ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

DEER-MITZVAH

For as long as anyone around here can remember, the Ure men have been deer hunters.

It's part of their heritage. Their history. Their identity.

Which makes the annual start of the deer hunt this weekend more than just another sporting event for the Ures. It's more like a pilgrimage, and the nearby mountains are Mecca.

All seven of the Ure boys will be there. So will many of their sons. For one or two of the younger nephews, this will be their first hunt. For them, it will be more than a glorious weekend of camping and hiking and male bonding. For them, it marks an end of innocense, a coming of age, a rite of passage, a deer-mitzvah.

"Today I am a Ure."

Some members of the family will travel great distances to be there, at some significant expense. But they won't think about the time or the money or the inconvenience. All they'll think about is being there, and being part of a family hunting legacy that extends back through generations to a time when a successful hunt meant there would be meat on the family table.

That isn't the case now. Cattle ranching is the family business, and even

though some of the Ure brothers are involved in other businesses as well, there is plenty of beef in every family freezer. That's probably why there is now an unwritten, unspoken rule about the Ure family deer hunting tradition (in fact, I'm probably violating some time-honored family code in even mentioning it - but then, I'm not a Ure): You can shoot at the paint cans that one of the brothers always brings to camp to help them sight-in their rifles. You can even shoot at a tree - as long as you do so safely. But no shooting at deer.

The problem with shooting at deer, of course, is that there's always the chance that you might hit it. And if you hit it, then you have to dress it out and skin it and haul it back to camp - not to mention all the stuff you have to do back home to prepare the meat for the table. And that's just way too much work for a family that has all the meat they need.

So the Ure men are deer hunters. They buy their hunting licenses. They carefully maintain their rifles and their camping equipment. They schedule their lives around the annual start of the deer hunt. And they joyfully hike and camp and hunt. They savor their time together - especially those long, late nights sitting around the campfire, talking and laughing and reminiscing. They just don't shoot at deer. To do so would be to fly in the face of tradition.

Just ask the nephew who made the mistake of actually shooting at a deer - and hitting it - a few years back. After grimly making the boy do all the work of dressing, skinning and hauling the deer (by himself, as much as possible), his father then made him go door-to-door throughout their neighborhood until he found good homes for all of that venison. You can be sure the younger Ure will never do anything crazy like THAT again.

That's sort of the way it is with family traditions. They exist because . . . well, because they exist. There isn't always a reason, nor are they always reasonable. In fact, some of the best and most meaningful family traditions are absolutely and emphatically unreasonable. That's what makes them traditional - because we wouldn't do them otherwise. But they bind us, one to another, with sturdy familial ties that link heart to heart, soul to soul and generation to generation.

Enduringly. Endearingly. If not "endeeringly."

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.