Crosby, Stills, Nash and me.

They had been on the music scene with different groups; Stills with Buffalo Springfield, Nash with the Hollies and Crosby…depending if he was high or in rehab, with just about anyone. But his beginnings were with the Byrds. All three parts of quintessential sixties bands. They got their jump-off at Woodstock and the 69 release of ten great songs entered my music world. The album playing in the garage was released in 2005 and, notably, is stapled with the “greatest hits” monocure.

“It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

Remember what we’ve said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming

I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard….”

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was written by Stephen Stills while he and Judy Collins were still together but with an affirmation that they would soon split. The song mellows from the time worn CD player’s speakers as I ready two small tables. It is cold and it has taken some time to get the old player to respond. It finally kicks in and the process of regulating the deer from a hanging carcass to buckets of meat commences. I can not start without the “boys” playing their hits.

Getting to this point has not been simple nor has it been without challenges, which promenades the spirit of the task. The skills in providing the opportunity to harvest the animal have been accumulative and unrelenting, but the goal worthy of the demand.

The “Rock and Roll” world sans’ mine. Yet the songs hang to my soul and lyrics, though sketchy, inane and nonsensical in relevance ( at times) can catch my emotions insync. Butchering a deer without Crosby, Stills and Nash is not possible.  They are a part of my hunt.  When the speakers sing I fall into a mellow yellow melancholy.

I know, too, that the “taking” of this deer was an end to itself and now a new beginning; the processing. The song sets me into sedentary equilibrium and readiness as I inspect the prep site; a sheet of plastic, a fresh garbage bag  and tables set with sharp knives and ice cream buckets.

“It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone

And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long time
Yes, a long, long, long, long time before the dawn….”

Crosby wrote “Long Time Gone” many years after the group had formed and reformed, setting it for release in 2000. It was demonstrative of his respect for the soul of country music, which was beginning, in his mind, to lose wane.  I start with cuts into the hide, around the neck and legs, to provide avenues to peel the hide back and off. The deer is hanging with it’s head up, a signature I learned from a deer hunter extraordinaire that dignifies the deer, though in contemplativeness, I do not think it wrong to do otherwise.  I like the idea behind the action but cannot express any qualitative emotion to suggest one must do the same.

I had entered the woods a good hour before the pre-dawn. I like to be early. I like the quiet, the smothering darkness. Though not my friend, I have learned to admire its “cloaking.” Does have spent the night feeding.  Some would be entering estrous.  Bucks are becoming alert to this altered state.  It is this drive to procreate that invests hunters to engage in the hunt. “Invisible” quarry become opportunities as they dismiss their normal routine to the building excitement of mating with as many females as possible.

I have done my homework. I favor luck combined with skill. Potential is up-ticked during the mating season, The Rut, to catch a deer unguarded from normal alertness. Excitement adds to the chilling which accompanies November in the Upper Midwest woods. I have walked in with my outer garments strapped to my pack. I want to be dry as I sit in the ladder stand. Motionless to a point. Cold accelerates with dampness and stillness.  And scent control, to the extent that one can control it, is also part of my quiet approach .

Graham Nash was living with Joni Mitchell, another great woman vocalist as was Collins, when he wrote this song about a half hour before the pair was to go for breakfast. “Just a song before I go….” It is a great echo of life’s mendacity. It accompanies me as I continue to remove the hide, which will be given to a non-profit organization. Deer hides are of great use. The melody falls off about the time I have concluded with the dismantling of all the body parts not needed; head, lower legs and hide.

The day has a bite to it, the wind from the prevailing North North West. No snow is forecasted, but the low cloud cover prevents any premature hints of deer. I wait. I attempt to be a tree.  A part of the woods instead of an aberration.

In 1982, Stephen Stills took to the ocean to sweep away the hurt from a divorce. The album is named “Daylight Again,” and the song was originally written by the Curtis brothers. He took it and tightened the melody, adding his own phrasing. The outcome was the wonderful hit “Southern Cross.”

“…Think about
Think about how many times I have fallen
Spirits are using me larger voices callin’
What Heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten….”

