I have done a lot of things in New Hampshire.
I have climbed Mount Monadnock in a sleet-storm, ridden a snow machine deep into the woods of Coos County; I have met future presidents, made maple syrup, split untold cords of firewood, battled ice dams, swallowed black flies; I’ve eaten beans that had been cooked in a hole in the ground in Berlin.
I’ve been to the Isles of Shoals and to Donald Hall’s living room.
I once presented Hugh Gregg with the gift of a sack full of turnips.
But last fall, after more than two decades of trying, I finally earned real New Hampshire credibility.
I pulled a deer out of the woods in November.
Okay, I helped.
Okay, I drove.
My neighbor, Charles, called on a grey November morning with a crisis.
Charles is a hunter. He had shot an eight-point buck, deep in the woods. And then spent most of the night trying to drag it home. At 1 a.m., he was stuck and exhausted -- and in serious need of dry clothes and Ibuprofen -- at a stream-crossing. He hoisted the deer by its hind legs into a tree for safe-keeping, and trudged home to wait for daylight.
Then he called me.
There was food in the woods, serious food, and the imperative to get it out became more acute with each passing minute.
Charles called me because I own a tractor. It is not a magnificent tractor, or a new tractor, or even a picturesque old Farmall. It’s a servicable, blue 1970s-vintage Ford -- which I am still kind of a greenhorn at operating.
My dad gave me this tractor. My dad knows the kind of gift to give a girl.
I fired it up and drove across the back field to where Charles waited. He led the way on foot, clearing a path through the woods with a chainsaw. I bumped along behind, talking to my tractor. ‘Come on now, Babe...we can squeeze through here...come on...’ Apparently, my tractor is called Babe. I didn’t know her name -- or her gender -- until then. Charles was too polite to ask what I was saying to the tractor.
Truth be told, when I heard that Charles and his arsenal had moved in next door, I was a tiny bit skittish. But that was before I knew Charles, and learned that having him out there, armed to the eyeballs, was exactly what I wanted. He is the neighborhood ambassador to the hunters who roam these woods. And he saves my vegetable garden from hoofed marauders.
See, I grew up in a hippie-vegetarian household south of here. Soy loaf and all that sort of thing. Hunters my people were not.
But as we came into full view of Charles’ deer, I knew I had finally, after 22 years of kicking around New Hampshire, gone native.
I looked at this animal hanging in a tree and my immediate, gut reaction was...MEAT. YUM.
Charles and I wrestled the deer over the stream and into my tractor bucket. We proceeded back the way we came, Charles leading, me piloting Babe the Tractor with our precious cargo. (Turns out, the buck weighed in at 212 pounds -- Charles tells me this made the state record book.)
Not too long after, Charles and his family came to the door with a sack of meat -- venison steak, ground venison, venison stew meat, venison sausage...I had eaten venison before and liked it. But I took one bite of the venison stew from Charles’ buck, and my family had to restrain me from driving right down to Fish & Game to apply for a hunting license. This stuff is just wandering around the woods, free for the shooting? Are you kidding me?
So...Charles is teaching me to shoot.
I know I can never really claim to be from here. But I think the Babe and I are finally native.