Whiting column: Reinforcement facilitates personal responsibility
Life provides continual opportunity to reinforce personal responsibility.
My age 10 occasion was in last month’s column. It relayed how I had the opportunity to enjoy a sparrow lunch because I had forgotten we didn’t kill for sport; only for food or protection of ourselves and our animals.
I had long admired “Chester” — Grandpa’s old Winchester 30-06 he had given to Dad. Occasionally, I was allowed to shoot it at targets. After my freshman year, Dad asked me to go get Chester’s scabbard out of the tack shed. When I attempted to hand it to him, he said, “Keep it, and here’s a rifle to go in it.”
Chester and I successfully harvested antelope, deer and one cow elk, always accompanied by Dad.
September and most of October of my senior year found Dad busy with the new barn and I with high school activities. Consequently, an elk didn’t grace our freezer. But Dad said we were hunting this weekend. Friday night, neighbor Mel called and needed help hauling cattle, necessitating Dad’s presence and our stock truck.
“Sorry, we’ll go next weekend,” was Dad’s answer to my inquiry. Trying to sound confident and mature, I responded, “I can go myself.” After a long pause, his “I suppose it’s time” was followed by the same fatherly stare I encountered years before.
I was a slow learner.
Saturday found me on Monument Hill, thinking a few elk might have started migrating. I scoured Rattlesnake Plateau and Pat O’Hara, but they contained only deer. We needed a fat spike or barren cow. At lunchtime, I decided to drive the mile to the red rocks of Chugwater Point. There I could glass into the very steep, rocky and deep canyon we called the Narrows.
Midway through one of Mom’s roast beef sandwiches, the first cow emerged at the head of the narrows. She was followed by more cows and two spikes as they casually grazed along the creek. The herd bull had long abandoned the herd — not that I would have shot it. Even in my youth, I knew an old bull, ground down by the rut, didn’t make great dinner fare. Four miles farther, the migrators would end up in Two Dot Ranch fields.
We never hunted the narrows because of its very nature. Temptation was too much. It took 30 minutes to scramble down and set up along the trail. Shortly thereafter, the procession began. At 50 yards, the shot was anticlimactic. I knew Dad would be proud that I had secured a fat spike for winter meat and done it on my own.
My second error in judgment didn’t hit me until I had cut out one of the backstraps. In my urgency, I hadn’t brought my backpack. It was in the Jeep. But I was a tough 18-year-old “man.” I could carry the backstrap up the canyon and bring my pack down for the rest. I propped the carcass open with a stick and headed up. An hour later, I was gulping down equal portions of water and sandwich trying to recover.
Another hour later, the second backstrap, loins, liver and heart were in the backpack. It was late afternoon as the scramble back up began. The heavier load made the canyon steeper. It was just dark as I collapsed at the top. It took a few minutes to gather the energy to throw the meat in the cooler I had thought to bring. The 60-minute trip home was occupied with thinking about how best to get the rest of the elk. River a half mile north prevented the 4-wheel drive alternative; miles of old fire deadfalls upstream made walking impractical.
Dad came out of the house as I unloaded. My statement of success was met with a “Good job, proud of you.” A less positive question followed: “Where’s the rest of it?” His expression wasn’t one of pleasure as I explained the details, which included the word “narrows.”
“Dad, I’m already beat. I don’t think I can make four more trips tomorrow.” “Let’s let the bears have it.” “Son, that’s not an alternative. We don’t kill for sport, we …”
I stopped him with an “OK” before he repeated what he had taught me eight years prior. “Get some dinner and go to bed. You have hauling tomorrow.”
The next morning, soreness meant longer to get down the rocks. It was noon before three quarters were hung up in the shade and the fourth in my backpack. My legs were screaming, and I must have fallen five times before making it to the top. Meat in the cooler, and it was time to head back down. My watch negated the thought of a nap.
Beyond tired, I slid down on my butt as much as I used my feet. By the time I rested, ate and loaded quarter No. 2, dusk had arrived. With the flashlight in my mouth, I looked up at the canyon that seemed steeper and taller. Familiarity with the route didn’t make it shorter. After several pauses, it was past 10 p.m., when I was greeted at the top by Dad’s helping hand. “It was getting late. Thought I should check on you.”
My eyelids were closed before my head hit the pillow. Dad’s “Up-and-at-’em, breakfast is on the table” seemed to come seconds rather than eight hours later. My whole body ached as I crawled up the stairs. I was formulating my case when Dad beat me to the punch. “You’re getting the rest of the elk out. If it’s spoiled, it’s spoiled.” Before I could protest, he provided an option.
“I know two trips up the narrows isn’t an easy thing, and you’ve had plenty of time to beat yourself up about not thinking before you shot. Here’s an alternative. I called Scott at Two Dot last night, and he gave permission to drive across the fields and walk the trail the 4 miles to your elk.” Literate in math, it only took a second for me to calculate the two necessary round trips.
“Dad, that’s 16 miles.” “I guess you better get started, or you can do the canyon twice. It’s your choice.” Sixteen miles on a relatively level trail was better than the canyon, but it was like deciding whether to do 100 pushups or 200 sit-ups. Dad dropped me off and said he’d be back at day’s end.
I completed the first 4-mile interval, shouldered my load and was 50 yards down the trail when a voice broke the silence: “Wait up.” My father walked past me to the remaining quarter. He hadn’t gone home. In short order his pack was full. “Let’s go, storm’s coming. Mom’s expecting us for dinner, and we’ll need to cut up these two quarters tonight. They’ve aged long enough.”
My father’s unexpected appearance made me smile and gave me extra energy. The 4 miles flew by as we walked out together.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of nonpartisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: email@example.com.
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