If there's not a reality show based on "elk camp," my first question is why not. Oh, wait, I know the answer … "What happens in elk camp stays in elk camp."
In my past life, I had absolutely no association with hunting. Sure, I was sometimes behind men at the grocery store (you know its true, even if women do hunt) who were clearly on their way to hunting grounds.
For starters, they're buzzing with adrenaline as they cover the checkout counter with crinkly packages of pepperoni sticks, candy bars the size of bricks and cases of beverages - some loaded with sugar, others loaded with alcohol.
Second, they have the obligatory camouflage gear on. And third, they sound like excited schoolboys headed to a fight at recess - lotta rapid chatter, knuckles-to-knuckles bumping and raucous laughter.
That was the sum total of what I knew about hunting, other than the deeply-satisfying venison jerky my neighbor sometimes gives us as a result of a successful hunt. Any sort of personal participation in the - Sport? Hobby? Obsession? - never crossed my mind.
That was before I started dating Camo Man way, way back in June.
My first hint of this was his Facebook profile picture. He was framed against a wall of turquoise and ram's head. A ram head the size of a Little Tyke Cozy Coupe - second largest taken in the "Lower 48" states at the time and the largest in Oregon, I was to later learn.
Naturally this hanging head repulsed me (I'm officially split in personality now. Half of me abhors the taking of living creatures, the other half really, really likes meat) but not enough to stop peeking at Camo Man's brown eyes.
Eventually it was overwhelmingly clear this man was a hunter. He did, however, skip antelope season this year to get engaged, he's pretty fond of telling people and I'm pretty fond of hearing.
Then came the hunter safety lessons for my daughters. Which, in my naivet, I thought of as a wonderful, confidence-boosting exercise. My brain still hadn't quite grasped that there would be any actual hunting in the picture, aside from Camo Man's participation.
I mean, he kidded about getting me up to elk camp from time to time, and I laughed. I can take a good joke.
The earth continued to orbit the sun as our relationship progressed from crazy coincidences to crazy passion. From me navigating life by myself with my kiddos to Camo Man and me walking hand-in-hand, with assorted family members getting pulled along.
As the leaves turned color, talk of hunting racheted up. In one sudden day, camouflage clothing was getting stored at my house in preparation for the eventual combining of households.
Author's note: I've heard you, dear readers, and I'll be dishing out these details as soon. In the meantime, go to blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom for a number of posts about our progress. Even if you don't "do" blogs - I'd be ever so grateful.
After that came more paraphernalia, stuff I never dreamed existed. I felt like I had stepped onto the movie set of a film about the CIA. There were spotting scopes and binoculars ("Mom, they're called ‘binos,'" my youngest informed me. Like she's been hunting forever) and those strap thingies that cross the chest and hold ammunition. Lots of ammunition.
Before I knew it, I was at elk camp during "second season" of what the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife terms a "controlled hunt." With the guys in my new family who got "tags."
The lingo is like "Hunting as a Second Language," I might add.
In addition to trying to tough out the cold with a blanket instead of turning up the trailer's furnace, being bored with my book and mildly annoying Camo Man with my whining, I went spotting.
Wearing insulated pants, a very roomy Columbia coat and knit face mask, under which my lips froze anyway, I was on the back of a four-wheeler, tooling around the mountain and looking for elk. Elk legs, anyway, because I was told that would be all I was likely to see through all the brush and trees. Not that I knew anything about what to focus on, so I settled for any moving brown spot.
It was while doing this the tutoring began. "Now, if anyone asks you if you saw anything, you tell ‘em ‘no,'" Camo Man said. "Or you say you saw something ‘over there.' They'll know you're lying, because ‘over there' isn't even in the same unit."
It wasn't long before I heard this sort of storytelling with my own ears. When we stopped to visit with another hunter, he claimed he had camped out overnight at his spot, using space blankets and lots of foot stomping to stay warm. Camo Man grilled him. "You see anything?"
On cue, the other hunter lied. "Nothing. It wasn't worth it." He practically winked while shaking his head sadly.
And, of course, never am I to actually speak of a success story. The answer is "no" for anything asked - see, shoot, hear about. "No. Nothing. Never. Nada."
What happens in elk camp stays in elk camp. Which is perfect, since the whole adventure is a Vegas-like gamble, as far as I can see.
But I got the message on the morning I'm writing this - elk camp is over for another year. Does that mean elk meat is going to appear in my freezer in individually-wrapped packages?
"No. Nothing. Never. Nada."