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Durin Chappe is a carpenter and essayist who lives in Sullivan.
I am not a hunter but to see a modest-sized buck hanging in the utility shed of friends is to be pricked by primal urges that no amount of conditioning can counter.
It was far from the first deer I’ve seen hanging in someone’s backyard, but it was the first to be shown to me by a woman flush with her first successful, solo hunt.
We were there for a birthday party — my second in as many months — which is an obscene number for a recluse such as myself, but the effect of getting out of the house has been entirely positive for my pandemic-weary carcass.
The architecture of a modern party — inflatable castle, trampoline, motorized cart — is still foreign to me. We haven’t the lawn for it — my excuse, anyway — but the ubiquity of these amusements will soon leave me no options: a swing set alone will no longer satisfy an 8-year-old who has spent time on a zip line.
Fortunately, I was in good company and any angst about our playground deficiencies dissolved into admiration for our hard-working, generous hosts and their superbly raised daughters. Half a generation younger, they have clear, strong views of their life — and themselves in it — and are unlikely to be blown off course by any political winds. That is saying a lot these days — and more, perhaps, than I can say for myself.
My wife made lumpia — Filipino egg rolls — that stayed on the serving table through the first half hour only because people were unfailingly polite. My daughter was flush with happiness, inside the inflated castle. The birthday girl, her BFF, was teaching her also to drive a battery-powered cart and soon her eager student was offering taxi service to the others.
I sat with two mothers who were familiar to me, and because they appeared to be safe marks, began the conversation by discussing the rosy prospects of having our children vaccinated. It has been incomprehensible to me that a mask and a vaccine — two proven means of protecting our children from COVID-19 — have been politicized. However, the longer I yammered on about it, the more it reeked of virtue signaling, which is another of the more distasteful byproducts of the pandemic.
Fortunately, there appeared at that moment another man, who rescued me (and my two victims) from giving away my game entirely. He was looking for a fourth, to join them in another sort of game, with the improbable name of “cornhole.” I’d been eyeing the angled ramps on the lawn, with their “Blue Lives Matter” decals, thinking that nothing will matter except survival when the planet becomes uninhabitable, and wishing that every pickup truck might start flying a “Blue Planet Matters” flag.
I knew that cornhole was like horseshoes — with beanbags -– and it turned out I was not half bad at it, but I guessed that could go for nearly everyone. Since I am lousy at board games, I thought, perhaps this is just the game for me, where I can be happy instead of clever. Soon we were high-fiving at the end of each round. This was a party after all.
But what I really wanted was to hear more about our hostess’s hunting and so headed back inside to seek out the background stories for the four handsome, antlered heads mounted overhead, in their dining room, where a vaulted ceiling allowed wall space for an infinity of deer seasons. The largest, weighing more than 200 pounds, was hers.
I was surprised to feel none of the revulsion that animal trophies sometimes stir up. Again, my conditioning could not compete with the naturalness, the utility of the hunt, with taxidermy providing the final tribute to both animal majesty and hunter prowess. It was a stimulating, satisfying conversation.
Most of all, it was making me hungry. Our hostess had made some delicious crockpot chili but she was sorry that it had no venison. Alas, the season’s deer meat was still curing in the shed.
I was already plotting to find some excuse for another visit, in between birthday parties, with a promise to myself, to confine any signaling to the virtuous digging into a second or third bowl of venison chili.