Archive for November, 2014

A Firsty Fall


This fall has been one of firsts. And that is a good thing when you are 63 years old. And the irony is that one “first” led to a second “first” and that steered us toward a third “first.” Indeed one could say it has been a very “firsty fall.”

First. I killed a whitetail buck with my new takedown Hoyt recurve bow. I had never shot a deer with a bow and arrow.

Let’s back up a moment. Back in the late 60s I had a Shakespeare Necedah recurve bow made from laminated pieces of lovely wood. Like a wood canoe paddle, wood bows have soul.

I bow hunted for deer in high school and again after college for a few years. Marriage, two young daughters and a black lab all required my time so I chose to be a husband, dad and bird hunter. I continued to hunt deer with a firearm and managed to put venison on the table on a regular basis. Archery took too much time so my old bow was stowed on a shelf in the workshop.

Fast forward to a different marriage, daughters matured into adults and married,  and three black labs later.

A year ago, Miss Nancy, my lovely lady, vented frustration when she discovered that deer were making trips into her garden sites and food forest. She is a devoted disciple of permaculture practices and at this point in the development of her food production, deer are not in the formula.

Venomously she spat, “It makes me want to hunt deer!”

Hunting is not foreign to Nancy. Her father, at age 88 just completed another fall on the deer stand. He is an ardent hunter and angler and two years ago, I had the privilege to help him bag his first mature turkey gobbler. Nancy’s mother has shot her share of deer so even though Miss Nancy has never hunted, the hunting gene has always been present. She runs on the protective side and when I first met her she would catch any spider that was scrawling across the floor and release it outside.

Over the winter, I suggested that Nancy consider buying a compound bow and take up archery. I felt she would enjoy the practice and focus of simply shooting at a target and that maybe she would even enjoy archery hunting for a deer. She agreed so last February we went to Full Draw Archery, owned by a neighbor, Willy Lines.

Not only was Willy enthusiastic and helpful in guiding Nancy towards a bow and a pink camouflage trigger release, but also I decided to upgrade and buy a new recurve.


Now I am old enough to qualify for a modern crossbow complete with a trigger and scope, but the thought of that or even using a compound with sights and a trigger release wasn’t attractive to me. I like the archery challenge of instinctive shooting without aids like scopes, sights, and triggers.

Willy, the most skillful archery shot I know, gently tried to convince me that I would likely be more successful in killing a deer if I bought a compound bow. He said, “Tom, I’ll admit I’m using training wheels (the cams on a compound bow), a sight, and a trigger. And I would really like to shoot a deer with a recurve bow, but I guarantee I’m more effective at killing and minimizing wounding a deer with the compound bow.”

I nodded, smiled and bought the takedown bow. He knew I would.

Nancy and I took our bows north to the Yukon Territory for the summer where we shot 4-5 times a week into expensive hay bales that we bought at the Whitehorse Feed Store and Pet Junction. (Three bales of hay in this boreal neck of Canada cost us forty-two dollars!)

Once Nancy became consistent in placing a good grouping of arrows, she asked, “What if I cry if I shoot a deer?

My quick response is that every hunter who kills any game animal should feel regret over the act of intentional murder. I shared that I have shed an occasional tear when I walked up to a dead buck. It’s a huge responsibility to understand that you were the murderer and thief who just stole a life.

I told her, “The day I don’t feel any remorse in killing game is the day I need to question my hunting.”

We both are keen on hunting because it is a way to provide healthy meat to our table. We spend less than $100 per year on grocery store meat. Admittedly in farm country the venison I put on the table is augmented with genetically modified corn and beans that has been sprayed with herbicides so I can’t call it organic. But it is free range, free of antibiotics, and wild meat.

So when I shot the buck in early November, it was beginning to get chillier and chillier sitting on the deer stand. The cold was hard for me, and really difficult for my lean wife. So she suggested on the morning that we were out, that we use her tag on the deer. That way I could still go out when and where I wanted to hunt in the state.

As I gutted out the deer, I set the heart and liver to the side to take home. We always have a ritual of eating heart steaks with scrambled eggs blended in with veggies the morning following the kill.

As for the liver, we usually cut the lobes into meal-sized portions and freeze them. But this year Nancy tried something different in delivering my final “first.” She rendered most of the liver into pâté.

The result was a resounding treat! I am submitting her recipe as she delivered it to our west coast kids via email.

“I just made a large mess in the kitchen trying something new: venison liver pate  (imagine the little accent marks that make that word pah-tay).

It was an overnight adventure (soak liver chunks in buttermilk overnight), an olfactory adventure (mortar-and-pestle juniper berries and cardamom pods, add fresh rosemary and thyme, then cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg), an auditory adventure (sizzling onions, garlic, and spices with the liver chunks, then run it all through the roaring food processor). But most of all, it was a WORKOUT.

Because once you have this lovely fragrant puree you need to squish it all through a sieve so that the final version has no little bits of rosemary stem or cardamom you didn’t pulverize enough. With one break, that squishing took TWO HOURS.  That’s a lot of work for 4 sweet little jars of pate all labeled and in the freezer.

The last cup or so of stuff had all the little bits in it, and my arms were tired from spatula-ing it through the sieve, so I decided to have that portion be part of my dinner tonight and tomorrow. Done.

I think I’d do it again, but I’d make sure Tom was home instead of at deer camp and we could take turns pushing it through the sieve while drinking wine and reading to each other. That would be better.”

So with the late November landscape of snow and cold, I am lucky to last one to two hours in a deer stand. But with visions of additional “sweet little jars” of pate, how can I not persist?

