So, part of last weekend consisted of a side trip up to the Herkimer County Fair Grounds.  Lou and John, a couple of Kellen's friends from Fordham, drove up and met us at the fair grounds to attend the 2011 "Wild West Frog Fest and Rodeo".  It's an annual festival sponsored by 104 WFRG Radio also known as "Big Frog 104".  There was a morning rodeo (including bull riding), various concession stands, lots of food and plenty of beer all followed by a down home country concert featuring local bands with top headliner ... Rodney Atkins!!! 

A short drive from Red Hand, we arrived to see a large crowd and a somewhat full parking area.  We ended up parking with the rodeo competitors, their horses and their trailers.  First thing that got our attention as we approached the rodeo and concert area were the signs that said ... "NO WEAPONS PAST THIS POINT".  No bullsh*t, actual signs posted on the fences.  So we opened the back seat of the pick-up like everyone else, and left all our knives and guns in the lock box (just kidding).  The signs were a reminder that this is another "culture" up here, very different from back home.  It also made me wonder if weapons are allowed in the parking area?  Told the boys if they hit the beer truck hard be careful and not stumble into a fight.  That being said, it was a very friendly, family and real old school American celebration. 

We (Erin, Randy, Jake, Kellen, Marian and I) showed up in what has become our customary attire up at Red Hand, it's typical for the neighborhood ... country hats (camo or hunter orange baseball caps, straw western hats, outfitter hats), jeans, boots and tee shirts.  

Lou and John were also right in tune.  Lou had a pair of saddle boots that Kellen, Jake and I took notice of immediately.  While we were wearing working stockyard boots, Lou's boots were a bit more dress oriented with some fine highlight stitching.  Think I want a pair for when Marian and I go out a little more upscale.  Both the guys bought some sweet looking western hats, Lou sporting a black felt and John a molded white straw.  We all blended right in.

The local bands warmed things up while "Rodney" took off for a ride on his bike (as in Harley-Davidson).  The MC said he couldn't pass on the incredible scenery and delightfully winding country roads.  By the time he got back the party was ready to rock.  He opened the show with a personal favorite ... "It's America".  Set to a quick arena beat the lyrics are perfect for a homeland concert ...

"it's a high school prom, it's a Springsteen song, it's a ride in a Chevrolet ... it's a man on the moon, fireflies in June, kids selling lemonade ... it's cities and farms, it's open arms, one nation under God ... it's AMERICA."
   

He followed that up with "These are My People" and that was all the country boys and girls needed to hear, wave the flag the party was on!!!

When it all ended we drove to the Creamery for a bite and some freshly made ice cream, then back to the farm for a little poker before bed.  Woke up to a gun shot (Jake's woodchuck), Marian made some of her hunting camp chili for a brunch, we fixed the bridge, we ate, we said our goodbyes and we headed home ... a great weekend.

For more info on the festival go to:   http://bigfrog104.com/event/wild-west-frog-fest-and-rodeo/









 
I think everyone felt the same way, but what a good weekend I had.  Marian and I drove up Thursday evening to the Windham house and stayed there over night.  A quiet and relaxing night, we spent the time realizing that while real life is taxing, and we can be short with one another, we're still in love and enjoy our time together.  

The new (actually used) pick-up is a blessing.  Even though the F-150 bed is the short version due to the large Crew Cab, it carried plenty of materials including the Big Feet cement foundation forms.  We left windham and headed to Red Hand via the Oneonta route.  A quick breakfast, a stop at Home Depot to pick up the garbage compactor and a couple of deck chairs and we were off again to the farm.  I love driving the back roads.  The sights are for me, just wonderful to take in.  It started with just beautiful scenes of all the corn rows greening up on the numerous farms.  Then when we arrive, there's our lower pasture cut for hay and the bales out in the field with a rusty old row rake sitting in the sun.  That picture alone was worth the trip.  It's no wonder I'm turning into a hillbilly.
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There's a simple beauty in a freshly cut hayfield
With the spring hunting season well behind us, the continued development and enhancements to the property are now running at full throttle.

