Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
Ohio Route 32 spread out in front of me as the four lane knifes its way through the Appalachian foothills. Around here, our perception of Ohio and “Buckeyes” are only what we see through our limited Cincinnati view, but rural, southern Ohio is so much different than the suburbs of the Queen City.
My road trip takes me through some beautiful country. Farm fields just east of the city gradually give way to rolling hillsides covered in hardwoods just beginning to show hints of autumn. The farther east I travel, the steeper the hills become leaving no doubt that I’m in Appalachia.
It’s a three and a half hour trip to Hocking College for a quick visit with my son. Since he graduated high school back in June, I can count the amount of time that I’ve been able to spend with him in hours rather than days. He was bursting to head out on his own and the day after commencement, he packed up and moved to Ohio with cousins and then, later, onto campus for the school year.
As the miles clicked by and the scenery passed outside the truck window, I thought about how much I’d missed the kid and reminisced in my mind about all of our hunting trips over the years.
A couple hours later found me at his dorm and the lanky kid greeted me with a smile. Bulked up a bit from spending some time in the weight room, he looks like he’s gained some weight and grown since I’ve spent any real time with him. He takes me to his room, a typical college dorm, cleaner than I had expected given the fact that two 18 year olds are living in the confined quarters, but everything had its spot.
We caught up for a while and then headed out for the night.
A winding two lane highway took us through hills and hollers that make some of our Switzerland County back roads look tame in comparison. Thirty minutes later, we pull onto a wooded lane that ended in a mowed clearing surrounded by trees and steep hillsides. A campfire is curling smoke skyward and a few tents dot the edge of the field. Some recurves and longbows hang from pegs at a small shelter house as a few folks milled around.
“Are you the fellas from Indiana?” asked one of the men.
We parked our vehicles and made our camp for the night and gathered around the fire for a bit. The gentleman who had invited my son and me to the bowshoot was a friend we’d met through social media. He and his family shared the same passion for traditional bowhunting that we do and each year host a weekend shoot for about 40 to 50 people. We sat around the fire for a time, shook hands and greeted some of the other shooters, but we were both anxious to get on the range. To be honest, I was just looking forward to hanging out with the boy and spending some time in the woods.
We made our way around the course, just the two of us. In the past, our conversations tended to drag, typical father/son sort of talks. Ebbs and flows, ups and downs, but this time was different.
There was never a down time, no awkward quiet spots, no pauses. It was still a dad and his son, but our footing was much more equal. The conversation was more mature, more genuine, never forced.
In between our discussions, we flung arrows at the targets and in usual fashion, the kid’s arrows found their mark more often than mine did. When I occasionally made a good shot, he was quick to give me some praise and it reminded me of how things used to be when I could routinely beat him on the range and would compliment him when he launched a good arrow.
My how things have changed.
We wound our way around the steep hillsides, shooting as we went, talking and listening to one another. Sometimes we giggled, sometimes we were serious. I received a lesson in dendrology as the boy pointed out different species of trees and talked of terminal buds, stems, bark texture and scientific names…I grinned and was glad that the forestry side of his post secondary education is sticking with him and hope it’s money well spent towards his future career.
We finished up the shooting and turned in for the night after some more campfire time. I laid my head down with a smile and a sense of pride knowing that not only did I have a hand in raising an outstanding young woodsman, but an even finer young man. Although this year will most likely be the first time that we haven’t shared a bowhunt together since he’s been old enough to hunt, he’ll be on my mind as I take to my own treestand this fall and I can only hope that I cross his mind a time or two as he sits in his own hunting spot a few hours away and that he’ll smile at the memories we’ve made.