“What was once captured through epic voyage, war, quest,
in modern days is found through sport, hunting.
Preparing for battle in blazing orange armor,
man’s ancient blood channels Odysseus, Hector, Arthur.
Sirens pose as pheasants; long-suffering Penelopes wait at home.
Something primal comes off the field
in a faithful beast becoming man’s best god,
in Nimrod’s prized weapons gleaming in sunlight,
in 4-wheel chariots trampling wild terrain.
And then the return to Camelot,
with little to show for the journey
but a story, memory, lesson
and wilted, lifeless sirens for wives to roast.”
– Hunting Glory
Haymarsh Hunt Club motto: “Why pay to have it done right when you can do it yourself?” This is not printed on business cards or anything, but it was commonly uttered under our breaths. Not that the place is a trashy construction of duct tape and plywood. Not all of it. It’s just that Grandpa Bud, the owner, was a cheap Hollander despite his claims that he took pills for it, and he never paid for anything if there was an iota of a chance that we could build it or fix it ourselves. Despite this fact, the Haymarsh somehow manages to be a beautiful place, probably because nature is the main focus rather than architecture.
I’ve already discussed how the wildness of the land stimulated my childhood, but honestly the land is the biggest part of why I love the Haymarsh. Not 40 acres as my college roommate once thought, but more like 1400. I love that even now, after over a decade, I can drive out on trails and honestly get lost, finding myself in a field or forest I swear I’ve never been in before. The Haymarsh feels open, especially at night when the starry sky stretches from horizon to horizon. It is still and wild at the same time. It sometimes feels like the breeze carries air from a simpler time.
The land is amazing, but there is more to why the Haymarsh Hunt Club added a whole dimension to my life. Because of the Haymarsh, I grew up abnormal…ly.
People often assume that “owning a hunt club” means your family must be loaded. Uh, no. We did have a lot of land, and I guess that means something. And my founding grandfather was kinda important in the local business sense, I guess. But I would never call us wealthy. It’s practically a farm without crops, for crying out loud. Still, sometimes I used to imagine what it would have been like in olden days. Then we might have been big shots. However, it was always my secret nightmare that, had I lived during those times, I would have been married off for land acquisition – or a goat – to some equally-affluent family’s hunter son. The Somervilles do probably have sell-out genes (I think our ancestors sold out for lordships to England), and I know the Gummer side is always looking for a deal. My grandfather was only half-joking when he once suggested I put up a “Marry Me, Hunt For Free” ad in the Haymarsh clubhouse. If we’d been in our situation in the 1600s, I wouldn’t have had a say and would’ve been married off kicking and screaming. So, I’m happy to live in the present, thank you.
There is something very cool about a family that runs a business or two together. You share in the work, in the stories, in the ups and downs and frustrations and blessings. My grandma and her friend Dorothy regularly catered meals for the big groups of hunters, and this was always a source of…entertainment. And leftovers. Leftovers are good. It was a treat as a kid on Saturdays to hear that the hunters were done and we could go out to the clubhouse to fill our own plates. Very communal. On a daily basis, the Hunt Club was a thing that pulled our family together and kept us active and working together. I learned a lot from the experience of living literally on the workplace with my family. I learned hard work. I learned physical labor and the pure joy of being completed exhausted from a full day working outdoors. It was like Little House on the Prairie but without cotton dresses and with a lot more cursing.
Despite not having a lot of cultured civilization around, I always felt like I was a part of a bustling community. We had people at our house constantly. It became a kind of game to identify who had arrived by recognizing the truck that had pulled into the driveway. I could ID over twenty men by what truck they drove.
- Christian and I once had friends over to watch a movie, and a truck pulled into the parking lot outside. We knew this was nothing to get excited about. Our friends said something like, “A blue truck just pulled in.” Christian and I didn’t even bother looking, but one of us said, “Oh, that’s Tom.”
- My mom got to a point where she was maybe a little too comfortable with people popping in. I was once on the phone with her from Grand Rapids, and I heard a knock on the door through the phone. Mom said, “Tim, can you get that?” My Dad muttered something, and Mom sighed and went to answer the door. I heard through the phone as the door opened and someone asked if Tim was available. Mom, without missing a beat, said, “He’ll be right here. He’s putting pants on.” I started laughing into the phone, and I later found out it was Dan, one of my favorite hunters, who fortunately knew enough about the Gummer craziness not to be disturbed.
My favorite thing about the Haymarsh community: I have many, many adopted-uncle-types. My dad has a hard time calling the hunters merely “clients” because he is friends with so many of them (except for that one…), and I know what he means. Though I was just a girl and they were a bunch of middle-aged hunters, I tend to think of them in a more familial way. There is a certain amount of comfortableness I feel around hunters that I don’t find anywhere else. To this day, I am most comfortable around men ages 35+, and I prefer them to women of any age, actually. Who knows how healthy this is, but it’s just something that developed as a result of being in the Haymarsh environment. (I grew up on a hunting preserve writing science fiction novels – I’ve accepted that I do not relate to most women.) I remember sitting around with my dad and groups of hunters, listening to stories, jokes, and their easy way of talking about nothing in particular. My idea of “men” was shaped by hunters, and I saw from a range of lawyers to farmers that there are some qualities common to all which I appreciate. I love the nostalgic smell that comes from the mix of cologne, jeans, and mud off a field – it’s strange the things I missed when I moved away to college, but this smell was one of them. In many ways, hunters ruined me for “city boys.” If I feel like I’m more butch than a guy, I get judgy. If I know I can do more physical labor than a guy, I get judgy and kinda wanna arm wrestle. (It’s because of this tomboy attitude that I suppose I earned the nickname “Hunter Princess” from a post-college friend, but whatever.)