Early this spring, prior to the May 1st opening for turkey season, I got the mule (a Kawasaki utility vehicle) stuck in a mud bog while running the western ATV trail brushing in some hunting blinds.  Thankfully both Jake and my father were with me because it was a 3 man effort getting it out.  After busting the steel cable on the Arctic Cat's winch, then driving to Richfield Springs for additional tow straps we finally extracted the mule from the mud 4 1/2 hours later pulling with both 4 wheel drive ATVs.  Basically a wasted day.

One of the older local dairy farmers, after hearing about our UTV getting stuck, told me that in the 1950's the farmer who worked our property back then lost a team of plow horses in the same bog when they became so entrenched in the mud they had to be put down.  

As of now we've not been able to address the drainage issues on the western property line.  The heavy storms even washed out the western bridge.  It is currently unuseable with the machines, but we can still walk on it.  The flood lifted it up and floated it down stream about 10-15 feet.  Hopefully we can lift it with a tractor mounted bucket loader and set it back on it's foundation.

The eastern bridge that we built last fall fared far better.  While the rushing waters eroded parts of the bank on either side of it, the bridge held firm.  Many thanks to Mark from Candlelight Cottages on Lake George for his design and direction on how to build it.  Without that bridge surviving the flooding we would have lost machine access to all the hunting on the property.  But we still had a problem.  The field on the opposite bank flooded out so badly that the mule got stuck there also.  This time Kellen was with me and Jake and we got 'er out rather quickly.  After the 1st episode of getting stuck I had a lifter kit put on the mule to increase ground clearance and equipped it with new and larger "mud" tires.  Still got it stuck!!!  So that was the 1st order of business ... design drainage to control the run-off from the the upper pastures and the ridgeline.

A backhoe was brought in and a trench was dug branching into an upside-down "Y" formation with each arm of the "Y" draining into the creek on either side of the bridge.  A culvert was buried in the main trench and covered with cobblestone sized rocks.  The stones were extended into a small road until firm ground was reached.  We were able to ride the mule with 6 passengers and not get it bogged down.  The only issue, and it can be easily remediated, is the rough ride due to the large size of the stones.  A cover layer of small stones will solve the problem.  The eastern ATV trail is now clear and open to ride.  The western trail still requires some planning and then the work to open it up for machine access; it's still usable by foot.

The last chore we accomplished this past weekend was to fill in the cross planks on the bridge's surface.  Basically this was done to smooth out the ride for the tractors.  The smaller front tires had to "jump" over laterally nailed 2"x8"s.  We filled in the gaps with more 2"x8"s creating a smoother surface.
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The additional planks make for a much smoother ride
Now I don't count this as work, but in reality it is a necessity, but fun.  Jake took out a woodchuck Sunday morning around 9:20 AM.  He and Erin sat out on the deck enjoying the calm of morning and scoping out the dogs as they popped out of their burrows.  They are a nuisance because of the danger that their exit holes present.  The holes are quite large and deep and can damage equipment and cause broken and/or injured legs for livestock and humans.  So we've decided to eliminate a few of them as we have so many in the fields.  We may get it mounted and turn it into a table lamp.

So ended the "work" part of our weekend.  Somehow, despite its physical nature, it doesn't feel like work to me.  It's enjoyment.  Jake put it right,  if we did all this for someone else, for pay, it would feel like hard labor and it would suck.  Doing it for ourselves, it feels good and rewarding.  It's still hard but weirdly fulfilling.  

We also attended the 2011 "Frog Fest" at the Herkimer Fair Grounds and had a blast, but that's for another post to come.
 
