I knew I was marrying an avid hunter, but not until the morning before our wedding day did I ever see Matt in all his hunting glory. It was the dove season opener, and Matt had gone out early to shoot birds. I stayed back because, a) I don't hunt, b) I don't want to hunt, and c) it was the day before my wedding, and I was the Queen of Hearts, haphazardly shouting to mostly no one: "the tables must go here; the gift station must go there; does nobody care that I chipped a nail - off with your heads!" Needless to say, Matt's decision to camouflage himself and spend the morning alone in an obscure field was as much for his protection as it was for his love of the sport.
I was eager for his late morning return as the list of honey-dos impatiently grew, but what I wasn't prepared for was the physical sight of my soon-to-be-husband returning from his hunt. Like an army general strategizing her next command, I stood on the lawn overlooking our backyard venue, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted what appeared to be a walking tree trunk moving toward me. As my eyes narrowed and gained focus, I became paralyzed at the realization that walking toward me was actually a man, and not just any man - it was my fiancé. He approached me eagerly, excitedly pulling from his satchel several small and very dead birds. I took a step back, disgusted by the ease with which he held them in his exposed hand, and I thought, "What in the hell have I gotten myself into?" He was so happy and proud and I was so, well, nauseous.
Little did I know, that was only the beginning of what has become 12 years worth of less than appetizing surprises: opening the fridge to retrieve my vanilla almond milk, and BAM! - raw duck breasts sitting in a pool of blood; going to the deep freezer to put away a week's worth of frozen groceries to feed our family, and BAM! - pounds and pounds of vacuum sealed venison steaks monopolizing the limited space; opening the trunk of the car to load the baby's stroller, and BAM! a 12-gauge Beretta shotgun resting across the trunk floor; finally agreeing to try the prized bird meat my husband enthusiastically prepared, and BAM! a kernel-sized steel shot near split my jaw as I sacrificially took the first bite.
While I have grown to live with, and even embrace, most of these curiosities, I still suffer the occasional what-in-the-sam-hill reaction to my beloved's lifestyle (such as the peculiar tendency for our offspring to join their father in his tomfoolery, resulting in my baby-faced 11-year-old climbing 25 feet into a tree to sit precariously against the trunk and wait for "the big one" - but why though?) Mostly I can smile at the grace of marrying a man who enjoys being alone in nature, spending dark and damp early mornings wading for ducks, and putting food on the table by bringing home deer steaks which our kids happily devour.
It's the magic of marriage, that the shock and awe of learning who your spouse really is begins to wane, somewhat because a hanging deer carcass in the garage somehow becomes normal life and also because other irritants step in to take the place of what only used to drive you nuts. Twelve years into this dance and I can now tell you when mating season is for most types of wildlife, what time the sun rises and sets depending on the season, and what is the bag limit for each species of Ohio waterfowl. If you're lucky, marriage softens you and gifts you an expanded version of the life you once knew. You discover that venison chili is legit, a European buck mount will hang fabulously over the fireplace, and protecting every November weekend for maximum hunting days during the rut is actually quite a lovely excuse to making absolutely no plans for an entire month. And if I'm being really honest, I ain't ever seen anything sexier than a man fully clothed in Real Tree camouflage - who knew?
(And for the record, I don't care how safe it is, that blinding safety orange has got to go. What a turn off.)
Happy anniversary, Matt Hooper. You’re my favorite catch.