It was the end of opening day at camp. The wood stove was burning. The stories of the hunt had been shared - growing taller as the drinks grew shorter. A big meal had just been finished. We were all gathered around the old table. Dogs stirred restlessly around our feet. Jeff slowly slid open the container his wife had sent along to reveal the cake. Pink cake specifically. Covered in pink frosting. With some sprinkly shit on top for good measure and a note that said "Enjoy deer camp boys, love Julie".
We all, of course, wanted cake. But it was pink. With pink frosting. And that sprinkly shit. Eventually, masculine pride succumbed to the draw of something sweet. Turns out pink cake is downright delicious and I don't know what those sprinkles were made of, but I suspect they are a near cousin to cocaine.
What started out as a joke has grown into an opening-day deer camp tradition. One of many that I've come to cherish. After every opening-day meal since that first time we eat pink cake on real plates, the victorious getting first dibs. It's not allowed to be touched before opening-day dinner. It would be bad luck. Everyone knows it. It sits temptingly on the counter until the allotted time.
Our group gathers every year in my buddy's log cabin in Northern Michigan. It has hosted some form of deer camp for the last 30 years running. Butch and a few of his family and friends built it by hand on the top of a pine-covered hill with a sweeping view. Before the cabin they slept in army hammocks in a pole barn with dirt floors and an aged wood stove. If the walls of that place could talk...well, let's just say it might not be suitable for all ages. There are stories. And traditions. Pink cake is one of them, at least now.
We hunt the vast public hills just across the street. Each area having a name inherited over time. The Pipe Stand. The Ridge. The Honey Hole. The Sniper's Nest. Each one unique. Each one special to one of the group. Each one with a hundred stories.
Over the years, the make up of who's in camp has evolved. At first it was Butch and his parents and brother. Over time a few of the friends joined in. I got brought into the group maybe fifteen or twenty years ago now; I've honestly lost track. My entry into the club was through my best friend, Jeff (the bearer of the cake), who I've known since little league days. Camp now includes some of our kids, my dad and even sometimes my cousin.
It's hard to put into words how special that place and that time is. I, of course, remember the deer we've taken over the years, although more and more I need the photos to jog the memory. What year was that again? Was that 2011 or 2012? Oh yeah, that was the year of the triple sevens. More than the deer I remember time with my buddies tramping through the woods, tracking, dragging, getting lost, getting in fights, drinking, shooting, driving the old two tracks, swapping stories, playing cards, assembling stands, cutting down trees, splitting wood, sitting by fires and staring at the stars in a vain attempt to predict the next day's weather. It all sounds pretty simple. And it is really. And that, I suppose, is the beauty.
I've come to learn that the best parts of my life are made up of these the small moments with my family and my closest friends. New places to explore and warm coffee from an old thermos. Cheap beer and good bourbon. Stories around the wood stove and cards around the table - where earlier we gathered for dinner after bowing our heads to give thanks. It's about traditions passed from one generation to the next. It's about pink cake at the end of a cold November day with my buddies, sprinkly shit and all. It's the unwarranted blessings of life and health to enjoy another season and the anticipation for the next that begins before the last bite of cake is even gone.