Why do hunters have their harvested game mounted?  It’s a simple question that never even crossed my mind until recently.  As an avid hunter, outdoorsman and conservationist, I spend hours upon hours each day reading and watching endless amounts of material on ecological habitat, conservation strategies, outdoor equipment, and really anything hunting related.  Unfortunately, this means spending a decent amount of time on the anti-hunting forums reading what others have to say.  Yes it is true that I usually walk away with my mind spinning from the overwhelming ignorance and lack of accurate knowledge on the issue, but I try desperately to see things from other peoples’ perspectives.  A full debunking of all the false and empty claims by anti-hunting associations would end with a hundred page post and several worn out stress balls; but that’s another issue for another time.  However, one aspect in particular that I would like to tackle briefly is taxidermy.  One common thread I repeatedly encounter from the “antis” is that hunters are savage and ruthless, and that mounting a game animal is a disrespectful and sick display of supremacy on the part of the hunter.  It is astounding how truly misinformed and confused these people are.  A mounted game animal is not just another ornament to brag about, it holds a much deeper meaning.

When a hunter mounts his game, the intention is to capture all of the preparation, emotion and hard work that went into that experience.  It is a means of encapsulating the memory of the hunt.  Ask any hunter about a specific mount and it's sure to bring back a flood of emotions and sensations from that day.  His mind becomes filled with the joyous memories of the arduous hike up to his shooting location, the sounds of the birds waking up in the early morning light, the smell of the wildflowers in the air, the feeling of the crisp fall breeze on his cheek, and the adrenaline he felt when all of his hard work came to fruition.  Or perhaps he thinks of the driving rain, the gusts of wind or the subzero temperatures that he was forced to endure.  A mounted animal is a tangible reminder of a wonderful experience and those whom you shared it with.  Hands down, hunters are people more in-tune with nature than anyone else and a beautiful mount shows respect to the animal, and displays a true reverence for the bounty you were blessed with.  However, a hunt isn’t deemed successful based only on whether or not you filled your tag for the day, further dispelling the notion that a mount is merely a trophy to brag about.  The memory of the hunt and the joy you felt in the solitude nature is the predominant factor in whether or not a hunt is successful.  If you want proof, look no further than the rear view mirror of my truck.  Hanging from that mirror is an empty Winchester Supreme Elite X-Tended Range 12 gauge 3½” shell that I shot last spring.  Unfortunately, the pellets once contained by that very shell hit nothing but air and earth—that shell hanging in my truck is from a missed shot at a turkey last year.  Now why would I prominently display a painful reminder of such a failure for me and all my passengers to see? Because that hunt was hardly a failure! When I look at that shell I smile every single time.  I’m reminded of the joy I had with my father hiking ¾ of a mile into the woods to find a good position, the shuddering fear I felt when a pair of two glowing eyes locked on to me at 4am in the pitch black, the confusion of trying to locate an opening in the barbed wire fence, the frustration of having a gobbling Tom fly down from the roost and sprint straight for the woods.  Although I missed my shot, that was one heck of an exciting hunt!  And if anything, the experience I gained proved invaluable the following year.  That shell reminds me of the good and the bad of that day.  It makes me go back and retrace every move I made and re-evaluate every decision.  Deep self examination like this has without question helped shape me into a better hunter.  To me, that shell is simply a memory manifesting itself in something tangible, and that’s really all a mount is.  Of course it is a tremendous source of pride; the amount of hard work and preparation that goes into hunting is unquantifiable—you have to experience it to appreciate it.  But it is also so much more than just something to be proud of.  It is something that is meant to be shared with others, and cherished for the happiness it has brought you.  Just like a lawyer hangs his degrees, a musician hangs his gold records, and a baseball player hangs his game winning homerun ball, a hunter hangs his harvest because it represents all the hard work put into earning it, and it serves as a constant reminder of the euphoric feeling experienced at that moment.  Just remember, behind every amazing mount there’s an even more amazing story.  Don’t believe me? Just ask a hunter.
 
