By Ben Weide, AP’19
I love the outdoors, but there’s so much in it that I haven’t done. Alaska has been reminding me of that almost daily, thrusting me into novel experiences such as kayak fishing, identifying new plants (some poisonous), getting uncomfortably close to sea lions, and watching whales breach from a camp on the beach. But the most memorable first encounter I had over the course of this month occurred in the final days of our stay: we got a deer.
I have never been hunting, which for someone raised in Michigan sometimes feels heretical. But alas, I had not been in no way involved with the acquisition of venison when we got the call. For the last three days, members of the staff had been going out to hunt, trying to get a deer between the opening of deer season on August 1st and our departure just four days later. Around 9am, we got the call from Zach that he had gotten a deer over on Chichagof Island, just across South Inian Pass from us. Everything was dropped, and eight of us prepared the kayaks to paddle over and assist in bringing the deer back home.
As I had missed the briefing, I did not know that Zach was hunting on a mountain that we had hiked on the week before, and that he had gotten the deer just about at the summit. Once we had beached the kayaks on the shores on Chichagof, we followed a stream inland and began our ascent, first up a steep, wooded ridge, breaking out into the muskeg that covered much of the mountainside. This peat bog had little ground cover and was much easier walking. This would be good ground through which to bring the deer. However, the deer and Zach were in the alpine, up on the high ridge below the summit. This area was thickly covered with spruce, hemlock, alder, and berry bushes, and would by much tougher to drag a deer through. After two hours or so of climbing we finally reached Zach.
The deer was beautiful; he was a Stika black-tailed deer, one of the smallest varieties of the animal. Already field-dressed, his body only weighed about one hundred pounds. He was beautiful. I have seen deer beyond count in my lifetime, but up close, the majesty of their form was strikingly apparent. The soft hide, the gentle curve of the antlers, the lines of muscle carving its form, the warm and gentle eyes all attested to the nobility and dignity of this creature whose life we had ended. With a couple more hours of effort, we brought our catch down to sea level, and finally got him back home.
The next day, after we had butchered the deer and eaten some for dinner, Hank Lentfer, who was with us heading up our construction crew, shared with us a tradition that his family has for every deer they hunt. We took the deer’s skin out into the forest, setting it down in the middle of the woods. Then each of us grabbed from our surroundings plants on which the deer feed. In this deer circle, we all gave thanks for the deer and for the experiences we’d had over the last month, and gave to the deer a last bit of his food. The funeral service being concluded, we retuned to our quarters. In all this, I was struck with the incredible degree of respect with which everyone, including myself, approached the deer and the solemnity with which we regarded its sacrifice. I genuinely hope that most or all hunts are this in tune with the world from which they are taking, and am so glad to have participated in such an experience.
Ben Weide is a member of the 2019 Glacier Bay Session cohort. He studies economics and chemistry at Hillsdale College.