The Squirrel Chronicles: Letters to the city

©Dean Torges/The Bowyer's Edge™



Mary's grand nephew Nathan showed up here a few weeks ago wearing a t-shirt that showed somebody pedaling a bicycle. Under it, this sentence: "All those who wander are not lost." Perhaps not it exactly, but something like that. Twenty-one years old, dropped out of college because he wants to learn from experience. Come to Uncle Deno to learn about being a hunter and building bows. "Sure," I sez. "C'mon. Ostrander is the place to learn from bumps on the head. Stay as long as you want, or until we kick you out, whichever you experience first."

He's an earnest young man, handsome, full of good humor, takes initiative in work, is inquisitive almost to a fault (asks questions reflexively sometimes), laughs easily and is determined to learn about the bow and the arrow. A twenty-one year old philosopher, with a neo-60's value system, ambitious in all the ways that will never earn him a livelihood. He understands that the path to bows and hunting goes through chopping and stacking firewood, clearing leaves from roofs and gutters, sweeping the shop and keeping the kitchen clean.

One evening he informed me that he wanted to be a bum. This didn't concern me, except that he'd come to Ostrander to model his life after mine. I'd heard the same sentiment from his grandfather John (Mary's brother) many years earlier. John was a maverick, one of the brightest, most learned men I've ever known. He graduated Harvard off a full scholarship and earned a law degree along the way. I knew John meant bum in the same way that Diogenes aspired to be one—by leading a life as simple as a dog's, assuming nothing, deferring to no one, relying on his own intellect, asking gadfly questions, and making a general nuisance of himself in his full-time, uncompromising pursuit of truth.

Nate thinks he's exploring new ground. I haven't told him yet about his grandfather. Will wait until I'm more certain what kind of direction his bum takes.

Loaned him an old Bear Alaskan recurve until such time as he gets his own bow built, and gave him some target arrows and some squirrel arrows. He works hard at the butts, teaching himself to shoot, is methodical and thoughtful in his approach, and can't wait for us to head to the squirrel woods. It's really fun watching him learn. He's gotten good enough in just a few short weeks to make several stalks and loose several arrows, and has come close enough to killing something that he's redoubled his efforts at the practice butts. One evening he made up and fletched half a dozen new squirrel arrows with minimal instruction. Uses them exclusively now because he's invested in them, and is sophisticated enough already to report that he likes the way they fly, straight, with no wobble.

In the evenings, rather than watch television, he reads. Our house is stacked with books. He's got both Friedrich Neitsche and Kahlil Gibran open, exploring these diverse directions with equal interest, as it should be at his age. An archery section waits along one wall. He hasn't discovered it yet, and I'm reluctant to point him there. Early signs suggest his desire to hunt, though arrived at late in life, is sincere and profound. Maybe when he finds Thompson, Muir or Leopold, he will wander off completely.

Of course his parents aren't comfortable with him dropping out of school and are more than a little worried about him getting lost. The situation reminds me of some ducklings we hatched under a brood hen once. They followed the old hen everywhere, warmed themselves under her wings, and watched while she clucked and pecked at worms and bugs she scratched out for them from leaves and grass. When their inner quack urged them to the pond, the old hen got frantic on the bank, running back and forth, squawking and rubbing her wings together, certain her whole brood was headed for a drowning. What else could she do? What other could they do?