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Meleagros gallopavo, the American wild turkey.  In today's pasturized and homogenized current culture, the turkey has been relegated to being a cartoonish icon for a simple minded, blundering human in urban/suburban society.  Make a foolish mistake and suddenly you're a TURKEY!!!  This reference comes from the collective ignorance most have from a lack of outdoorsmanship and woodsmanship. 

Meleagros gallopavo, the American wild turkey.  A bird of uncommon beauty if you are skillful and lucky enough to observe in the wild.  There are few sights that I have seen more magificent than a mature male bird displaying a full strut for his "ladies" or to ward off a male challenger.  Sitting deep in the forest,  or on the edge of a farm field or the cut line of a pasture  when the birds are within 30-40 yds puts your heart in your throat AND takes your breath away.    

The bevavioral traits of the American turkey are equally admirable.  A diligent breed, they protect and raise their young (poults) against all threats and predators.  To use the words of Benjamin Franklin ... "for in truth the turkey is in comparision (to the Bald Eagle) a much more respectable bird ... he is, though a little vain and silly, a bird of great courage, and should not hestitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who would presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."  

Meleagros gallopavo, the American wild turkey.  An animal I admire and respect.  Despite their large size and substantial weight, wild turkeys are agile flyers and are quick and nimble while on the ground.  Unlike their domestic counterparts (including not just the farm raised "Thanksgiving Turkeys", but all the semi-tame birds found on golf courses and in suburban neighborhoods) wild turkeys are a cunning breed.  A cautious bird, wild turkeys will run off or fly away at the slightest sign of movement or sound that they do not recognize as benign.  While quickly evading what they perceive as a predator, the bird will emit a vocal distress call alerting other birds in the vinicity of the potential danger.  They are a most challenging species to hunt.  Something as minor as repositioning a hand on your gun, a 2 inch move with camo gloves on, will spook a bird.  It is not uncommon for a hunter to stalk the same bird for many years to no avail.  Bagging a mature tom is an accomplishment for anyone who hunts. 

Pursuing them in the wild has become an obsession for me.  The hunt itself is it's own culinary feast.  Putting a tag on a bird is ending that feast with a gourmet dessert.  Hmmm, maybe it's becoming an addiction?  My wife certainly thinks so.  But does she too suffers the addiction!!!!????  While not able to join us in the field (busted leg, ski injury), she witnessed Jake's successful taking of a grand old tom through binoculars while glassing our hunting blinds.  She was so in the moment and subsequently jubilant you would have thought we won the lottery for millions.  Lets say she is obsessed at this point.

Now as for Jake, Kellen and Ben -  obsessed or addicted?  Well the physical demands of travelling 4 hours immediately after just having finished a Saturday clean-out, working all week, prepping your gear, getting up at 4 AM, march into the woods in the dark, sitting in the blind for hours, bugs, cold, rain, etc., etc., etc.,  just to hunt 1 day puts Ben in the obsessed catgory, but based on his passion for fishing, addiction will soon follow.  Kellen drove up from Fordham, arriving later Saturday night.  Same regimen.  Prep gear, early start, etc. 

Due to his strong commitment to family and work, Ben's season ended after just 1 day.  He just couldn't nor wouldn't shirk his responsibilities to join us on another weekend.  I wished he could, but am proud of his ethics and his decision. 

Kellen also stayed true to his responsibilities concerning his education and commitments as an RA.  He was able to get back to Red Hand for one more full weekend.  He was the only one to hunt all 3 days.  On the final day we were to hunt, he almost took a bird after falling asleep in his blind.  Jake and I took the day off to sleep in, Kellen toughed it out.   Sounds a little addicted to me?

So that leaves Jake.  I could site numerous circumstances that support this conclusion, but it would get tedious.  Jake is neither obsessed nor addicted.  He is possessed.  The spirit of his 1st bird has entered his body.  The wonders of the hunt, the serenity of the wild, the resolution of the pursuit, the satisfaction of achievement, the grandeur of the bird, the elation of success and the gratitude for God's bounty has done Jake in.  Possessed. 

