in the relationship between my daughters and my wife and I. I knew early on as a parent that the window of time to build a loving trusting relationship wasn’t when they were 16 but early on in their childhood. Hunting, fishing and the outdoors helped make that happen for all of us.
Trust came because we took the time to make it happen. When Amber, Ashley and Amie were old enough to walk, they came with my wife Lynda and me as we headed to the woods. There were no international hunts on the horizon at that time, just a dad and mom who took the time to map out a hunting day that would be marginalized by napping, bathroom breaks, snacks and tummy aches. Gradually those day trips turned into trips with more substance. Noon campfires with deer dogs cooked over the coals, redheads helping find the grouse that we collected to bundled freckled faces making way too much noise in the deer stands. Along the way, dad answered a million questions as the three girls asked an equal amount. As they grew, so did our relationship. In time, they completed gun safety and started participating in the shooting sports themselves. We buddied up early in our hunting careers as I enjoyed teaching and listening to their excited and rapid breathing after they pulled the trigger. While they were my “little ones” they deserved answers to the questions they asked, many of them about the woods, the animals. And of course they never tired of asking the famous “Why?” question.
In due course, they ventured on their own, starting with deer season, where they were literally around the corner from me where I worked hard at trying to “will” a deer to show up and a shot to happen. Through much persistence, they stayed on me with requests until finally they carried their own backpack so they could shoot and gut their deer. They wanted to learn how to skin and they did along with butchering. In time, the three of them racked up a pretty impressive list of harvested trophies. But over time, they reached other milestones any father would be proud of.
No matter whether the hunting was at our deer camp or in a foreign country, they enjoyed the entire experience. Soaking up the culture, asking questions of those who lived in a different land and being there for more than the hunt was their modus operandi. They recognized the good fortune we had to be able to experience family hunting trips to various destinations. While they reveled in the story of a Kudu that slipped by them for most of a day, but was finally their trophy just before dark, they talked with just as much passion about the sunsets, the PH and the variety of animals they took pictures of. They also were keen enough to realize how lucky they are to live in a country like ours. Their growing maturity was evident as our discussions changed from the million questions to questions about poverty, race and the blessings they sometimes took for granted.
As our family turned pages of the atlas and future trips became photo album memories I am amazed at how our time has slipped by. Closing my eyes I can replay precious moments of any one of our excursions. Everything from Amie and I sitting over a blazing fire sipping hot chocolate after being snowed out on a spring bear hunt to Amber, Ashley and I reliving their first deer as we re-enacted the event. I can also recall some pretty significant discussions about marriage, raising children, boys as well as listening to major young lady issues.
More than anything however, I can look back at a time in my life where I know sharing this type of experience really made a difference. The twins are now 24 and Amie is no longer my teenager. The work world has found a place for the twins and Amie is in her third year of college. There is no turning back and trying to do the things we have done. It’s a good thing I’ve bonded with my girls, because it would be too late to try to start now. Young men have entered the picture evident by the fact that a wedding is planned for next year with others to follow. Dad is finding his time he spends with his daughters is on a collision course with competition.
Some people in my situation may think the twilight years are coming too fast. Those trips that used to require a suburban loaded with gear and gadgets now can be done in a truck with much less planning. I tend to look at it differently. There is no greater legacy in our lives than our children. There is no investment larger than our kids. Strong relationships are only strong because of trust and love. Take one out and you have nothing.
There are two things I take from my journey thus far. One is that I have an exceptional bond with my daughters. Close does not begin to describe our relationship. As a family we talk daily and fight hard to make time off work to our advantage. If the world stopped today and we had to depend on each other to survive, we would have it made.
The second thing is that most of this would not have happened without our participation in the outdoor world. There are two categories of people who will interpret that comment. One group will understand as they reach back into their minds and think about the sunsets they have enjoyed with their kids, the first flushing pheasant, or the value they placed in looking across the campfire at the face of their son or daughter. That group will understand the impossibilities of conveying that message to nonhunters or those who don’t experience the outdoors.
The other group will be those who never had the good fortune of learning what the outdoors can do for them or refuse to open their minds to that possibility. They will be short on facts and long on opinion. If you look closely, however, you will likely also find they are missing something in their personal life – a special bond that has never been introduced and special time never shared. As they carve their legacy they will be able to fool many people but they won’t be able to fool their children or themselves.
As for me, I am looking forward to round two. Sure, being able to fit in a short trip or two with my busy girls will be a priority. But in the meantime I will be patient. Someday, if I am lucky enough, I will get to repeat the process with another little hand or another freckled face. This time, however, they will be grandkids influenced by their grandparents as well as parents who grew up loving the outdoors. That’s a combination anyone should be proud of. I’m looking forward to it.”


~ Ashley Voigt