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Hunting in the Enchanted Forest

You really need to have a bullet hit your house only once to make you less certain of the skills of some of the folks prowling the woods. Most locals tend to know where they are in the woods and can keep their heads well enough in the heat of the moment to understand where their bullet will wind up if they miss that shot. Still, there are plenty of holiday hunters out from the city on their woodland adventure.

They’re often like the pair of very startled young fellows who gaped at me open-mouthed when I popped out of the woods and onto the forest road where they had parked a truck decked out with chrome and Minnesota plates. And that happened to have a blindingly bright headlamp pointed into the woods towards my house at 4 a.m. They explained that they had been tracking wolves, pointing to a pair of tracks in the snow that ran down the road and into the darkness.

Now, if I were a nicer person I would have let them cling to the notion that they were deep in the wilderness, on the trail of a pair of wild creatures loping through the forest. They were wanting to hang onto that idea, after all, inquiring if I had a cabin out here. Maybe I was just a strange old lady, rarely seen by civilized folks because I live in a tiny shack deep in the dark forest. Made out of gingerbread, perhaps.

But I’m not that nice. I told them that no, it was just a regular house, like the other houses around here. Where I lived with my husband and two naughty dogs who liked to take themselves on walks down the road. Seeing their wilderness adventure fading to dull reality, they made one last attempt to hang on. How big were my dogs, they wondered. With the meanness one might expect from witches in fairy tales I replied that Larry and Gracie were basically wolf-sized.

Nice as these boys were, I don’t derive comfort from the idea that they may be back in the Chequamegon, this time with high-powered rifles. Not that all non-natives are wide-eyed babes in the woods. Nor are all locals savvy and ethical huntsmen impervious to buck fever because of the ice water in their veins. So whenever a truck pauses on the road going by our house, or I hear a shot fired ungodly close, I start to yell, slam doors, lean on the car horn, play bagpipes, whatever might let them know that there are people over here that don’t wish to get shot.

Not every part of the country has hunting in its culture, a fact I realize whenever I talk to my siblings on the west coast. My older sister once spoke of being at her youngest son’s class for some show-and-tell type event when he was around the age of 12. Evidently another little boy started to tell the story of how he had gone hunting with his family and shot his first deer. According to my sister the other little children were horrified and the teacher quickly changed the subject, ushering the kid off the stage.

Then you contrast that with what someone who lives on a Native American reservation told me about their tradition for a young person’s first kill. There it is a cause for praise and celebration -- and the kid is expected to personally distribute the meat to the elders and others who might not be able to provide for themselves.

Wherever the hunters may be on the prowl, I wish them well. May their kills be clean, may their hearts be generous to the less fortunate, and may their rifles be pointed away from my house.

Polish Hunter’s Stew

Fry up in a heavy stew pot until the bacon is cooked and the sausage is browned:

½ lb thick cut bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces 2 lbs kielbasa, cubed

Remove from the pot and set aside. Saute in the bacon grease:

1 large onion, diced 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed 1 small green cabbage, chopped When the vegetables are soft, remove them and set them aside with the meat. Add to the pot and saute until any water is mostly gone: 1 lb. sliced mushrooms, sprinkled with salt

Add back the meat and vegetables, along with:

1 jar of sauerkraut, anything from 16-25 ounces 1 bottle or can of beer 1 teaspoons paprika ½ teaspoon rosemary ½ teaspoon caraway seeds 2 bay leaves Salt and pepper to taste Cover and simmer on low for a couple hours, stirring often. Remove bay leaves before serving. Good on mashed potatoes or bread.