Me? Obsessed, addicted, possessed?  Actually none of the above.  ENLIGHTENED - the truest description of the experience.  Maybe it is because we have embraced hunting from a conservationist's perspective.  Maybe it's because we weren't born to it as are the farmers and country folk up at Red Hand that we prize it so much.  Maybe it's getting back to a simpler life and being able to escape the grind of modern society.  Maybe it's the feeling of solitude, serenity and spiritualness that makes you appreciate the greatness of our Maker.  For me, it's also the shared passion and time spent with my family that is growing with this new pursuit.  So I am what you'd call an enlightened addict.  Hi my name is John, and I'm a turkey hunting addict.
 
On Friday morning, my parents and I headed up to Red Hand to pick up dad's new truck.  It was a pretty lowkey day that moved at a leisurely pace with limited work to be done.  Once we picked up the truck and arrived at the farm, dad met with the landscaper, Barry Bartle, to discuss plans for the new drainage ditch that is being dug to alleviate some of our flooding problems in the plow fields.  Barry is without question one of the top hunting minds in the area, with an abundance of knowledge and a seemingly endless library of stories.  He hunted our property several years back and always offers excellent advice for bagging the big trophies on our land.  After settling on a plan of action with Barry, dad and I went out into the woods to scout the land a bit.  Specifically, dad was going to show me the shooting shack that I had yet to see, and we were going to look for the tree stand located deep in the woods.  We were able to get to the shack without a problem, but neither of us could spot the tree stand amid the dense foliage.  However, we saw deer sign all over the property, and located future sites for some tree stands.  We hiked further into the woods than I had ever been, and found some premium locations where some big bucks had been passing through.  After scouting, we went back towards the house and spent close to an hour ripping out old barbed wire fencing.  We had to clear the fence so that Barry could get into the area without his large excavators getting tangled up and damaged.  Overall, it was a fun and easygoing day in which we experienced some really cool sights and sounds.  This post is a collection of some of the things we encountered throughout the day.  Enjoy!
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On our drive back from the truck dealership, I passed right by this turkey.  It was hanging out right on the side of the road and strutting for some hens (across the street, not pictured).  Now I know what you're thinking. 'How could you possibly hunt turkeys when they just hang out on the side of the road and are unfazed by human presence?'  It's important to understand that this is a domestic turkey.  Wild turkeys are much different and extremely difficult to hunt.  Let me reiterate--extremely difficult to hunt.  It is not uncommon for a hunter to spend several years going after the same bird.  Anyway, it was still very exciting for me to see such a magnificent and regal bird up close.  Additionally, the color pattern of this bird is extremely unique.  Farmers who keep domestic birds make sure they have albino breeds so that they don't mistakenly get shot.  I had never seen a turkey this color before, and I couldn't help but marvel at its beauty.  I heard the turkey gobble once, and as any hunter knows, this sound really makes your heart race.  I pulled out my phone to shoot a video of the gobbling tom, and of course he immediately went silent.  That's when the outdoorsman in me had an 'Aha' moment.  When you're scouting for birds, you try to find out where the birds are located by getting a tom to gobble while it's still on the roost.  To do this you make an owl hoot, coyote howl or crow caw.  All of these sounds really annoy a dominant tom and cause him to retaliate with a  loud gobble.  These gobbles are called "shock gobbles" which are different from mating gobbles.  The sounds are identical, but the intention is different.  A shock gobble is when the tom is a little ticked off and saying 'get the hell off my territory'.  A mating gobble is obviously intended to bring a hen in to breed her.  Lacking any sort of calling devices in my truck, I tried to quickly think how I could get this bird to gobble before it bolted for the woods.  Barry had once told me that a slamming car door or really anything loud and abrupt enough to startle the bird would do the trick.  So I whistled loudly and sure enough it elicited an aggressive gobble in return.  Of course, once I got this big ole tom gobbling, Duke (our black lab) couldn't help but get it on the action and started barking back at him.  The two of them were a riot, fully engaged in a game of "I'm the top male around here".  It was quite the scene and I was lucky to capture it on video. (Make sure your sound is turned on for the video.)
Once I arrived at the farm, I headed out into the woods with dad.  We took the ATVs really deep into the forest to scout for deer sign and some potential sites for hunting next year.  It seems like every time I'm out in the woods I see something that's truly spectacular.  Towards the back corner of our property, I spotted a birds nest on a low hanging branch.  I gently poked at it with a stick to see if it was an old nest or one currently in use.  Then dad reached up and slowly brought it down to eye level, revealing a nest of four tiny newborn birds.  They were so adorable but so incredibly ugly at the same time.  After snapping a couple pictures, we secured the nest back on the branch so that momma bird could bring them some food. (Click photos to enlarge)
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A little further into the woods I found this paw print.  It's a little difficult to make out, and it took extremely good eyes to spot (apologies for the hubris).  After spending nearly an entire year in the woods scouting and identifying prints on the ground, we have all become very, very good at it.  When I first saw the print, I thought it could be one of three animals—black bear, bobcat, or coyote.  Immediately we could rule out bear because that print has five fingers.  So that leaves either bobcat or coyote.  It's less likely that it's a bobcat, but it is entirely possible. Our friend Ivan has several pictures of bobcats on his trail cams located in an identical ecological habitat.  The most likely answer though, is that it's a coyote print.  Either way, we definitely have a predator on the property.  This is exactly why we always bring a rifle out with us into the woods.  Just hours earlier, Barry told us, "I don't give a damn what season it is, if you see a coyote, you shoot it.  They're nothing but bad news for everybody."

