One of the very enjoyable activities my son and I have experienced together over the years is to go deer hunting. Because of my schedule the past several years we have not been able to go. This year I was determined to make it happen as my son is now 22 years old and getting closer to starting a family of his own. I am concerned that our time together in the woods is going to become scarce as he gets older.
I cleared and jealously guarded my calendar for the dates we had selected to go and had my son get time off from his job. I applied for our licenses and tags early and decided to opt for a challenging unit called Murder’s Creek. It is a beautiful area of east-central Oregon that not many tags are given out for and so are difficult to get. Thus, the bucks are larger and perhaps more plentiful than the other areas of the state that have been hunted out or decimated by the proliferation of cougars. We took off early Saturday morning with the weather forecast cold but sunny, planning to spend four glorious days hunting and telling stories around the campfire. But life’s challenges were about to change my plans to one much like the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”
As we got to within five miles of the turn-off to enter National Forest land our unit was located the “check engine” light came on in our Jeep. With over 200,000 miles on it, it did not seem like an inconsequential item to ignore, so we drove another 30 miles into the small town of John Day. John Day is the only town of consequence within about a 150 mile radius. The only auto facility open in John Day on Saturday was a Les Schwab Tire Center. After much fuss and confusion, the staff hooked us up to their diagnosis machine and found out that the problem had to do with our “generator” status. Since the battery gauge had been “discharging” all the way to town I assumed it had to do with the alternator. With no mechanics available in town I had them put a new battery in the car and hoped we could head back to the slightly larger town (10,000 population) of Prineville some 120 miles distant. Not having tested a battery before in this circumstance, I had no idea how long it would last before dying. The trip seemed to take forever as the battery slowly entered into the red zone—praying didn’t seem to help. As darkness approached, turning on the head lights caused the battery to go dead with sudden finality. With systems shutting down one after another, the car died just as I pulled off the highway. With the same finality, our cell phone did not have a signal either. Thankfully the first car to approach stopped and informed us we were still 15 miles from Prineville. The man inside had an amplifier on his cell phone as no coverage was available in the region. He allowed me to call AAA and a tow truck was discharged within an hour. Interestingly, no other cars stopped the entire time it took the tow truck to arrive. After hooking us up he called a mechanic friend who offered to come in on Sunday morning to put in a new alternator. On the way into town we stopped at the scene of a rollover accident and waited as the driver helped flagged traffic for the next 40 minutes. The mechanic then opened his garage and allowed us to store our car in it overnight and the tow truck driver took us to a hotel. The next morning my son and I walked the three miles back to the shop taking turns carrying my very heavy duffel bag containing our clothes and toiletries. Our car was fixed and we proceeded to limp on back home, our hunting trip defeated.
All was not lost however. The great part about this trip was that my son and I got to spend several days of quality time together. He got to see me react in some very challenging circumstances, watching how I dealt with them and how I faced life’s challenges. He got to see me interact with a variety of men in difficult situations and the fact that I kept a good attitude in the face of adversity. The truth is we really had a pretty good time—even though the cost of the battery, hotel, and alternator was way more than I had planned on spending. It was about the same cost as processing the meat of the two deer we didn’t get would have been. We actually smoked our traditional cigars on the way home in triumph of actually getting back in lieu of bagging a trophy buck like we normally would.
Finally, I got to talk with my son that this trip actually mirrors lifes circumstances. We make plans but often they fail or something comes up that ruins them. It requires us to be flexible and pliable, to think on our feet, and to keep a good attitude despite our circumstances. I also got to talk to him about the importance of having choices in life. By not allowing ourselves to be put in situations where we had no options (like going into the wilderness anyway when the check engine light came on), we were much more successful. The truth is that the only constant in life is change, and how we face those changes determines our success or failure in life.
Now the rifles and long johns are put away for another year. This trip was a big learning and growth experience for both my son and I. But I still wish we could have spent some days in the autumn woods hunting and just being together as father and son.