All about Opening Days and Traditions

Tomorrow is our general deer season opener.  Somewhere around 150,000 of our closest friends will be taking armed walks in the woods across the state.  Even with all the different “opening day of hunting” events (deer, elk and birds; archery, muzzleloaders and modern firearms) spreading hunters out over the fall, this is the big one.

I sometimes rue the loss of season opener traditions for families or cohorts.  With all these “opening days,” I wonder how they maintain season opener traditions.  Then I review my own traditions, and am reassured by various outdoor nuts that they cling to—and move—traditions as particular seasons move around.  Many of us even redefine “opening day” as a traditional time during an already open season when they and their gang head for the hills or water.  Opening day traditions are alive and well and evolving—and still set the tone for a successful outing.

Some of our traditions are activities that firmly place us in an annual season, and show us the state of our lives; canning and freezing produce, putting up meat or smoking fish, for example.  There are people without whom we could not fully experience a fishing trip or hunting season.  There are places become icons representing key moments in our lives, and omens of our success afield.  They evolve, of course, as we grow and change, but they are always important.

I was barely an adult when I attached to the first real icon in my outdoor life.  …And not much older when I felt the loss of it.

“Uh, oh…” Buddy Rick muttered.  “This is not good…  This is a bad omen.”

We were halfway down Crow Hill on U.S. 285, southwest of Denver, headed for trout fishing in South Park.  It was dark-thirty breakfast time on a Saturday; summer of 1969.

There was a note on the door of the darkened diner.

Rick and I had discovered the diner in 1964, a year after we met at Lowry AFB, following our overseas duty.  We quickly discovered each other’s outdoor spirit, and partnered up for hunting and fishing.  We were on our first pre-dawn drive to deer hunting in the South Park hills.  Our drive was filled with youthful talk of big bucks and well-fed successful hunters.  We planned to grab a quick bite in Bailey, at the bottom of the hill.  Then we saw the lights of the diner.

The old wood-slab diner sat alone on the outside of a carved-out turn on the west side of the road.  It had a clean, deeply-worn linoleum counter smoothed by the sliding of a million plates of eggs and sausage and flapjacks.  The tall, lean old-timer behind the counter had probably cooked every plateful.  We were struck by his ease and the hand-rolled smoke that somehow stayed lit while clinging to the farthest possible corner of his mouth.  “Well, what’ll it be boys?”

Over the years, the Old-timer’s Diner became the icon of our year-round outdoor play—our tradition.  We could pass up every food joint out of Denver, because we knew that the old boy would have the coffee and the grill, and his good humor, ready when we got there.  Plenty of others knew the place, too, but it was OUR place.  “Huntin’ and fishin’ keep you young,” he said once, “and I love ta get out… But first, I gotta feed my boys and get ‘em on their way.”  Some days, we had a better time over breakfast than in the woods or on the water the rest of the day—but we counted every day that started with his breakfast a success.

Then came that 1969 morning.

The hand-scrawled note said the old-timer had gone to his reward—which, we figured, had to be substantial for all he had given.  We stood for a moment outside that worn old building with the shiny new “For Sale” sign, subtly wiping tears we were too manly to have, and wished the old man a good trip to the happy hunting and fishing grounds.

They built a bank there.

Our South Park fishing and hunting was never quite the same.  Within a year, I was off to grad school and Rick was in a new career, months away from a crippling accident.  We were never the same either, but any mention of the old timer and his diner put us back in a safe and sacred time.

I have long known that we need our outdoor icons.

Each summer, on our way to fish our opener on the Klickitat, Edward and I stopped at Sod Busters restaurant in Goldendale.  It always has just the meal we need to kick off our adventure.

On our way to Westport, and the opener of any annual family ocean adventure, our only stop is the Rusty Tractor in Elma.

On the road to Wyoming, there are only a couple places we’ll stop—no matter when we hit them.

We have places where we pick up our licenses and gear, and wouldn’t consider another option.

We have a great local tradition, too.  Tomorrow, our main deer season opens, and hundreds upon hundreds of us will wander to the 26th Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk Teanaway Grange on Ballard Hill Road (signs at SR 970 and Teanaway Road).  Many will do a morning hunt, come refuel on the iconic breakfast of ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter, coffee and orange juice, of course), then head back out for the rest of a successful season.

Here’s to your successful fall…  And to the traditions that make it so.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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