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Finding deer hoof prints at Red Hand has become about as exciting as sitting in line at the DMV; they're all over!  However, this one stood out to me.  Notice the minuscule size of this print.  The entire hoof is the size of the tip of my finger.  This is undoubtedly a newborn fawn that has just begun walking around.  Spring is always a wondrous season for this reason.  All the plants start coming back to life, and all the animals in the forest are having their babies.  It kind of makes you wonder, in four years could this be the monster buck that everyone in the county is talking about?  All those big bucks had to start somewhere, could this be the next big thing?

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The proud new owners of a beautiful F-150
Finally, we end with the picture that started the whole trip upstate.  It's nearly miraculous that we were able to do all the work at the farm up until now without a pickup truck.  We are constantly hauling tons of cargo, and picking up the trailers from Windham adds a few extra hours to our drives.  The truck was definitely a necessary addition, and will make accomplishing work upstate (and in New Jersey for that matter) much, much easier.  It's a pre-owned 2006 Ford F-150 4x4 with a 5.4 liter Triton engine.  Dad opted to go with the full cab so that any passengers, Duke included, could fit comfortably.  Dad bought it from a dealer up in Otsego County and got a tremendous deal on it; he paid about 75% of the price that the sharks down in Jersey were asking for similar trucks.  Plus the salesman (the son of a farmer of course) was just so much nicer than anyone we dealt with down here. Life is just so much more pleasant in the country.

So that just about sums up our trip to Red Hand on Friday.  It was a great day, and as always, we all came back home with big smiles, great stories and new memories.  Until next time folks...
 
The month of May was certainly a busy one.  While we all dream of a world with minimal responsibilities and unlimited personal time, the simple truth is that the real world is far more important and often dictates when we have free time to enjoy our leisurely pursuits.  For the O’Neill family, this means that a busy dental practice, college graduation, demanding RA responsibilities, Mother's Day, a son’s Christening, and a new apartment to renovate all takes precedence over hunting.  However, we were still able to enjoy several days of rewarding hunting time and formed everlasting memories in the process.
Ben and Kellen dipped their toes in the alluring waters of spring turkey hunting and both caught the bug.  Restricted by the most familial obligations of any of us, Ben was only able to make it out for opening day.  Although the action was slow that day, Ben got a good taste of the preparation and work that goes into getting ready for a hunting season.  Kellen on the other hand, saw tons of action—perhaps the most of any of us.  On opening day he was the only one who saw a tom, but the stubborn longbeard wouldn’t come out into the open.  His next day, he had a monster tom gobbling loudly in the field above him right as the clock struck 12:00.  And on his final day he had a group of three bachelor jakes cross right in front of his blind.  I think it’s safe to say he got his money’s worth this year.

