I felt that old gag reflex snaking up my throat as I stood at the center of a half circle of boys, all about my age. A bead of sweat trickled down my back, wrought by the combination of a hot summer day and the repugnant task at hand. Wanting to join the boys neighborhood gang, I was now required to eat a live goldfish as the acid test of my fortitude and worthiness. The group's leader grinned wryly as he plucked the fish from its small round tank and then dangled its twitching glittery body mere inches from my face. I was staunchly determined to eat the slimy critter in order to join this group of rag tag neighborhood scallywags. But, I was even more determined to mask any indication that this ritual bothered me. "Chick-ken!" sneered my tormentor. My fists clenched, anger suddenly replaced my apprehension with a steely resolve. "I can do anything these boys could do, and maybe better" I thought to myself. With squinty eyes and a wicked grin, I wiped my dirty right hand on my pants and grabbed the fish. Sticking my tongue out at Chicken Boy, I threw my head back and gulped it down whole. The small group erupted with laughter and applause and closed in on me with back slapping, a candy bar chaser and a little hand written certificate to indicate that I was official. My gang name was "Bonerack". Funny... they had the certificate written ahead of time. I was a seven year old girl, but by golly, I could be a boy too if I wanted. Boys seemed to have more fun anyway. They were ingenious, daring, adventurous and always had some secret plan... just like me. They would get mad, punch me in the arm, and then be my friend, unlike girls who would stick the knife in and turn it for weeks. I liked boys. The were uncomplicated and forthright. After I played dress up and dolls with my girlfriends, I would always go join the boys for some real fun. l eventually had my stint as leader and signer of official certificates, as blood brother, and as orchestrator of wars on the other kids forts. Our family moved to the country after that, which began another adventure... the advent of my love affair with the forest.
Part of the reason I have no gender boundaries dates back to the goldfish days, but also it is because of the encouragement of my mother, who always told me I could do anything I put my mind to. This encouragement launched me into buying and restoring old houses in my twenties, and later pursuing my passion for hunting. I am a female McGiver type and Mom always said I was one chromosome away from being a man. I once told a hunting buddy that I must have been a man in another life, which he said was scary. Actually, its not so scary and I am not unique in this regard as I know other women who have the same proclivities. But, I learned something long ago from my childhood chums. If you make up your mind to do something, and if you see past the obstacles, you can do anything you want .. even though you may have to eat a goldfish or two along the way. This is where women differ significantly from men. They regard some obstacles as insurmountable problems and often turn away. Men regard obstacles as challenges to be conquered, with solutions to be discovered... and so do I.
The goldfish episode played through my mind my first season deer hunting as I lay sandwiched in three layers of sleeping bags on a deflated air mattress, watching my own crystalized breath snow down on my head to give me helmet hair by morning. With the low that night of two degrees and our tarp covered tent whipped by 30 MPH winds, I was in and out of hypothermia so many times I lost count. I was afraid if I went to sleep, I would die. That first deer season was my acid test for hunting, and my tenacity gained me the complete acceptance and admiration of the guys at Tillys Corner, the parking lot access to the Wildlife Management Area we were then hunting. I again was one of the boys, and I liked it. The boys were all bigger now, but I felt that same kinship and desire to be part of their group now as I did when I was seven years old. These bigger boys were also ingenious, daring, adventurous and always had some secret plan... just like me. The biggest difference now, was that we took turns being the leader.
Shared leadership and teamwork are important in hunting groups and this has been especially true where my son is concerned. He and I started shooting together when he was seven years old, varmint hunting when he was eight and deer hunting when he was twelve. By age 14, he had surpassed me in many aspects of woodsmanship, and I respectfully deferred to his higher expertise in those areas and let him be the alpha. By allowing him to be the leader through his demonstrated superiority, he grew to quickly love hunting and the outdoors nearly as much as I do. One of the fastest ways to make your kids or hunting partners hate hunting, is to never let them make the decisions or be the leader when they have gained enough experience to assume that responsibility. This was true in my childhood gang growing up, and is true today.
At age eight, with a haircut like Nancy from the "Nancy and Sluggo" comic strip, and being skinny as a stick yet strong and fast, I did not significantly differ in appearance or ability from the boys I played with. I had pet snakes, tore the legs off frogs, built tree forts, crawled through the woods on my belly to spy on perceived enemies and could often out think most of my peers. Ah yes, When I Was A Man, things were very simple and oh so much fun. A few things are different now, but I still prefer the thinking and company of men where hunting and being in the outdoors are concerned. And, when I am decked in camo head to toe, I still do not significantly differ in appearance from my hunting chums either. I do have one female friend who is my true outdoors soul sister, but the majority of similar minded die hard hunting junkies like myself, are males. We get mad, punch each other in the arm, and stay friends. Uncomplicated and forthright. I like that.
© May 2001