Things Given

This past Christmas I received two small presents from separate parties who hunted our ranch last Fall: a black silk scarf and a $50 gift certificate to Cabela’s. Not large gifts, certainly, but appreciated, as were the personal notes of thanks that accompanied them.

Some sages opine there are two types of people, "givers" and "takers." Through decades of allowing public hunting our ranch has seen a good share of both.

One memorable gift to my father many years ago was a flask of Seagram’s Crown Royal. After the pint was emptied by my father’s customary single shot before breakfast it was covertly refilled time and again with cheaper brands. Many a horse trade was sealed at the kitchen table with my Dad pouring from the Crown Royal flask.

"Have a shot of the good stuff," he would say.

The horse buyer would sniff, sip, smile, then remark: "Man, you can always tell good whiskey." My father took this private joke with him to the grave.

My favorite present is a set of hand-carved redwood bookends decorated with detailed wood-burnings of mule deer, antelope, bobcats, and cattle brands. The hunter did all the work himself and the gift is special not only for its unique beauty but because I first met this fellow when I caught him accidentally trespassing on our land.

Another gift for the ages was a Marlin Guide Gun in .45-70. Given by a minister from Florida, the rifle was a complete surprise that rekindled my passion for lever-actions while introducing me to the world of big bores. Other offerings from wise men have included a coyote fur cap, mounted jackalope, apples from Washington, wild rice from Minnesota, and of course, cheese and maple syrup from Wisconsin.

Some gifts recall special events. Several years ago a lawyer from New Jersey brought me a Spyderco knife designed by my friend Tim Wegner. The attorney’s hunt was cut short by a wicked blizzard. With wind chills of 35 below and crusted snowdrifts filling the lane from house to highway, I insisted he make his escape while he could. (Imagine spending an entire winter with a New Jersey lawyer!)

Six weeks later one bitter blizzard after another had left me exhausted and depressed. Then the radio announced a warming trend with temperatures reaching into the 30s. I told my wife this was the opportunity to bring home a light-colored heifer that wasn’t faring well. As we had no horses sharp-shod, my wife wondered how this was to be done.

Simple, I said. We’d take two pickups and the stock trailer. I’d rope the heifer from afoot, take a dally around the trailer ball of one truck and pull the heifer into the trailer. My wife rolled her eyes and shook her head sadly.

We got to the distant feed-ground just as the cows were coming in. I saw a light-colored cow high-stepping through a snow-bank, so I stepped from my truck and loosed a loop that sailed through the crisp air and settled perfectly around her neck. I gestured at my wife to bring her pickup to me. Suddenly this "weak" cow burst from the snowdrift and began pulling me through the assembled herd. I ran in giant, wind-milling lunges until stumbling over a frozen cow-pie then was dragged over the frozen field while my wife chased us with the other truck. Twice I got to my feet and braced myself but both times the heifer jerked me down. Three times the cow paused within the confused herd and I yelled at Debra to back the truck to me, but each time she stopped short – afraid, no doubt, that she’d hit me – and I was inches from getting the rope around the trailer hitch.

This escapade continued until my lungs were afire, my muscles weak and aching and my body bruised and sore. Finally, I let loose of the rope.

The problem was the lariat remained around the cow’s neck.

Getting behind the wheel of the wife’s truck, I followed the cow through the herd until finally I drove onto the dragging rope and brought her to a stop.

"What are you going to do now?" Debra asked.

"I’ll have to cut the rope," I said, reaching into my pants pocket for my new Tim Wegner model Spyderco.

Only it wasn’t there. In all the shenanigans I had lost the new knife.

Rummaging through the glove compartment produced an old Buck folder and I proceeded down the rope to make the slice near the loop. The cow, having lost all humor, charged. I beat a retreat around the truck. She followed until hitting the rope’s end, which slammed her against a door, knocking a mirror off. I reached again to make the cut but she turned and came back at me. I’d almost made it to safety when she laid an old-fashioned trip. As she shot by the rope caught me above the ankles, took my feet out, and laid me horizontally in the air for a second before I crashed to the ground.

"That’s it," I said, and I jumped to my feet, marched down the rope and sliced the new nylon a foot from her face. The cow shook her head angrily and trotted off.

Not only didn’t I have the "weak" cow, I’d also lost a good knife, ruined a new rope, and wrecked a mirror.

"What are we going to do now?" Debra asked.

"We’re going home," I said disgustedly, enthused only by the idea that the weather was going to warm-up.

As I started my truck I heard the radio announce a list of school closings. A revised weather forecast was predicting another Arctic blast, this one with wind chills of 90 below.

As I was leaving the feed-ground I saw a blond-colored cow limp in from the hills with a look of bemused confusion on her face as if wondering what all the commotion was about. Turns out I’d roped the wrong cow to begin with!

Some four years later the Spyderco remains unfound, but the story of its loss is more valuable than the gift itself. The missing knife – along with the empty Seagram’s flask that sits on my bookshelf -- has become a symbol of gifts and the stories they produce.

Think back to your last hunting season. What did you take?

And more importantly, what did you give?