|Story||Written by: Kathe Campbellęcopyright, all rights reserved
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With the ringing of September's school bell, our youngsters returned with a wealth of wild and woolly essay fodder. After amassing many summer customs, we were now entering a period of nature's maturity verging on decline. Our little tribe had established deep seasonal roots over the years, but no autumn traditions. The Thanksgiving menu was in place, and we had the "Over The River And Through The Woods" part down pat, but no grandmother's house to go to. So we decided to return to His extraordinary land of plenty for cooler nights, blustery winds, and sharing of the game harvest. Heaven forbid we should miss the last hurrah of the year . . . hunting season. We loaded up our outfit on a bright Wednesday afternoon - the army tent, portable kitchen, sleeping and duffle bags, hunting gear, and our holiday feast. We pulled the little hunting jeep part time, other times the guys drove her the 77 miles in fair weather. Little did we imagine that setting up a hunting camp next to Prickly Pear Creek in Potosi Canyon would blaze new family trails. Could this be the beginning of our first Montana autumnal tradition?
With nary a false move and macho hearts pounding, the fellas rushed off to stalk a small bunch of mule deer. After starting a fire, the girls and I sat transfixed by the burst of color in brilliant contrast with the lofty firs and pines on the hills. How sad that it's beauty would soon be cut short by old man winter's wrath as we glassed it's plummeting demise. Young curl horns and goats were spotted frolicking upon a new skiff of snow on the peaks, and the one-eyed berkins waited for the cover of night to venture out. The men would be scraping the sky with the jeep near the place in a day or two, then off on foot along the ridges for serious tracking.
Summer eves gone, nippy breezes triggered a round of shivers while a sickle moon darkened our day early. After devouring chili and somores in front of cozy coals, we listened to the unraveling and riveting details of our son's afternoon hunt. The scene stirred up perpetual mind pictures of this family's glory days. Our autumn traditions were off and running.
The following morning brought annoyed youngsters on the distaff side begging a serious audience with the patriarch of our clan. They held hands and nervously hemmed and hawed in their quest for tongue-tied words. Cleverly though, they had waited until after the excitement of the first buck was harvested and hung for all to admire. Suddenly, bits and pieces of complaints spilled out beneath restrained giggles.
"Waking up to icy noses, that awful outhouse, pesky squirrels storing pinecones in sleeping bags, and you guys making disgusting poppers all night. Nobody, just nobody pitches a big 'ol ugly army tent and lives outdoors in the cold, Dad!" And lastly . . . "When do we get to see some berkins?"
The jig was up as the girls stood utterly crushed, huge let down masking little faces as gales of laughter pierced the evening cold. "B E E R C A N S!! Is that what one-eyed berkins are? You're not our brother and we're never speaking to you again," as they about-faced and marched off in two little huffs, until time for campfire somores that is.
Only a river's high water or the wood's deep snow could break the ritual so perfectly created and committed to everlasting memories. We oft scan through photos and feel a special spiritual warmth, for there's nothing like saying grace so close to God. Equally nice, our now grown clan has adopted the tradition in their own families. They will bless a fine Thanksgiving meal on yet another mountain, the new generations pursuing their own last hurrah, and of course, the one-eyed berkins. ę2008