Every hunt is its “own.” To me there is a oneness to each and to each a mystery. The hunt itself is vibrant with its intensity and connectivity to God’s Creation. Yet I am there to harvest, if not that morning, this day, then another. I find myself praying as I listen to the morning yawn.  Patterns of life integrate the “drift.”  As the darkness melts to murky dawn I attentively prepare, for my purpose is to hunt. Daylight commences. As Stills washed away his hurt with the bite of wind and salt water, I am reminded of times this woods has soothed my soul. Nature. Harsh, demanding, glorious and real.

There are four cuts that are the best; the two back straps and the tenderloins located inside the rib cage like a hidden treasure. These are the tender venison steaks that, properly prepared, can melt in one’s mouth. I take the tenderloins first, creating room in the cavity to extract them in one piece. By this time of the year the deer has begun to produce fat. Balls of it can be found lurking over the tenderloin like Iron Man’s plating. These are peeled away.

During a 1966 trip to Morocco, Graham Nash rode a train to Marrakesh. He began in the “white people’s car,” First Class, but was so bored he moved from car to car to experience the life of the travelers. To his amusement and satisfaction he found that he was traveling with pigs, goats, chickens as well as people hanging on the outside and tops of the cars.

“Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they’ve led
Listen not to what’s been said to you….”

I wipe the knife blade and hear the chickens penned up near by. Snow is falling. I am a long way from Philadelphia, the first class car of academia called Penn where I “roosted” for four years. It was nice but my home was and is on the outside of the cars where I can hear the animals. I wonder if I made as much of myself as I could have, but the thought is fleeting. I am home. The tenderloins come out nicely and are deposited in a bucket.

With darkness ebbing I begin to look for movement. My ears are folded forward to catch the slightest sound. The wind has rocked slowly south making the cold more acceptable. I am alert. Drowsiness will stay away for a good hour or three. Concentration is on call.

“Helplessly Hoping” fills the garage. It is the fifth song on the album.

“Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby
Awaiting a word
Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit he runs
Wishing he could fly
Only to trip at the sound of goodbye…”

Waiting time. I have done what I can to provide a good opportunity, with the wind at my advantage and the “funnel” directing the deer from a “spoke” of directions. It is encouraging to ready oneself after sitting stiffly and in wait. My mind engages and pushes stiffness away.

I swing the deer around and feel the cold of the back encased in solid milk white fat. I run my knife deep down the spine. A mature animal. I slice and up along the base of the neck and under the shoulder blade. The layer of fat is pulled back, exposing the meat of the strap, thick in its three inch width. I move patiently with the knife to extract it from the tendrils holding it in place. I move the sharp tip down behind the strap and pull gently.

“Oh, captain what are we hiding from?
You’ve been hiding from the start
Did some lover steal your heart
Or did the full moon make you mad?”

The Rut. The time in a male deer’s life where caution is lowered or unbundled as they search out estrous females. When do you see mature Whitetails with racks that make people drool? Mostly and almost exclusively during the rut. It is this time of year, packaged in its extreme for about 10 to 14 days where serious hunters put their time- learned skills to field. So too those without a clue. Luck threads its way through all. Sometimes the pockets it forms is mystifying.

The “Shadow Captain” was produced in 1977. The cover photo of the album named after the song has the lads laughing. The photo was taken just after an attempt to be captured in a serious vein. Perhaps the irony of seriousness still escaped the ingrained genius of their talent. For what they were and had they accepted without great consideration. They just knew they wanted to sing. The success was an after thought. True arits’ blood. The art to hunt can be exceptional as well. The sense of direction, the ability to truly notice the small within the large without dropping ones guard to the greater canvass.  Not getting lost and the ability to extract oneself when nothing looks familiar!

I cut clean. A thick piece of succulent meat. I repeat the process on the right side of the spine taking the other in similar fashion. I look at the meat. It is good.

“Our House” was a product of the Nash/Mitchell relationship and just celebrated the ordinariness of their home. Now the melody carries forth in an average garage with automobiles that vintage fifteen years of age. Our home settles over acreage which consists of low areas of wetland settled between the higher dry. Birch and Pople populate as second tier growth of former hay fields. It is home for many life forms.

“…Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard,
Now everything is easy cause of you and our la, la, la.”

