Call me sentimental, but I have always believed that important items we use often and over a long period of time become imbued with our spirit. For example, I cannot look at my mother’s 20-gauge Winchester Model 12 without immediately noticing the fading of the bluing around the chamber where she carried it. She used it every year for hunting bushy tails and did so for probably 30 years. When the gun was handed down to me, I always felt her presence in it. The scratches in the stock and the faded parts only made me think of her hands and her use of it. The emotions that she poured into the wood and metal from her many experiences over the years must have left something in the grains that is still tangible. I have since handed the rifle down to my niece. If my mother’s spirit is there, I’m sure it will guide her well.
I’ve often wondered if anyone will use one of my trusty tools after I’m gone and know that I have made my mark on them. I think the deeper marks are the ones that are forged in emotions and experiences. If my memory does survive with any of my belongings, it’ll be my knife. I recently had an experience with it that I call “persistence.” I hope that it is now contained, at least in spirit, in this knife that I will be carrying for years to come.
My cousin, Johnny Walker, manages a religious mission on Kodiak Island in Alaska. He and I were raised together more than apart. Every trip to the river or the woods included Johnny Walker and my brother, who were inseparable as kids, so Johnnyis more a brother than a cousin. Johnny and his daughter handmake knives and holsters, calling their business Alaskan Awfuls. The knives are sold to benefit their mission and they have been selling like hotcakes. They are forged, matched with an antler handle, decorated with a logo and finished with a hand-sewn sheath. The crafters and cause alone make my knife special to me.
However, my latest solo-trip to hunting camp made me realize the true connection I have with my Alaskan Awful. I made the five-hour drive pulling the side by side, unloaded my gear and made the house livable on my own. Then, I rose at 4:30 a.m. and headed out to the woods. Late afternoon brought the opportunity for a 7-point whitetail. He was bounding through the brush lazily, probably trying to impress a doe. It was a lovely day, and quite a magical experience. After the shot though, the work started, and it did not run smoothly.
The tracking was easy as the trail was clear and obvious. However, it led directly into a thicket of laurels on a steep mountainside. It was exhausting just to walk through the thicket to find the deer. It was so thick, that field dressing the deer where I found it would be near impossible. I began to drag the deer, thinking that gravity would come to my aid since it was so steep. But every laurel branch was determined to snag an antler or leg. It didn’t take me long to realize that this could be beyond my capability.
I climbed up the mountain to where I had parked. I figured that since I didn’t have enough power myself, I would resort to the vehicle. Unfortunately, a trip down the steep mountainside and over a hundred laurel bushes only resulted in getting the side by side stuck in the same mess as the deer. All I had gotten out of this venture so far was a bunch of bruises and sore knees. (Well, it had sounded like a good plan at the time.)
I ended up swallowing some pride and walking to the nearest neighbors on the next hunting property. They gladly offered help, and after much difficulty got the side by side down the mountain in the dark. I couldn’t impose on them anymore, and I was completely spent. Even though it felt very wrong, I left the deer in the woods overnight. After some supper, lots of water and Tylenol, I fell asleep in the recliner having not made it to bed. The next morning, I set out to retrieve my deer.
My brother had left a cheap plastic sled in the shed. I figured it would do the trick and I grabbed my gear, some extra rope and the sled to journey back up the mountain. Wrestling the buck’s body onto the sled was a little easier this morning as it had been a cold night and the stiffness was helpful. Even though the going was a little easier than the day before with a sled and my rested body, it was only a little easier.
The laurels were relentless, and my sled was taking a real beating. It was not long before I had pulled the end with the rope attached completely away from the rest of the sled. After pondering my predicament, I took out the Alaskan Awful and set about drilling new holes in the other end of the sled. I was impressed at how easily the blade made a hole and how rotating the blade created a smooth hole that wouldn’t cut into a rope. Two holes and new ropes later had me going back to work.
By the time I reached the bottom of the mountain, I had little sled and even less energy. I brought out the Alaskan Awful again to cut slits for the gambrel. Once hoisted, I was rewarded with one of the easiest skinning jobs I have experienced. While working on the deer, I felt pride that I had finally retrieved the deer and pride that I was able to make quick work of it with my Alaskan Awful. I felt respect for the knife and noticed how it worked so easily as an extension of my hand. It was like the blade knew what I wanted and was eager to deliver.
When the job was done, the knife was washed, sheathed and returned to my side. It was ready for the next adventure before I was.
I hope this knife will see many more adventures, cut more meat for the table, and help me out of more situations. When the time comes that my hand will no longer hold this knife, I hope it finds its way into other hands. And maybe the next owner will notice the marks on this knife that were cut with my spirit. Maybe the part of me that wouldn’t quit until I had that deer in the freezer will somehow come to rest on that blade. Maybe the next owner will tend to think of me when their hand fits into the place that my hand has occupied.
Alaskan Awfuls can be found at [email protected]