Here follows a letter from my boyhood friend, Jan Adkins, written in February, 1998. He illustrated and produced Hunting the Osage Bow. It's also his illustrations you see throughout this website, as well as in The Squirrel Chronicles.
I'm about to make life easier for you. Every autumn you mumble and bitch and rationalize and kick yourself for spending too much time, money, energy and comfort in hunting. Every autumn you grind away your molars on the way to a patch of woods, thinking of the quality time you could/should be spending with Mary, or the money that could be rolling in from actual employment, or the skylight that's leaking, or starving children in Africa. Some damn thing to lash yourself for each year. What you need, boyo, is a spin doctor.
The doctor is IN.
Yours is not a difficult problem. Many of its symptoms are caused by the common and dangerous practice of seeing yourself in the dim, fun-house mirror of National Public Radio. Unconsciously you are hearing your actions described by pleasant, sensible voices on All Things Considered.
Rising before dawn to desert his home once again, Dean Torges loads his truck with expensive killing equipment and disappears into the Ohio darkness. Not a man you would suspect of being a calculating, cold-blooded murderer, his neighbors describe him as a quiet guy, keeps to himself a lot, and just a regular kind of fellow, except for that twitch. But Torges has a secret need and, incredibly, he has a license from the state to kill. Without a double-0 prefix, this James Bond of the Ohio woods will use every crafty trick available to slay.
Ask Zeb Boudrum, owner and inventor of Buck Gettum Scent Snatcher, With my stuff, they ain't got a chance. Zeb shakes his head in silent wonder at Torges prowess, But Torges don't need none. He's good. For him, it's like shootin' fish inna barrel.
At about the same time Torges leaves his wife of thirty-five years and his neglected work behind him in the dark house with his adult responsibilities, a soft-eyed Ohio whitetail deer is stirring, thinking of nibbling tender shoots from orchard branches and walking across misty fields. It does not know that this is the last morning it will ever see. Torges, the deer-killer, is coming.
Looking at yourself from the vantage of a comfortable liberal pundit, you're a monster. An enemy of the state, public safety, decorum and simple decency. Dean, you ought to be hunted down by yourself, it's that bad.
We're going to change all that by recasting your dark obsession in a politically viable pattern. You're no longer a redneck sport killer. You're now a Performance Artist. Yes, you're playing out a traditional tribal dance of fate and the yearly cycle in colorful costume, disguising yourself as a leafy tree and positioning yourself along a mystic route of the fleet deer-spirit to act out an ancient folk-play of death and transfiguration, not unlike many religious themes (see footnotes). Deer as quarry, deer as actor, deer as sacrifice, deer as tasty stew, then deer returning to deer in the roundness of the wilderness (see toney literary poem non-rhyming "Of a Jar In Tennessee" by opaque English 703 poet, Wallace Stevens).
Here's the good part: the deer come; the deer don't come. Doesn't matter. It's Art. And if people don't know what you're up to? Go straight to hell, you and all the other Philistines, you just don't understand. It's Art.
Yeah, we thought he was just, like, fooling around, doing a lot of hunting and such, not getting much meat. But now we see how wrong we were. Like, it's Art. And Torges, he's an artist, for Chrissakes. He's painting with a broad brush, you bet. Now, me and the missus, we don't understand the whole Gestalt of his work but we're working on it. And we're sending over some pound cake.
Anybody who objects to the expense of equipment must now just shut up. We're swimmingly excited by the work of Dean Torges here at the Soho Avant Gallery in New York. We've even heard some excuse my French bitches say that he spends too much on his costume and bowstrings and that adorable little tree stand thing. Well, why not? I mean, it's the stage from which he plays to the World, isn't it? He is so dedicated. Come on, darling, he spends virtually every cent he has on his Art, now, doesn't he? Is he Van Gogh or what? And we're very excited that he recycles everything, every bit of the ritual deer. Eats it. Part of the Work, you know. Isn't that just delightfully gritty?
And we're finally going to make this hunting thing pay off. As a Performance Artist, carrying out a traditional American artform, having an impressive body of work (look in the freezer), you're elegible for National Endowment for the Arts grants. Christo knocked down, what, a couple of million to wrap up an island in the Keys with pink plastic? Hey, you can surely siphon off half a million for your statewide Cycle of Wildlife Encounter Experience. That and workshops, lectures, MOMA T-shirts, you're a made man. I see the catalogue as our next book, coffee-table size followed by a quality paperback: Dean Torges: Ohio Mornings, Wyoming Nights.
A side benefit, we're going to declare that hunting licenses are artistically irrelevant and may infringe on your Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech. Forget them. Forget the game laws. If you're arrested by a game warden, all the better. Cause celébre, spend a few hours in jail, sue the State later, make a mint on the talk-show interviews. Next book: Dean Torges: Jacklighting the Night.
Think of yourself, Dean, not as a hunter skulking out to smoke stogies in a cabin with the boys but more as a Redneck Rembrandt, pursuing your camo-clad muse. It's all in the spin, and the Doctor is In.