There is no right or wrong way to butcher a deer. I choose to leave the deer hanging. It is easier on my body. Once the choice pieces are placed in the buckets, all else becomes grind meat, from which my wife makes sausage, brats, meat loaf, venison burgers etc. We don’t roasts. So I am not picky as to the meat comes off, after the choice ones are taken,excepting to keep hair, blood tissue and fat off as much as possible. The sharp knife follows the natural lines of muscle.

‘Guinnevere’ was penned by David Crosby to “visit” three women he loved.

“Guinnevere had green eyes
Like yours, mi’lady, like yours
When she’d walk down through the garden
In the morning after it rained….”

I have three woman as well; a wife and two daughters. They two are my loves. My wife does all of the venison processing once it goes into the house. She is superb with the preparation. In charge once it enters in the door.

Daylight is here now in its predawn light, along with the accompanying chill. It teams with anticipation to help generate shaking, but experience helps to lower its effect. Sitting still in low temperatures, even barely below freezing, can be uncomfortable. No amount of clothing protects completely but little tricks of the hunt have been learned and adhered to. I am comfortable to a point. My alertness takes my mind away. Being able to see now brings the hunt to its beginning and expectations are always high. Controlling these is key over the next hours. Deer do not have a time table. We want to see one almost immediately. Immediately takes on new meaning now. It could be minutes, hours, or days. Or never.

Methods of hunting and processing have changed over the years. Age does this. The vitality of youth is exchanged for experience and practicality. Stills wrote “See the Changes,” though his penning of the song was more to dislike aging.  I accept my changes with no rancor.

“Now I have someone
She has seen me changing
And it gets harder as you get older
And farther away as you get closer.”

As I have changed too my wife has slide through the “corners” with me. Unlike Stephen’s song, we have grown closer. To have someone not only support you in your love of hunting but to love you too, well, a man has found a special woman.  She gave me a birhday card that said on the front “we love each other…” and inside “because we do.”  It is my favorite.

A doe, walks just below a ridgeline which juts up from a swamp. She shows signs of bulk. Winter approaches. The reddish coat color of summer is completely gone, replaced by shades of grey. Rich tones of brown also. The coat shimmers with health. She would be a fine one to harvest, but I am Buck hunting. At least in the beginning.  Or an older more mature doe.  This doe pokes along, nibbling the ends of trees; buckthorn bushes and twigs off dogwood. Deer are primarily browsers. They are attracted to agriculture products and you will find them in fields eating greens and beans, but if you think about it, they spend most of their time in woods and low areas; 90% of it. So browsing is the main sustaining food: dogwood, cedar, willow, bitterbrush, crabapple, lichen, firewood; they can consume over 600 varieties of food.

“Teach your children” is a song of the sixties. It is probably one of the groups most famous and has been covered by other artists. Mondale had it song at the Democratic National Convention of ’84. It exerts a natural pursuit of codification.

“You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix,the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

Hunting has laws and regulations. Hunters have codes. These codes are different for each. Adherence to the code of the camp. To oneself. When you hunt by yourself you have your own codes; honor, discipline, self mannered “ways.” I am not taking so this doe. I is admire her natural beauty. A mature doe can be as hard if not harder to harvest than a buck excepting during the Rut. She is alert as young ones accompany her.

Some days can be so serene and beautiful in the north woods at freeze time. Winter does not officially come until December 21, but it has arrived by Nov whether we like it or not. Hunters like snow, so they can see a deer better. Track them. I prefer not to have it. In my youth, yes. Time changes many things. Now the white just makes it colder. Though there is a stark beauty that accompanies, i do like the woods as it continues shedding its seasonal fauna. The color is darker. It has its own sense of worth. The woods tuned for hunting. A south wind prevails. The doe has wandered on and as the light slants into the wood from the East.

“And it’s a fair wind
Blowin’ warm out of the south over my shoulder
Guess I’ll set a course and go.”

Wooden Ships again was penned early, this one by Crosby and is referring to a ship at sea sailing away from the mass destruction that mankind prevailed upon itself. Here the stanza shows possibility. Hunting always has possibilities.

I look about slowly and begin to stand. Joint change brings relief after the “shock” of movement. I exercise each finger, wrist, elbow; all the joints get a slow stretch while my eyes continue to search the woods.

