There are traditions here in Flyover Country that run deep and are as normal as the sun rising in the east, yet to many people these traditions may seem quite foreign.
It was a late December day and the snow lay a foot deep and ice- fog clung to the trees as we made our way to a tiny shop nestled in a quaint river valley. The trip was part of a tradition, the culmination of a season of harvest, the focal point of paths that have led us to wade cold ice-ringed marshlands and follow meandering streams. It was time to sell the fruits of our labors.
Outside the door of our destination, fresh deer skins were piled high, folded and frozen in the early winter cold. On the concrete pad to the left of the entry- way a pile of freshly caught muskrats were stacked, the un-skinned fur bearers waiting to be skinned and processed by the proprietor or one of his employees. As we entered the door we were greeted by a pile of beautifully-furred prime ‘coon skins and a worker meticulously removing the skin from a grey fox.
“We have some furs for you to look at; muskrats, raccoon, and mink,” I stated as the owner turned to greet me.
“Bring ‘em in, I’ll be finished here in a few minutes,” the proprietor responded as he finished grading some fur for another customer.
We carried in the boxes containing our hard-earned catch. They represented time well-spent for us; time spent exhaling frosty clouds of breath on freezing mornings, and sweating in waders chest deep in mucky sloughs. Late fall is the time of the most bare bones reality. It’s a throw-back time when the luxury of a dry pair of socks, or a pause while climbing a hill with a heavy pack-basket strapped to one’s back takes center stage of our consciousness. Oh there are also the golden sunrises, the up-close encounters with wildlife and the joy of meaningful outdoor labor that string minutes to minutes and hours to hours.
Today we sell the fruits of our joy. The beautiful soft gold of the trap-line, almost too gorgeous to sell, yet the selling is itself a reward even beyond the money received. We have talked on the phone and I know what the fur should sell for and the buyer only wants to confirm the quality of the fur.
“How many muskrats are in the boxes?”
I tell him the number, and he multiplies that number by the selling price, without counting them. It is good to know that there are still places where trust and a person’s word mean something. Honest work needs no lies.
We sold our flyover harvest. Traditions are old and run deep like the streams and lakes where the mink hunt; deep like the meaning of a handshake and a smile.