Death of close farming friend hurts

Steffe, Farm

One of the ills of growing older is that all the friends one has made through the years grow older too, and sometimes they leave us well before we expect that to happen.

On Monday morning, a close friend whose farm sits less that a mile from my home, died after his battle with brain cancer. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the worst type of this disease possible. Life expectancy is usually six to 12 months, but Duane fought his illness for almost two years.

I’ve known Duane for a long time, even though he was 10 years my younger. He was the youngest of four children, and is the first to pass. I knew his father also, who lived into his nineties, and could always be found at his farm doing some sort of chore.

In my case, I got to know them when seeking permission to hunt on their farm. There was some earlier years of dove hunting that was my reason for being here, but mostly, it was the Canada and snow geese that would visit the huge expanse of their harvested fields in late fall through winter that brought companions and myself to this large stretch of richly fertile land.

Duane himself was a hunter. In his early years he was a devoted small-game hunter, but as years passed and wild pheasants began to disappear, he strictly stuck to hunting deer, with both bow and gun.

I know he took some good bucks through the years, always finding time to work in some hunting around all laborious tasks a big farm requires. He was a hard worker and pretty good hunter.

Yet, his most endearing quality had to be his exceptional character of warm friendliness, and the way he shared his land with others.

My friends and I were not the only ones to hunt the farm. Although it was strictly dove and waterfowl hunters who came here, he rarely turned anyone down who asked to hunt. His only rule seemed to be that, should two or more groups of waterfowl hunters come to the farm, he would expect no arguing between them. And if agreement could not be reached by different groups, the first arrivals had the rights to the hunting.

I spoke with his wife the day of his death, and we agreed that we knew of no one who had a bad word to say about Duane. He was just that rare man we so rarely encounter.

Of course, my relationship with him was beyond hunting. Whenever he dropped some trees that needed to be removed from his property he’d let me know there was plenty of wood available for me to cut and split for my home use.

He raised steers, and through the past five years I would purchase a half of angus beef that he took to a local butcher after he had skinned the animal. I merely had to tell the butcher my desired cuts, and pick up the finished product. Given that Duane kept the steers in a large fenced field to munch on wild grasses, and added little in the way of grain to their diet, the resulting meat was superb.

At least once a week, and often times more often, I would stop by to merely chat with Duane. We covered everything from sports to the problems of moving grain prices and what his crops would return in payment to him, and a whole lot in between.

I hunt other farms beside this one, and I find those people just as gracious in the land they share, and I welcome their friendship. Much like Duane, I marvel at their weathered faces and calloused hands, knowing by those markings that being a farmer is always a labor of love. They are closely connected to their land, and the resulting relationship with nature and what it provides is gratifying for them, I’m sure.

This farm is the one I walk almost daily when I’m not hunting or spending time fishing, enjoying a spot away from highways and too many homes for needed solitude. Being there now, hunting or walking, will fill me with melancholy. But I also know that if I visit enough times, and continue to gaze across fields of grain, both growing and harvested, plus pitching geese, I will eventually find solace.

In time, when visits to this farm are free of deep sadness, it will bring a contented grin to my face, knowing that the land I walk and hunt once belonged to a friend who never hesitated to welcome me here.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Ron Steffe

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