Deer are referred to as ghosts. My seeing the doe was a reflection of movement. I probably would not have seen her when I did had she not been moving. Seeing one standing is difficult. Their coloration naturally blending with the surroundings. One must look for shapes that are horizontal instead of vertical, as much of the woods is this way, from the ground skyward. No shape is discovered. I select this time to pour a small cup of coffee.

I love the song Delta.

Stream of consciousness
On a sleeping
Street of dreams

Like scattered leaves
Slowed in midfall
Into the streams

Of fast running rivers
Of choice and chance
And time stops here on the delta
While they dance, while they dance Mmm, mmm …

I love the child
Who steers this riverboat
But lately he’s crazy
For the deep

And the river seems dreamlike
In the daytime
And someone keeps thinking
In my sleep

Of fast running rivers
Of choice and chance
And It seems as if time stops here on the delta (Time stops here on the delta)
While they dance, while they dance, while they dance … mmm … do, do, do ..”

There is a dream like quality alone in the woods, where thoughts can run away from intent. Negativity seems to seep away with the wonders of surroundings as well as thoughts of hearth and home. They sit behind the attentive posture of looking and sometimes actually take the visual captive. But over the years these too have been harnessed to behave in a fashion which allows the hunt to be primary. Hours into one, they collect more attitude.

Once the four elite cuts are in the containers, I start on the rump and upper legs. Here the muscle has definitive lines which can be followed with the knife. While cutting, a gentle pull helps to delineate these lines and the cuts separate smoothly. This meat can be used for roasts and some steaks, however, we use the back straps and tenderloin as such. While one roast may be made, most is ground. The meat is deep red and untouched by any wound markings. My mark has found the vitals with little meat damage. Most of the fat is cut though some is left so that the meat is not exceedingly lean.

“49 Bye-byes” examines man and woman relations. Between them, I am sure they had their share in quantity as well as quality. Me? It is one woman who stand beside me and delivers over and above. I am the extractor, she is the refiner. In life as well as venison processing.

“Steady girl be my world….”

The song floats about, but then again the lyrics do not seem to penetrate all that much. I just understand the steadiness of her. And her gentle ways of work. Her attitude “flowers” me.

In the woods each hunt is a relational one. The quality that never changes is the quest. The other aspects have sameness in part. It is just the twist of the day that provides the “taste.” Droughts. They come when deer become ghosts; unseeable if present. Drifted off to some other place than where you are. I hunt the woods. Food plots are the trees and shrubs. The deer pass through to feed or bed. In the late season with the foliage departed as the cold commences.  Deer browse slower. There are times where the hours go by “hard,” when 8:30 a.m. seems like noon. The days can pass without much action. After such a day one could feel a sense of wasted time.  To me it just “is.”  I like the notion that the longer it takes to spot a deer, I am that much closer to seeing one

“Look around me
I can see my life before me
Running rings around the way it used to be

I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
But I wish that I had started long before I did

And there’s so much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

[Instrumental (Fiddle)]

Oh, when you were young
Did you question all the answers
Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve

Look around you know
You must go for what you wanted
Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved

So much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

So much love to make up everywhere you turn
Love we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away
Let the water come and carry us away”

I like the thought that every day I do not see a deer, I am that much closer to seeing one.

The “boys” hit it here with “Wasted on the Way.” The lyrics are Biblical in sense. Youth reaching for wisdom and the aged having accumulated. I have learned much. And I desire to learn more. No day is the same. And the lyrics of “Carry On/Questions,” metabolizing into a relational concept bringing a romantic synergy to the hunt. Aging fills in the lost gaps with wisdom.  There is beauty in the hunt at all ages. I look beyond the shot.

“One morning I woke up and I knew that you were gone.
A new day, a new way, I knew I should see it along.
Go your way, I’ll go mine and carry on.

The sky is clearing and the night has gone out.
The sun, he come, the world is all full of light.
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.

The fortunes of fables are able to sing the song.
Now witness the quickness with which we get along.
To sing the blues you’ve got to live the tunes and carry on.

Carry on, love is coming, love is coming to us all.