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Grandpa saved the day
Meanwhile, dad did a tremendous job of managing the property, and working hard all winter and spring to put us on to some birds.  While he won’t admit it, I am certain that he sacrificed his own hunting success to ensure that Kellen and I would have the best experiences possible.  I am truly thankful for such a selfless and hard working father who has afforded all of us such wonderful opportunities.  Additionally, we had the help of the eldest John O’Neill at Red Hand this spring.  Grandpa O made the trip with me and dad days before the season opened to help us finalize our preseason preparations.  He was truly invaluable; without him we would have never been able to tow the Kawasaki Mule out of the deep mud we got it stuck in.

As for me, I had the time of my life.  Beyond harvesting my first animal ever (details here), I gained exposure to the hard working blue collar class that powers America.  Being up at Red Hand immerses us in a lifestyle that seems completely foreign to the slickers down in the suburbs.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either of the two, but it’s very enlightening to experience a bit of both.  However, I do have tremendous amount of respect for the folks out in the country who perform the knuckle busting work that is necessary to earn a living.  You think waking up for a job that starts at 8:00 is tough? Try waking up at 4am, hunting all morning to put food on the table, and then rushing to get into work on time at 8:00.  This physically demanding way of life is the norm for nearly all of the residents out in the country.  While we live to hunt, they hunt to live.  Literally, it is a matter of survival for many of the locals in the area, who do all that they can to provide for themselves and their families.  My point is, I have an immense appreciation for these hard working individuals that many people down in the city view as simple minded or backwards.  It’s a privilege to live amongst them, if only for a day at a time, and an honor that most of the locals have accepted our suburbanite family into their small sphere of existence.  They’ve seen us out working hard on our property and busting our asses just as they do everyday, and as a result we have earned their respect.  We have forged a strong reciprocal relationship with the farmers in the area, and for this I am thankful.

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The life of a farmer certainly ain't easy
Finally, this spring witnessed the first ever visitors to Red Hand.  Although they were all family members, we had to pull out the guest cot and inflatable mattress for a couple nights.  Ben of course doesn’t count because he’s essentially full blown family at this point and as much a steward of the property as any of us.  Similarly, I don’t quite view Grandpa O as a guest because he was working as hard as anyone else to prepare for turkey season and didn’t really get to enjoy the visit.  The honor of being the first guests at Red Hand goes to Uncle John and Aunt Lois Whalen (although I’m still not sure this qualifies because they’re family and helped dad take down blinds after hunting).  Regardless, we had a wonderful time with the Whalens hanging out on the deck, target shooting the Gamo airgun all day, visiting Fly Creek Cider Mill and simply enjoying the wonder that is “God’s Country”.  Beyond the obvious—we had an awesome time—the reason I’m pointing out we had guests is because it shows how the house has really taken shape nicely and can comfortably sleep up to 9 people at present.  Most of the credit for this of course goes to mom.  Even with the broken hip, mom has stepped up as much as anyone else in terms of furnishing the house and tirelessly trying to keep it clean (which is nearly impossible after a day of trouncing around in the mud).  Mom deserves a lot of credit for putting up with all the male personalities in the house, and we definitely appreciate all that she does.

On the whole, the spring season came and went in the blink of an eye, but we were well prepared and forged memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.  I just hope that everyone else enjoyed it half as much as I did.
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A terrific end to a terrific season