Sleeping with Royalty

jelly and wasp

These days, with a retired alarm clock gathering dust, waking in the morning is a mostly pleasant and lazy process. But this morning, I was awakened with an unlikely sense of clarity rather than the usual clamber through the state of drowsy fogginess. In the span of a fraction of a second, my primitive brain had ascertained that a potential threat was walking slowly across my face.

Instantly, I absolutely realized that calmness must reign. Rather than slap this insurgent silly or to leap out of bed with sheets and comforter being launched into an airborne tangle, I remained still and quietly took stock of the situation at hand. I’ll admit, for a moment I felt the need for a violent and quick exit. But if I chose that route I knew it would launch my mate,  Miss Nancy, from her deep sleep, initiating a spike in her adrenaline and there would be consequences that might be painful and costly if we were to become entangled with sheets, comforter and each other’s limbs as we rose to the dawning partnered with panic.

Instead, I slowly reached up to the plodding wasp and quickly flicked it off. The wasp tumbled and landed next to me on the bed. Like a stunned lightweight boxer, it staggered on the sheet. The thin-waisted intruder seemed confused as it slowly moved only inches away from my side.

I could see that the paper wasp was not agitated nor any real threat to us. I lowered my head back into the hollow of my pillow, noted that Miss Nancy was still sleeping, and I decided to watch this wayward wasp.

I smiled and whispered, “Good Morning Your Highness.” This wasp, uninvited bedmate, was not a commoner like me, she was of royal lineage.

Earlier this fall, male wasps (They have no stingers.) mated with any late summer born females. In the fall the fertilized female wasps, future queens, must find shelter to overwinter in if they are to survive winter. The wasp in my bedchamber had likely found its way into the house while it flew slowly through the spat of recent sunshine on the south side of the house. This is where our upper bedroom window is located. This house, built by my ancestors, is over a century old. Based on the autumnal influx of mice and wasps, I know there are cracks and crevices that help them gain refuge from the threat of winter.

There is an adage, that the better you get to know something, like a friend, a pet, a bird at your bird feeder, or a piece of land, the more you care for it. Oddly, the only critter that bonding rarely happens are politicians of opposing parties. Sad. But I digress. So silently I began to bond in a platonic relationship with this wee, lovely bedmate with her unique yellow and black striped pajamas.

The first flush of the morning sun spread on to our bed and illuminated the future queen. She barely moved and I began to wonder if it has been days since she has tasted October’s fresh air or any water or sustenance.

Sustenance for wasps at this time of the year is mostly sugars found in rotting apples or other fruits. During the heyday of summer, when the queen of their social colony is thriving and laying scores of eggs, the adult worker wasps are busy flying off and finding caterpillars and other insect larvae for a high protein food for the wasp larvae. Now that the egg season is finished, sugars are sought after more than protein. Wasps need to convert sugars to fat reserves to survive a long winter of hibernation.

Consequently, wasps and yellow jackets often frequent picnics in late summer and fall. They love sugar and they likely are pleased with America’s passion and addiction to soft drinks. Unfortunately when folks find these insects at the picnic table they usually react with violence and swat the innocent striped insects.

Ignoring these uninvited wasps, or gently brushing them away, will result in a calmer picnic or house. Admittedly the sting of a hornet or wasp is painful but none of them go around looking for folks to sting. It is simply a defense mechanism and if you swing madly at it, the insect is likely to feel threatened and they have no choice but to protect themselves.

With my new friend acting slow and confused, I decided to give her a royal ride downstairs to join me for breakfast. I got out of bed, got dressed and then rested my hand next to the wasp, still on the bed sheet. Very gently I nudged her into stepping onto my finger. With the wasp as my passenger, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen.

I gently grazed the wasp off my finger and on to the countertop while I put on coffee and fetched a jar of homemade grape jelly. I removed a dab of jelly and smeared it on the countertop two inches away from the princess wasp. In short order she slowly made her way across the countertop tapping her antennae like a blind woman tapping her cane down the sidewalk. The wasp paused at the colorful smear and then began to feed.

Fifteen minutes later, I pulled a stool up next to the wasp and set my hot bowl of steel cut oats and cup of coffee down nearby to join her for breakfast. The wasp clearly looked more alert and active as it slowly dined on the sugary high-energy breakfast.

To test its alertness, I moved my finger in close to her head. Her large abdomen, tipped with its stinger, and wings raised up like the hackles of a threatened dog. I pulled away and we both relaxed and dined in silence.

Suddenly, the future queen took to the kitchen airspace and slowly looped towards the dining room window. Her multi-faceted eyes had spied a fine day beyond the window. Realizing that if I spent more time with this potential odd pet that I might not have the heart to free her, I decided to fetch a water glass and envelope to catch it and release it outdoors.

Catching a wasp is relatively easy. You simply put the glass or jar over the insect and slide a stiff piece of paper, in this case an envelope, under the glass. The inserted paper becomes the floor of the temporary prison and the wasp can be carried outdoors.

wasp in jar

I stepped out into the sunny, but cool, morning air with my breakfast chum. I pulled the envelope away and the wasp swooped to the outside of the windowsill where it landed and began to groom itself by combing her front legs through the pair of antennae.

While releasing this future queen outside might seem like an act of assassination I think I’m giving it a better chance of survival than by subjecting it to the roller coaster ride of fluctuation indoor temps. I make up that an indoor bound wasp will use up its fat reserves too quickly and become one of those dried, dead wasps I wipe off the windowsill when I wash the windows in the spring. By freeing this wasp today she has some time to find another place to shut down for a long restful winter.

And I will find comfort that for a single morning I was prince to this leggy queen. Upstairs, my lovely lady and queen slept on blissfully unaware of the breakfast scandal.


Wasp Outdoors