Storytellers Project

The USA Today Storytellers Project took me deep into the woods and deep into my heart to tell the story of one incredible yet unconventional romantic weekend in the woods where our quest for sustenance and our love for one another resulted in a surprisingly intimate hunting trip.

I hope you’ll take ten minutes to watch the video or read the transcript of the story.

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp with other USA Today Storytellers

USA Today Storytellers Project Video

This Storytellers Project performance took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, in February of 2019. Cincinnati Enquirer journalist Byron McCauley introduces me.

Storytellers Project Transcript

It happened to be Valentine’s Day when my boyfriend, Felipe helped me pick out a compound bow from the sporting goods store. I remember thinking it an appropriate purchase for the day. Cupid was in fact an accomplished archer.

Felipe grew up hunting with his dad in southern Texas. I, on the other hand, grew up identifying birds at the nature center. I never considered myself a person capable of pulling the trigger. I preferred to pick up a good bloody steak from the grocery and slap it on the grill like everyone else. Putting seared steak slices over a salad with homemade blue cheese dressing was one of my favorite things. But there was a separation of the kill from the feast that I was comfortable with. Most of us are, I think. Dating Felipe, I became increasingly more aware of the deer – the fresh meat – lying on the side of the road. I knew the ecological impact of big business farming, so Why buy beef from the grocery store when a fresher, more humane, more ecologically sound way to harvest meat lay right there on the side of the road? It’s easier that’s why and I was no longer satisfied with that. It was time for me to pull the kill closer and take my proper place in life’s cycle. I wanted to confront the hypocrite within and Felipe was just just the guy to help me do it. I loved him.

So, I practiced with my bow all spring and summer and then when bow season arrived, I took my favorite guy to my favorite place – my aunt and uncle’s farm in Athens, Ohio. They had horses and chickens and land to hunt at the foothills of Appalachia. I had retreated to that farm for so many weekends during my adult life.

Whenever I needed a place to fall apart, like when the bad marriage that consumed a decade was finally falling apart, the farm was there for me and so was my aunt Mary and my cousin Adam. Athens was my safe place, my comforting place. Then, I met Felipe and he became my safe place.

When Felipe and I arrived on Friday, we set-up our hunting blind and the next morning we woke way before dawn. On our dark walk to our blind, I kept one flashlight at our feet while Felipe used another to canvas the path in front of us. I focused on each deliberate step. To think about what accompanied us in the darkness made me nervous — like swimming in a murky lake.

Felipe took the first steps. I trusted and followed. I don’t trust easily, but there in the darkness I trusted him. We settled into the blind and shut off our flashlights. I reached for him and he read my mind, finding my face with his hands he kissed me gently in the quiet. I don’t know if he felt what I did but I wanted to tell him I felt safe in the woods in the dark with him, that I trusted him. I trusted us as a team. I hoped he understood it all.

When the sky lightened, we waited for deer.

That first day in the field, we saw a does out of range, we saw a bachelor group of three bucks near the persimmon tree. We passed binoculars back and forth and watched them in awe until they crossed the dry creek bed and disappeared into the woods.

We also saw a flock of nine turkeys that meandered close enough for me to have a shot. It was the first time I observed wildlife with the intent to kill. I was nervous and felt wobbly as I pulled back my bow. I shot and I missed. I tried again and the bird jumped up in the side when my arrow ruffled his feathers. I couldn’t believe how much my heart pounded and Felipe reminded me that I had intended to take that bird’s life. A life was a life, I guess. There was no degree of in-between.

The next morning Felipe helped me get settled into the blind and then disappeared into the darkness to find his spot under the persimmon tree and wait for the morning bucks. One of those bucks came back just after sun up. I watched the buck through binoculars as he grazed between the persimmon tree and an apple tree. I knew Felipe’s position. I wondered was his heart drumming? Did he summon his skill despite his rush of adrenaline? A straight arrow for a quick death.

Then, the buck raced full speed across the field and jumped the creek. They don’t fall over dead when hit with an arrow like when hit with a bullet. they run with adrenaline. When Felipe emerged from his spot under the persimmon tree and waved his arm overhead. I rushed over to him.
“This is where the work begins,” Felipe said, and I knew exactly what he meant. It was time to track.

We walked to the edge of the woods and climbed down into the dry creek bed. And Just like he had in the darkness of the early morning, Felipe stepped down first and then offered me a helping hand. I searched for the buck’s entry point. Droplets of blood spattered on the leafy green plant.
My excitement erupted. “I’ve got blood!”

Side by side, Felipe and I followed spatters and drops, the blood shone wet, bright red, and it exhilarated me to track. We followed it to a wedge of land where the creek forked. but we lost the blood trail there. We walked up the creek bed looking for clues. We found nothing. Felipe pushed forward. We never considered leaving the buck behind. I studied the rocks in the creek bed. A tiny spatter of blood glistened on a flat rock. Then I found another spatter on a leaf near a fallen tree.

We were still on the right track.

But I found no more blood beyond that spatter.

We stood in the creek bed, blocked by a fallen tree, uncertain of where to look next. I took a few steps in each direction searching for evidence. We never considered leaving that buck behind. Down the creek bed, Felipe whistled to get my attention. He smiled and waved for me to join him. He helped me over the fallen tree and there, the buck lay dead in a cleared spot on the incline. Except for his open eyes, he appeared to be sleeping.

Felipe took my hand and lead me up to our buck. He squatted next to his kill and asked me how I was feeling about it.

I reached down to pet the buck’s neck. I felt somber, but I felt immense gratitude at the same time. I wanted to thank that buck for his life. I helped harvest him. With Felipe, I had now participated in death for sustenance and connected with my food like I never had before.

We decided I would be the one to hike out to get my Uncle butch to help us transport. I’m not very good at waiting. I turned to walk back up the creek bed. Felipe called out to me, “Bonnie!”

I turned. He wore a big smile and had shifted to one knee. In his camouflage he looked like a leafy stump. “Will you marry me?” he asked.

I was like are you kidding me? You’re really asking me, kneeling over a dead deer?

I walked back to him and dropped to my knees. I put my arms around him and told him, “You’re an asshole.”

You see, I had expected his proposal a year earlier, at Thanksgiving when he delivered his speech of gratitude. My mom had teared up, my dad had choked up, and even his aunt had waited for that question to follow his poignant speech. A few months later we had sat at our “anniversary” dinner, to mark the day we met. A special night filled with memories and future intentions. But he hadn’t asked me then either. I had confronted him only to learn that “it just wasn’t time.” I decided to choose happiness and to let the rest go. I had put the idea aside. I no longer wanted its preoccupation. Marriage was officially off the table. Loving him was enough. Then he drop-kicked me there next to a dead deer.

I kissed him and when I pulled back he said, “This is us.”

And he was right. That was us; the whole weekend experience was pure us in all of its simple intimacy. I ended up with my head on his shoulder. I gave him the real answer that choked in my throat.

“Of course.”

We’ve been together for 12 years. We don’t buy nearly as much meat from the grocery anymore. On a good year we aim to only eat the meat and fish we’ve harvested ourselves. I still make my favorite salad with blue cheese dressing. But now I’d rather sear a good venison steak on the grille to go with it. We still visit my aunt and uncle’s farm as much as we can, and our three-year-old son is growing up knowing the farm is a special place and that it is there for him, too.

Thank you for reading and watching my story for the USA Today Storytellers Project. For more videos of news appearances and stories featuring Bonnie Click on Videos here or in the menu.

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