By Francis Marion – First Published February 20th, 2017
I remember one of the first times my dad every took me hunting. I was probably five years old and it was out to the marsh to shoot ducks. I’ll never forget it. The thing I remember the most are the smells. The minty scent of cattails, the mineral-rich mud and the sweet, sweet smell of spent shotgun shells. Dad would put down a mallard and wade out to retrieve it in his chest waders and I’d pick up the spent hulls and smell them.
To this day the smell of those shells takes me back to my time with dad in the field. Back then my old man was a bit of hard ass. But he was fair and he gave us the one thing you cannot replace with money or things, his time. My dad always had time for us and he was generous with it. We were close, and I learned early not to cross him. Not just because he wasn’t shy about the use of the rod but because I respected and loved the guy so damn much. We spent so much time working and playing together that disappointing him would leave me with a deep and lingering sense of shame.
My dad is a man’s, man. When I was a kid he didn’t drink to excess or womanize but was honest and worked hard and took good care of all of us. And he loved guns and he loved to hunt. Probably I wanted to be like him. I guess that is where my own love of these things came from. I suspect, to some degree, it is where my own son gets his love of these things from as well.
Going back in our family history I suppose I can see where his love of these things came from too. He’d grown up on a bush farm in northern Saskatchewan and lived without luxuries like power and flush toilets for a good part of his life. His family was poor, although he tells me they didn’t really know it. Sometimes he’d get reminded when he went to school in his barn boots who he was and where he came from but fortunately, there were enough kids around just like him that birds of a feather just took care of one another.
As a kid hunting was a necessary part of their lives. It was less recreation and more necessity than it is today but they loved it anyway. I never knew my grandfather, he was killed in a mill accident when my dad was about sixteen, but my father tells me the one thing grandpa loved was to hunt.
It’s something that has run like a river through our family for generations. I think that stream comes from two sources; a closeness to the land and in the bonds that the men of the clan form with one another. As he got older and had a family of his own my old man never forgot where he came from and handed down his knowledge of how to grow things and how to harvest the stuff that nature provides to his kids.
I’m a long ways from the farm. These are the things that my cousins have inherited and taken good care of and have grown in honor of people like my dad, my uncles, my grandfather and great grandfather. And although I’m thousands of kilometers from home I still feel connected to the place and when I return from time to time and I am with my cousins and aunts and uncles I feel a sense of belonging that is hard to describe or share in words. It is ephemeral but real and I have come to accept that like my ancestors who made their way here from places like Switzerland and Corsica, that I am a modern pioneer of sorts and have made a life and put down new roots in a new land. I know I am in good company both here on this board and in the locale in which I live as this is the nature of human existence. Many of us are nomads and it is why culture and demographics are not static and why civilizations morph over time to something only vaguely resembling what they were in the past.
But certain things we take with us.
There are undercurrents in who we are that stretch back generations and if you listen closely you will understand from whence they come and how they help to define who we are. From the meadows of the Alps to the bush and boreal forest of the northern great plains to the rugged and beautiful alpine of the Cascades my own blood line, my ancestors continue to whisper their lessons in my ear.
There were times in my life when I would try and shut them out. Sometimes listening to those echoes is painful when you are far from home but in recent years I have come to see my place in time as temporary and not so much my own. I now realize where I am and what I do, peddling internationally in wholesale and retail Pop-Tarts, has been both a choice and a destination chosen for me over a period of hundreds and probably thousands of years of human experience and migration. I am a cog in someone’s vision from long ago, another rung in their ladder. I realize I could choose not to listen, to shut those voices from the past out but I know that doing so would be the equivalent of hiding from the sun and being afraid of the light.
Each day I arise I am faced with a choice. To follow what is in my blood, perhaps to the detriment of myself and to those closest to me, or to stop and chose a life of security and conformity.
Our ancestors lead us to a trail head with a fork in it. I stand daily upon its rocky path and choose. Onward I go, in their footprints. One step at a time.