Looking far back into my childhood, I can remember childhood summers spent in the mountains of Colorado. Many such days spent in the thick underbrush of a sparkling stream, fishing for brookies. Hard work was always intermingled with those seasons, and each fall was given over to a long standing tradition of my grandfathers; hunting elk.
I still remember the first couple of excursions clearly, as we penetrated the woods further and deeper then I had imagined possible, hours from any trail marked by man or machine. Once I was in college the opportunity to tag along for the weekends was no longer feasible, and the notion itself faded. I was no hunter. I much preferred to take my time off, and seek adventure in the high desert, mountain bikes and camera equipment traded for heavy boots and rifles.
Years would pass before I was given the opportunity to delve into the rocky mountains at my grandfathers side. I packed a light lunch and filled the rest of my satchel with camera, lens and a few extra rolls of film. It was autumn of the same year I returned from just over two years on African soil.
On Wednesday morning I set out on the same steep road, camera and rifle in hand, frozen earth under heavy boots.
The nature of a long term photo project is that one can take the time to understand a subject, evaluate and improve. Their is more opportunity for the unexpected, and lot of opportunity to improve on the expected. Ones own perspective is bound to change as time goes on, and the story itself is destined to develop with each years passing. So I ask myself, what do I hope to accomplish this time, what is missing? Is the story almost complete, or just beginning?
This is my grandfather, James W. Shockley. He is a hard old man, a worker, and a real bad ass-the sort of guy that would make John Wayne seem soft, lazy in comparison. Born in a small town on the panhandle of Texas he was witness to the end of the Great Depression and is no stranger to hardship, or the old ways.
He brakes the standard rule, for he is a jack of all trades and has managed to master a few. Perhaps his only real enjoyment out side of family and hard work would be his one week of elk hunting each year, which he never misses. Dub, as he is called by his friends, still manages to hunt the high ridges and deep, rugged forest at the age of eighty, shoots straighter then most, and processes his own meat. Enter the old ways, very few have the know how or take the massive effort required to clean, butcher, and process big game for themselves.
Set in the dusty barn of my youth is a large meat block, and under that table is an old portable heater that buzzes when turned on, emitting a strong burned smell from its many years of service. My grandfather boils water to clean the surface of the large wooden table and sharpens various knives on the heavy whit stones which lay off to the side. The largest pieces of the animal are butchered first, leaving the finer cuts of meat till the end, each one carefully wrapped in clean white butcher paper and labeled by hand.
A large steel Hobart grinder turns all the small cuts and second choice meat into sausage. Dogs gather from near and far to bicker and fight over the scraps turned out for them, the larger dogs carry away the bones and ribs as if victorious in their own hunt. The warm water and what little heat is radiated from the space heater make winter conditions in the barn bearable as the hours of labor drag on till the last package of meat is neatly stacked in the icebox.
Knives, rifles, clothing and boots are all cleaned and stored until the following year when the weather turns cold once again and the Fourth Season opens for young men and old hunters.