Our Atypical Thanksgiving
Updated: Dec 31, 2022
We returned to our slice of paradise for Thanksgiving again this year. Completely off grid, quiet, and cold- it is our sanctuary. We left behind business pressures, teenage troubles, school teacher woes, and young adult "what ifs."
In the woods amongst the sage brush, the locusts bushes (robinia neomexicana- and boy are they mean) and ponderosa trees, we found "our happy." Madsen and Maleck had both landed Arizona Elk tags. Last year Emma's Elk hunt proved successful, so we decided to give it another go. Stockton, newly returned from serving a full time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, salivated at the prospect of being in the mountains- Alabama mountains just aren't quite the same.
Rigby, our seasoned guide, came fully equipped with camo, ammunition, maps, binos, spotting scopes, range finders, walking sticks, hand warmers, and GPS coordinates. Thankfully, our boys now 22, 20 and 14 helped to lift the load as Trav's fall cold was kicking his booty.
Thanksgiving morning we woke to frozen pipes in the trailer. This meant we girls would have to "rough it" in the cold morning air to do our "business. We spent the morning scouting a bit. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in glassing. Somewhat discouraged , we returned to camp. However, movies, food, and games in the trailer softened the blow as well as enjoyable Thanksgiving Shrimp in our wall tent. That evening the boys headed out to check out a "spot" as Rigby rested and Emma and I enjoyed a nap. While this Thanksgiving was anything but traditional, it was certainly memorable. That evening the boys headed out to check out a "spot" as Rigby rested and Emma and I enjoyed a nap.
The alarm sang at 4:30 AM the next day. Opening morning butterflies swarmed as we readied our packs and made our plans for the journey. We split up into two groups to increase our chances of spotting the "big one." Because Madsen had to be back for his college classes on Monday, filling his tag was priority. Emma, Maleck, Stockton and I gathered our gear and climbed into the Tacoma as Rigby and Madsen jumped into the side by side. With our plans in play, we hoped that today would be the day. As the hours ticked by we became Somewhat discouraged by the neighboring sounds of bullets echoing in the hills, we pressed on.
The day was slowly dwindling away and Stockton's anticipation was giving way to frustration. He hadn't spotted any elk. We built a small fire to warm our worries as we hoped to hear from Rigby and Madsen on the radio. And then a gun sounded and "we knew" it was Madsen's. Sure enough, we received radio contact. We high tailed it back to the Tacoma, got to where the side by side was parked, emptied our packs, and hiked to Madsen's Elk. We were to be the "Pack Crew."
We found Travis and Madsen hard at work quartering out the elk when we arrived. This was Madsen's first Elk tag and the excitement was palpable. The trek out was a 1,000 foot climb in elevation from the creek bed to the Tacoma, and it was adventure. Everyone did their share. I was thrilled they had even let me come along, knowing I was the least physically prepared for this adventure. They each packed a heavy load out, and me well, I packed the gun. Although my "pack" was the lightest, I was the last in the line of hunters.
We were "happy campers" that night as we nestled in the warm trailer and celebrated with food and a John Wayne movie. Sunday morning Emma, Madsen and I made the nine hour trek back home to life and all of its responsibilities. We left hopeful that Maleck might fill his tag.
This was Rigby's 12th successful. I love that Rigby takes us all along on his adventures. Hunting has become a family hobby. It is not just something the "men" in the family enjoy. Emma can out shoot and out hike most of her brothers. She is spirited and has a keen sense of direction just like Rigby.
Elk hunting is hard. And the Arizona landscape while absolutely beautiful is an enemy. Between the locust bushes and the fallen trees, the land is unforgiving and cruel all in one. This experience filled me. Watching my crew work together, embrace nature, learn from it and follow its path was unforgettable. In all of us, there remains the hunter-gatherer instinct, the Arizona White mountains taught us that.