ball and buck

Ball and Buck: Berkshires

Up to this point in my life, I had spent very little time in the Northeast, with only tales of hunts from friends, or books to paint a portrait of New England’s sporting traditions. It’s a bizarre concept to feel at home thousands of miles away on the African savannah, yet feel a stranger in my own land as I enter into New Hampshire for the first time. But in the the rolling hills and cold, clear streams of the Berkshire Mountains, I found a sportsman’s paradise. Encamped at the unofficial Ball and Buck cabin, a pastoral bastion in the Berkshires, I spent a few days surveying the woods, wildlife, local traditions, and of course, the beer.

I find it important to be able to order the “right thing” at foreign watering holes if you’re to have any chance at befriending the keepers of local hunting knowledge. In this case, a friend and guide saved us from any extemporaneous interrogation, being both a turkey whisperer and trout slayer. The plan was simple enough; fill a turkey tag in the morning, and weigh down a trout net in the afternoon. A blast, then cast.

But simple plans don’t always have simple endings, as all hunters know. 

We rose hours before dawn, layering in camouflaged garments of varying warmth and mobility to stave off the misty cold of the northern woods, and crept into the lessening blackness. Our first position was on the outskirts of a great sloped field, encircled by trees.

The decoys were carefully placed, and as light began to trickle through the still barren branches, our fowl lipped leader began to loose the calls. 

To me, there’s something slightly comedic about calling in turkeys, because if successful, these giant birds come angrily strutting out of the woods looking for a fight, a frolic with a female, or both. In this instance, no birds came, so we continued our search elsewhere, stopping occasionally on the edge of fields, woods, or farms to let out a few calls. And after a few hours of lonesome bellows, a tom finally answered on the outskirts of an apple orchard. 

We hurried into position, our backs to the freshly blossoming trees, and waited, though not very long because, as the saying goes, “they were comin’ in hot.” It wasn’t five minutes before three males came across the field at an aggressive pace, looking for a good old fashioned fight. But to their great surprise, they found us, and the pointed barrel of the Ruger x Ball and Buck shotgun, under which the largest of the three birds quickly fell. A beautiful specimen, we said a few words of thanks and congratulations, took a handful of photos, and were off to the boat ramp, where we cleaned and dressed the bird for a feast to follow. 

A change of gear was in order, and being that the new B&B spring line needed “field testing,” we gladly outfitted from head to toe, including the rods and reels. We were to float the Deerfield River, which wound through a canyon whose depth I did not know existed in New Hampshire.

It was an incredibly beautiful landscape, riddle with diverse tree species, changing terrain, and unexpectedly, a healthy population of trout. 

We floated casually in and out of pools, riffles, and deep eddies, casting a variety of flies throughout the day, and managed to land quite a few fish. Metallic rainbows and vibrant brown trout, it was a testament to the hearty nature of these fish, with numbers far beyond what I expected from a stream so close to farms, roads, and “civilization.” But it just goes to show that you can’t assume until you’ve gone, and you don’t know until you do. The sun sinking, and the trout safely released back into their prospective homes, we loaded the raft on the trailer, packed everything up, and cracked a few cold ones to toast a successful slice of the good, sporting life. 

My previous notions happily dashed on the rocky banks of the Deerfield River, I left with aprofound sense of respect and admiration for this part of America that I knew very little about. Where frontiers may still exist in the West, it is very reassuring to see successful conservation at work in an area that has been colonized since the birth of our nation. Hope indeed for the future of hunting and fishing. It’s rare enough to still find wild enough places to hunt turkey and catch trout in the same day, let alone so close to major cities. It was a sporting experience I won’t soon forget, and I’ll be back soon, hopefully in time for the turkey feast. 

Ball and Buck: Simbo's Cabin

On a secluded, pine-laden plot bordering the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado lies Simbo’s cabin. Built entirely by his hands, it is a testament to one man’s ingenuity and resourcefulness, and has become a place of rest, inspiration, and solace for me in the most sacred of ways.

More and more frequently, I make the pilgrimage from Texas, and each time it becomes harder to leave. And not just petty disappointment for a trip’s end, but a gut-wrenching, alkaline inducing, feeling of dread and separation that runs me off the rails for a short time. 

When my mind and body revolt in this way, I try to listen, and discover the source of such a physiological warning sign. This time, on the morning before my departure, I sat on the front porch listening to the rain hitting the woodpile, with birds of different melody and plumage reveling in the mountain shower, and thought about what this cabin, and all others, might represent. 

A cabin can be in many places, in a variety of ecosystems or country sides, but most of them serve a similar function. Mountain, beach, lake, desert, forest or prairie cabin, the mental state one enters upon arrival is usually the same.

It offers a chance to strip away the stresses of modern life, to drop all of the worries we carry around every day, and move past the put-ons we are preached at about, held responsible for, or judged by. None of those matter here, and are shown fully in their false light by the breeze whispering in the pines, the roar of the river, or the steadfast silence of the mountain.

The cabin offers us access to a mostly forgotten, sacred source of life. But you must choose to pursue it. Just as monuments are created for honor, or symbols created for reference, the cabin acts as both, reminding us to step out of the story we’re often caught up in, the negative patterns we’ve developed, and the excuses we make to avoid things.

 All of these make us sick and unhappy, and pull us away from a peaceful existence. Gently, a cabin prompts us to observe the pulse of life around us, and the amazing source of vitality and inspiration that abounds. Out here, the forcefulness of civilization is lessened, drowned out by the radiant glow of nature, where the veil between man and the surrounding environment is thinned.

The cabin can be a gateway, a trail head of sorts to our real, intended nature, where nothing is expected or demanded, just is. 

Some have learned to live without it, some never had it, but those of us who do need a close connection with the natural world must seek it, listen to it, and learn from it. Where does this come from, and why are we so pulled to answer the call? For the same reason that the goose flies south, or the elk shed their noble antlers, the bear hibernates, or why the wolf howls; we too need this for our survival.

And not survival of the body per say, but of the soul, and a life with meaningful experience.

Whether through the changing of the seasons, the waxing of the moon, or the turning of the tides, nature has much to teach us, and we’ve only to keep returning to the cabin to receive those lessons.