Family and friends bury the ashes of the man who brought them together
Part 2 in a three-part series; click for Part 1
Inherent in every hunter is the quiet philosopher. The choice of solitude and listening to the woods, from dawn to dusk, lends itself to introspection. A slow day of hunting is an extended daydream grounded in the hopes and problems you brought into the woods. It offers a chance to understand your place in the much wider and wilder woods we navigate. It is the hunter, then, who can see the forest for the trees.
“It got to the point where it was no longer your dad taking you hunting but you taking your dad hunting,” Tom says. It’s a proud moment, and he references the cycle of life. The first time Tom shot a gun, at age 7, was with his dad. And now we’re about to bury his ashes at the base of his tree stand, which has fallen into disrepair.
Several years ago, the sons built a ground blind so Bob wouldn’t have to climb. Then they intended to build a gazebo in the heart of the property where the main access road gets swallowed by the woods. They cleared the spot, laid out the slab, but Bob would no longer be able to make the drive, no matter what comforts they erected for him on the land. Diabetes crippled him, so the end of the last few years, when he was no longer living, were met with relief.
Now, almost a year later, amidst the second home he opened to his friends and family, they celebrate his life. A half-dozen Missouri friends with a half-dozen pick up trucks crowd the rutted path of the bald clearing under Bob’s tree stand. Some are neighbors, some help manage the land, all were friends.
It’s sunny and the wind is still being a dick. The crowd gathers with Old Styles and bottles of Blackberry Brandy as Tom reads his eulogy.
“His legacy was wanting to bring his family and friends together here because it made him happy to see the happiness on everyone else,” Tom says. The turnout is a testament to this. Cheeks glisten. There are pats on the back. They bury an ice cold Old Style on top of the ashes at the base of his tree, a Marlboro Light 100 sticking up like a candle, but it won’t light.
There is an extended silence as the brandy makes its way around. The son-in-laws express appreciation not only for turning them on to the sport, but for Bob welcoming them into his family as one of his own. Estranged—or just strained—from their own family dynamic, the hunt made them family. The remaining ashes are doled out to those who want to take a bit of his memory: the son-in-laws and friends will take them to their tree stands and plant him all over the land that meant so much to them.
Looking around, at the glassy smiling eyes of his friends, I understand what this land means to them.
Being here. If there’s anything this group has shared more than this place it is the personal dislocations of life, especially in 2011, with hospital stays and open heart surgeries, unemployment claims and foreclosure notices, college-bound kids whose prospects for a job are the same as yours, lawsuits and failed deals, despondent kids and fed-up wives, so many men facing the prospect of starting over with a whole lot less time. Sometimes it’s the kind of reality you’d rather hide from. But you can’t bed down, wait for the winds to stop whipping the shit out of you. You face it. You deal. You come out here and you listen to the woods and you find what matters. And you take a shot of Blackberry Brandy to make it all go down a little sweeter.