The alarm clock starts buzzing, and I jump out of bed. It’s 4:30 am on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I head for the front door to check the outside temperature from the oversized thermometer that hangs like Big Ben from a deck post. I peek through the window first and it reads 5 degrees Fahrenheit Like a male driver who doesn’t trust his GPS and decides to turn left instead of right even though the arrow on the screen is saying “turn right vlaka” I open the door and go out on the deck of the cabin to take a closer look and see for myself how cold it is. It’s cold. I shut the door quickly behind my head and to the kitchen where I hit the “on” button of the coffee maker and start cracking a dozen or so eggs. Next, I turn on Greek “klarina” music full blast and wake everybody up. My patrioti buddy Pete who hails from my neck of the woods (Arcadia) appears in all white thermal underwear hands raised ready to dance a “kofto” tsamiko while my other northern Greek “kardasia” who find this type of music annoying start yelling in Greek, English and Greeklish telling me to turn the fu#|in’ music off.
One by one they make their appearance and ask if it’s cold outside to which I reply “yes, it’s 5 degrees” but they go ahead anyway and open the door to check the thermometer for themselves because as one of these “northerners” tells me “You’re from Peloponnisos, and you can’t be trusted”. Welcome to the opening day of the PA buck season and our hunting camp in the mountainous region of the Pocono Mountains in Luzerne County.
Our crew usually consists of 3 to 5 hunters and a few non-hunters who pay us a visit on the Saturday and Sunday before opening day to eat, drink and ask why we have to go to the mountains to kill a deer when they have them hanging out in their backyard in suburban Philadelphia.
As the vehicles pull up to the cabin you can’t help but notice that the “parea” is an interesting mix of engineers, restauranteurs, car mechanics and retirees, people from all walks of life and different regions of Greece: Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete and the Peloponnese.
As the homemade tsipouro flows and the spetzofai is served one can’t help but notice that the discussions are about all things Greek. The economic crisis, Olympiacos, Greek politics and who makes the best baklava. Strongly opinionated personalities about things they know and things they don’t.
Controlled chaos with everyone talking simultaneously trying to convince the others why Tsipras must resign or why Kazantzidis was the best singer Greece had ever known. “Shouldn’t we be talking about Trump instead of Tsipra?” I ask. But as expected, I’m ignored. Then there’s the friend who we will call “Niko” who every year tries to convince the others to play cards, “Tha paixoume kamia pokitsa?” He asks with chips and a few decks of cards being shuffled in his hands that just happen to appear out of nowhere. It’s the same story year after year but “Niko” has yet to convince anyone to join him. What is it with Greeks and gambling anyway? I never understood that one. It just seems like every Greek family has at least one member who lost everything at the kafeneio, the track or the casino.
Opening day arrives, and it’s time to hit the woods. After the “good lucks” and the “be safes” we all disappear before daybreak to our honey hole hunting spots where we will sit from sun up all the way till nightfall waiting for that big buck that will give us bragging rights among our peers and allow us to puff our chest with pics on Facebook.
Sitting in my tree stand I look at my watch, and it’s 6:15 am and dark just waiting for daybreak. My hunting clothes are drenched in scent block so the deer can’t smell me, and the coffee and cigarettes are left back at camp because according to the shooting gurus if you want to get a big buck you have to have to be prepared with the right gear, and clothes that will keep you warm. A few hours pass and I haven’t seen a thing, not even a squirrel. As I reach for my flask to have a sip of tsipouro I hear a “Bang” and know that one of our crew shot a buck. The cell phone started lighting up, and Yianni says he needs help with his fresh kill. I head on over and there he waits over his deer with his thermos full of coffee on one hand and a cigarette in the other. I give him a “hi-five” and look down on the ground where I see about 15 more cigarette butts.
I take a step back and look at this guy who is wearing blue jeans a north face jacket and dark shades, he looks more like a skier than a hunter and goes into great detail of how the deer approached and when he pulled the trigger. I help him load the deer on the ATV so he can go back to camp, and I head right back to my hunting spot.
It’s now approaching noon, and I see a fluorescent orange silhouette in the distance walking on a ridge line, and immediately I think “Xeno” trespasser so I quickly climb down the tree to confront this guy. “HEY,” I yell out, “you’re trespassing” and the hunter completely ignores me and continues his course. He’s about 100 yards away, and I start running towards him yelling and trying to get his attention without any luck. I’m getting closer and closer, and when I get to about 20 yards, I give one final warning, and again he ignores me!!!
I then walk right up to him from behind, and I hit this person on the shoulder, “Costa” he says as he turns “you snuck up behind me and scared me, I’m cold and heading to the cabin.” Of course, it’s “mparmpa” Andrea, my father in law’s 85-year-old Greek buddy who is practically deaf but like most if not all Greek pappoudes his age he refuses to wear a hearing aid. “What are other Greeks gonna think?” Geez!!!
So for a third time in a few hours, I head back to my tree stand determined to get a deer. I hear footsteps behind me, and a doe (female deer) appears with a nice buck right behind her, a shooter for sure. I slowly mount my rifle and take aim through my riflescope and this majestic animal is looking right back at me. “Look the other way, close your eyes so I can shoot you” I’m thinking to myself, but instead he tilts his head without losing his stare as if he was telling me “what have I done to you and why do you want to shoot me?” Then I remembered the words of a friend who was encouraging me to take a camera to the woods instead of a rifle because a beautiful picture would last forever he claimed so I let the buck walk off to live another day.
A few hours pass and then I notice these thick clouds coming in and before I can say “Paraskevopoulos” the fog becomes so dense that it reduces visibility to zero. I decide to wait out the storm besides my father always said that our village produced “Palikaria” so I wasn’t going to be the first to embarrass my fellow “xorianous.” My phone starts vibrating again and one of my friends is telling me to head back to camp because there’s a snowstorm in the weather forecast and visibility will be zero.
I access the situation and decide to stay put and wait for the storm to pass but what a mistake that turned out to be. It’s now getting dark and the snowfall has intensified to the point that I can’t see past my nose so I start walking slowly in the direction which I thought was the cabin and I walk and walk but I realize I’m heading in the wrong direction, and the sound of the water running in a creek is a reminder to turn around.
When lost, all the survivor books tell you to stop moving and try to access the situation before you start running again. I grab my cell phone to call one of my comrades and tell them not to worry, but the battery is dead.
Eventually, I find my way back and the headlamp is put to good use as I approach the cabin, and everyone comes running out to see what happened. I was told that some in the group wanted to call the rescue squad but thank God they didn’t. “Costas got lost in the woods” would be the topic of discussion at the kafeneio and what a blow that would have been to my Greek ego.”Did you get lost ?” I was asked.
“Nah just stayed out longer than I wanted to” was my reply looking at mparmpa Andrea, who smiled back and said, “we Greeks don’t get lost.”
Day two was pretty uneventful, but that’s just fine with me. Taking time off and being in the woods is therapy for the soul. One reflects, remembers events from past hunts and gets to spend time with friends and tell stories around a fire and since I don’t care to shoot a deer maybe next year, I will carry a camera instead of a rifle.