Where are you going now my love? Where will you be tomorrow?
Will you bring me happiness? Will you bring me sorrow?
Oh, the questions of a thousand dreams, what you do and what you see,
Lover, can you talk to me?

Girl, when I was on my own, chasing you down,
What was it made you run, trying your best just to get around?
The questions of a thousand dreams, what you do and what you see,
Lover, can you talk to me?”

I leave the deer hanging throughout the removal process. I debone the meat with out removing any part of the skeleton. Only when I am done is it cut to fit disposal containers. The bottom half completed, I lower the deer to attend to the shoulders and front legs. Harder cutting here as the symetry becomes jagged. I take my time. Years ago the neck was used by many for roasts. We elect not to as the Chronic Waste disease has made us wary. If my wife is ready, the earlier cuts have been transferred to the “refinement processor.” She cares for the meat, eliminating blood clots, excess fat and fibers as well as any located strands of hide hair.

Cold has no regard for any experience. It still finds its way. Tolerance becomes an attitude that ratchets up to accomodate. The exercise of the joints is performed every so often with slow stretching and tepid movement. The day has become brighter but duller my sensitivity. The hours tick by slowly.

“In my Dreams” materialized in 1977 and is a silhouette to all hunters. They dream of success. I imagine it in many forms. The dream provides the optimism to go out and hunt.

“Look at those dancers gliding around
Seems as is their feet
Don’t hardly touch the ground”

The deer materialize from down wind, moving smoothly and quickly, tails twitching slightly. They have purpose. I slowly shift myself to face them. They are distant, enough so that my scent has not alerted them unnecessarily. I pull my rifle up. I watch them in my scope and take in their beautiful winter coats, the grace of movement.

“Cathedral.” Too many hunters the woods is their “cathedral. But in this song the lads are taking a swipe at the muddiness of Christianity and the subsequent adverse theology of killing rather than loving.

“Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can’t believe it all.”

It is pertinent to me, the setting of God’s Glory and the peacefulness that can be subjected to multitudes who scar the hunt. I want to be alone. Far away, to hunt as I wish, subject to no camp “rules” or discretions.

The carcass know is cut just below the rib cage, the bottom dropping into the garbage container and then the upper half lowered to cutting height. The bullet had entered the chest, just above the hear and billeting in the two lungs before exiting the far side. This leaves the shoulder and upper leg meat good. These cuts are smaller and harder to extract, with much sinew. I work one leg at a time. All will be used in the grind, where some will have portions of pork mixed for the different sausages. I cannot use any of the flank meat as the blood has soiled it. I work steadily as the pace of the song quickens.

I watch the deer and see one doe that is certainly an older one, perhaps four or five years old. She has a mule face and her structure is far and away larger than the others. She looks to weigh over 150 pounds which makes her large. A lot of meat will come off her. I look to see if any bucks are following. The antlered-less ones are not acting fidgety. No boys it seems. The deer will soon clear the shooting opportunity. I have to decide.

The front legs are jointless. the are “strapped” the neck and chest in such a unique way. I slice down and detach the legs. The main body and front legs join in the container. The buckets are immediately dispensed into the house before clean up is started.

There is freedom in the woods. A unique freedom that sears me contentedly. I love the idea that I am disposed to care for what I do, how I hunt, the risks I take, the selection of decisions.

Crosby, Stills and Nash (latter adding Young for a spell) take on the idea that freedom comes with blood cost.

“Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down”

It is a hallowed and somber song, which ends the CD. I have my part of the processing timed to end almost exactly when the banjo finnishes its rifts. The venison is in the house, the carcas disposed in the can, and I begin the floor clean up in silence.

I take the shot. It is a clean one throught the chest cavity. She hurdles herself forward at top speed to crash down dead 75 yards forward.  I watch her as she disappears with a crashing echo.  I pull the rifle down slowly and look about, remembering where she was when the shot was fired, and where I heard the crashing.  The Woods grows quiet.  I pull out a cigarette, light it and take a deep pull.  I become relaxed.

A squirrel begins to bark near the crash site.  Others respond in like fashion.  Twenty minutes later I am walking toward the squirrel.

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1 Response to Crosby, Stills, Nash and me.

  1. Steve Samuelson says:

    What a wonderful road we have travelled together.


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