I admit I had favorites:
- Kevin H. is like an uncle to me and is one of the first non-family people I ever remember. Kevin knew my dad before I was born, and I always thought of him as that cool uncle who cracks jokes and knows the best stories about your parents’ wilder days.
- Kevin R. was the one responsible for roasting the pigs for the annual Haymarsh Hunt Club Pig Roasts. (He has many other fine qualities, but I have the utmost respect for anyone who cooks me pork.) One year, after prepping the pig, he somehow tossed the whole pig right over the roaster and onto the ground, after which he muttered “son of a bitch” while my father laughed. Kevin claimed that it had been like a slippery bar of soap, and I still can’t figure out how a pig is in any way like a bar of soap.
- Brooks, Dad’s intern for a while, fit in so well that he became like a member of the family to the point where he admitted that he had “caught the crazy.” Poor devil. (He was also the one who insisted that I name my autobiography “Crouching Chuckar, Hidden Pheasant” if I ever wrote one.)
- Many of my favorite hunters were my favorites solely because of our give-and-take banter. Chris H. was often kind enough to remark, “What is that smell?” whenever he saw me in the area. Despite the jabs, he once really surprised me with kindness when I broke my hand at a Pig Roast – he brought me dessert. I did not check it for spit, come to think of it.
- “Robin Hood and Little John” weren’t exactly great, but I remember them fondly because of the obvious physical resemblances that led to their nicknames.
- I had a serious case of hero-worship with Dan B., who saved me multiple times from his uncle trying to fix me up with his cousins. It’s to the point that years later I’m still automatically happy to see him.
- I remember the first day Marc S. showed up with no previous experience and thought he’d just try out shooting. As time went on, he showed up so often that he became “The Customer.”
- Tom K. lived in town and was always just a good man. Even if he had Labs. And he always brought amazing pie to the annual Pig Roasts. (Gosh, what is it with me and food?)
- Jake was one of my grandfather’s best friends, and they definitely had a lot in common. I must say, though, that Jake’s ribbings were never mean in quite the same way, and I guess I think of him as more like an adopted-grandfather, really.
I also had my least favorites. These sometimes included the downright ignorant because it took so long to “train” them how to shoot. Sometimes my least favorites were those who thought I didn’t know what I was doing and so took over for me. More often, however, my least favorites included those who noticed my gender more than the average hunter. I am not blind; I am not deaf. You were the ones with earplugs in, not me! It’s not that I am a complete knock-out by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just that I was the only female in the area and therefore the only target – thank God not literally. It was incredibly obvious whenever one group at Sporting Clays asked me to walk ahead of them. That group was so bad that Jordan – the other girl trapper – and I refused to take them around, ever. Most weren’t bad, though. Every once in a while I would encounter an older hunter who would get that “If I were a younger man” glint in his eye, but most of them behaved themselves. Sometimes they even tipped better. (Ah, the subtle power of feminine manipulation.)
Most of my experiences on the Haymarsh blur together because they were all so similar – green foliage, cold snow, hot sun, mosquito bites, Sporting Clays’ orange paint on my hands, pheasant smell, gunshots. Here are a few standout memories:
- Helping Kevin H. at a tower shoot and watching a pheasant run away and then right back to us as if it wanted to end it all.
- Going out in the field with my dad and Dixie, our Weimaraner who could run faster than any dog I ever saw.
- Numerable occasions when Christian, Lance, and I would sit in the truck, listening to the radio, because it was raining too hard to do Sporting Clays.
- The time Austin, another Sporting Clays trapper for a while, took a group around during a thunderstorm and came back drenched, only to receive a dollar tip from the man, who apparently thought he was being generous.
- Bob S., “The GrandMcDaddy” as we called him, coming to Sporting Clays Tuesday mornings with his dog, Shadow, who once chased a clay rabbit I threw.
- A neighbor guy sometimes showed up to play football during break times, and one time he told my dad, “When you play football, you shouldn’t think.” Lance muttered, “You must play football a lot.”
All in all, being a live-in at the Haymarsh Hunt Club was interesting. I learned by the age of sixteen how to deal with customers. I learned how to shrug off sexism and how to handle offensive behavior, though I must stress that this was not the norm. I learned several colorful acronyms for PETA. I can hike with the best of them. I love getting dirty. I am stronger than I would have been if I had worked at a mall. The Haymarsh also contributed greatly to my knowledge of things that the ordinary girl did not know, and I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten my foot in the door at a few job interviews by bonding over hunting stories. I know what a field smells like in winter. I was a Sporting Clays trapper for ten solid years, and I say with an odd kind of pride that I am damn good at it, even if no one ever knows what I’m talking about. And on at least one occasion when a guy has tried to impress me that he’s a redneck because he once owned goats, I’ve been able to throw down, “Oh, yeah? Well, we had hundreds of pheasants.”
At Grandpa Bud’s funeral, I really saw how much the Haymarsh people meant to me. I knew more people in the reception line than most of our family, save Grandma and Dad probably. It was a wonderful feeling to have this strange little community that was completely separate from the rest of my life, and it meant a lot to me that dozens and dozens of hunters hugged me like we were family. It was amazing to see in one room the sheer volumes of people my grandfather had touched through their shared love of nature, and I was a part of that legacy.
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