I’ve often heard that those we love who die are always with us. But I never expected the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources to confirm it for me.
It was a summer ago that my father handed me a spreadsheet. It contained an exhaustive list of options for those seeking licenses to hunt, catch or trap something to either eat, have stuffed or hang in a particularly rustic living room. Across the page, a corresponding list of prices detailed how much it would cost to obtain such privileges.
“I found this interesting,” he said. “Take a look at that first line.”
There at the top it said, “Under 5.” We agreed we had both known a five-year-old or two in our time and that the last thing either of us would ever dare to do would be to arm one.
“I don’t hunt much myself,” he went on, “but I figure if I ever go out with anyone else who does, I might as well be legal.”
He pointed to the line reading “Lifetime License Card.”
“It makes sense to me,” he said, “to just get myself one of those.”
I agreed that at the bargain price of $65 for those “70+” it did make sense that, on the off chance he would find a renewed interest in trudging out to the woods on some frozen November morning on the 70+ acres at our camp in Western New York to be laughed at by more wily animals, he should have the proper qualifications.
Hunting had been the sort of sport my grandfather, Howard Welshofer, appreciated; so much so, that in the late 1960s he decided to find a place all his own to do just that. He wanted a joint fit for men being men–hunting, drinking, playing cards and telling stories about hunting, drinking and playing cards. Atop a hill on the curve of a long, winding, desolate road he found just what he was looking for–a long thin plot of land, pretty much barren save for a humble two-story home just 100-odd feet from the road.
He paid about $100 dollars an acre for the place and the sellers threw in the house for an extra 100 bucks. I never saw it then, but the pictures tell the story well enough. Suffice to say, he probably overpaid for what amounted to a collection of house-shaped boards. A windowless, dreary shack on a treeless hill, it didn’t have running water or electricity but it seems to me it was a testament to what was either his complete optimism or utter insanity.
At the time, my grandfather worked for a company called Watson. They outfitted banks with everything banks needed to be banks–vaults and tellers’ cages and such. It was a good living and one that afforded him luxuries like buying a second home. The story goes that after he bought the place, he instructed the deliverymen at Watson to pick up and buy any windows they saw for sale along their delivery routes.
“Buy them,” he would say, “and I will reimburse you.”
Those windows remain wedged into the holes of the old shack on the hill to this day and the house itself is surrounded by a lush red pine forest he planted pretty much singlehandedly to fill out the barren landscape. It became known simply as Camp Aganhow–Agnes and Howard–my grandparents, though I’m sure no one would have objected to calling it: Howard’s Folly.
I’ve spent just about every summer there, give or take a week, since I was old enough to be around. It’s been hard to know just how to classify it: summer house seems too highfalutin and hunting camp doesn’t seem quite accurate. While I’ve mowed miles of lawn, chopped dozens of trees and started countless bonfires, I’ve never leveled a shotgun at anything there a day in my life. But once upon a time, that’s what they did there, what the men did there and how once upon a time my father spent time with his dad.
Those days have long passed, the only signs of it, really, are a dusty pair of antlers that hover over the couch in the living room. But even if he didn’t hunt anymore, my dad welcomed friends and family who did to stalk the woods the way the generation before him did–with a hearty breakfast and an even heartier cocktail at day’s end.
“Avid hunter” are not words one would use to describe my dad and so it was with great amusement we received the following letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:
Dear Lifetime License Holder:
I am pleased to announce the delivery of your new Lifetime License card which you will find enclosed. It has all the information needed when you are hunting, fishing or trapping.
They might as well have said, “we are pleased to announce the delivery of your new roller skates” for all the use it would get. The letter went on to detail the rules and regulations of the accompanying card, it explained how further regulations could be found online and it explained what do to in the event that the card is lost.
Have a safe and enjoyable hunting/trapping/fishing season and thank you for being a part of our Lifetime License family.
License Sales Supervisor
This was, of course, the card that my father had decided to purchase the summer before–a Lifetime License to hunt in the State of New York. The only problem: it had arrived no fewer than six months after his death. If anyone had questioned the stickiness of red tape or the absurdity of bureaucracy–well then, this seemed perfect evidence.
What seemed even more absurd, though, was the small joy I found in that little plastic card with the picture of a black bear. In someone’s world, Harry L. Welshofer still needed a hunting license, he still had the option of trudging out into those woods on a cold November morning. He would have laughed at the nonsense of it all….and so I laughed about it too.
I’ve never been one to enter into political debates. They’ve just never interested me. What’s the point? At least, that’s what I’ve always thought. But I have a feeling that may change now. The next time I’m faced with such a discussion, I believe I will have something to say, something to add.
I understand that the State of New York has its problems. Its lawmakers have been called “dysfunctional” and the taxpayers pay a fortune to live here. There’s a lot wrong with what goes on in our state, but I admire its optimism. The Empire State is a lot like my grandfather in that way. After all, these are the people who issued a Lifetime Sportsman License to a dead guy.
I have to respect that.