Marty Meierotto is an unlikely star. The veteran Alaska bush trapper spends his trapping seasons in a remote cabin 200 miles from civilization. In the summer months, he’s a smoke jumper for the Alaska Fire Service. But tomorrow night he’ll be on national television on a reality show all about his lifestyle as a modern-day mountain man.
“Mountain Men,” which will air at 9 p.m. Central tomorrow on the History Channel, features Meierotto and two other mountain men.
While Meierotto might be new to most of the viewers of the show tomorrow, Trapper & Predator Caller readers might recognize the name. Meierotto has written stories for the magazine in the past.
His story entitled “Because It’s Worth It” appeared in the August 2010 issue. As you’ll find after reading it, Meierotto is an extremely passionate outdoorsmen and will no doubt represent trappers well on TV. And he was correct, fur is shining again only a couple of years later!
Because It’s Worth It
By Marty Meierotto
Here we are facing the all to familiar dismal fur price forecast. It seems the ranks of active trappers are thinning just a little more. Many have not given up but are putting their operations on hold, hoping for better days and at least a small return for their efforts.
Many are hopeless cases, myself included, who carry on our time-honored trade impervious to the dismal fur prices and rising costs of almost every other necessity for our traplines. Judged by some trappers and most wives to be foolish, we carry on. It’s a part of who we are, the very fiber of our being.
More Than Money
Many times in years like this I will hear the phrase, “Its just not worth it!” I assume they are referring to the financial gain that can sometimes be realized with higher fur prices. I always sympathize with them and try to remind them that fur prices have always been a roller coaster of ups and downs. As the mountain men used to say, “fur will shine again!”
If we were honest with ourselves, even in years when the price is good, if we divided the fur check by the many hours we spent scouting, setting, checking, skinning and just the general preparation that is involved in the trapline, let alone the expenses, our wages would dwindle to insignificance. So, in truth, who among us traps solely for financial gain?
There is no doubt that it is certainly aggravating to pay more for gas and get less for our fur. This is especially true when a bad year follows a good one because of the glaring contrasts. Our time and efforts remain the same, our skill in pelt preparation has most likely improved, and yet our fur is worthless. I vividly remember getting more for my beaver pelts in high school than I do now, 25 years later, and that’s not even figuring what the dollar would buy then compared to now.
At times, I find myself frustrated and mutter those very words — “This just isn’t worth it!” But then I sit down and reflect and question my true motives and ponder the worth of it all. I think back on all the cherished experiences I have had over the past 40 years.
I think of the times the trapline has tested me in one way or another, sometimes beyond the limits of what I thought I could endure. Yet, I have overcome those challenges.
I think of the many unexpected thrills that, to this very day, still fire my blood.
I think of the way my time in the field has changed the very person that I thought I was, always, I think, for the better.
I have learned sacrifice, perseverance, modesty, humbleness, humility, compassion, respect, nature’s wonders and the grace of God. In many ways, it has made me who I am today and is one of the strongest influences in my life.
We all have memories we cherish from our time spent on the line. It isn’t just the catches that come to mind but the misses as well. It’s the sights and sounds, the smell of a crisp winter day. Even the heavenly warmth of home or cabin after battling a long cold, bitter day is part of the joys and benefits of the trapline. We also can’t forget the people we chance to meet in the trapping world who are a part of what makes trapping so appealing.
Now ask yourself what all these memories are worth. Can a price be put on such experiences? How many of us would willingly discard a cherished memory on the grounds of whether money was made that day or not?
Of course we all have our bad days as well. Not everyday spent a field is awash in sunshine and happiness. There are many days I would just as soon not live through again. Yet even those fretful days have their long-term benefits.
We’ve all had those arduous days when there just seems to be too much for one person and all things seem to have turned against you. But you survive; win the battle. When you get through the day, you have passed a test of mind, body or both. You have tempered the very metal of which you are made and you came away with a special sense of strength and accomplishment that no 9-to-5 job can ever give you.
Gift From an Old Man
A long time ago, when I was a young lad in northern Wisconsin, I had a friendship with an old man. From our first meeting, I had a special liking for the old man and I’d like to think he felt the same toward me. The time eventually came when he lay in a hospital bed dying. Cancer had left him with a few precious weeks remaining on this old earth, a fact of which he was very well aware.
I went to visit the old man several times during those final weeks and, at times, it was just he and I alone in the hospital room. I remember sitting there, feeling a little uncomfortable. Being a young kid, I didn’t have a whole lot to say and all I felt was a deep sadness for my friend.
There were times when the silences between our small talk seemed oppressive, but I am sure now that he never even noticed them. At those times, he would gaze out the hospital window at the manicured lawn beyond, but I believe he was actually gazing through a different window into the past.
“You know, Marty,” he would always begin. The story that followed was, without exception, of a deer hunt or a special moment he had experienced while in the woods. He would remember every minuet detail of that particular day so long ago and recall the story for me with all the enthusiasm he felt the day it happened.
On one visit he sighed and began, “You know, Marty, I have probably taken 100 deer in my life.”
I realize now that he wasn’t bragging. He had been lying in that hospital bed, reliving every one of those hunts for each of those deer.
I have no doubt that many of his thoughts were of his wonderful family, who to this day are still dear friends of mine. I am sure he thought of friends and other aspects of his long life, but there was no doubt that his time spent a field was definitely occupying a large part of his final thoughts.
On those final visits, just before he died, he had given me a gift — one I didn’t realize I had until many years later. That gift was insight that only long years of life and the inevitable stark reality of approaching death can possibly bring.
Here was a man in the final days of his life. Of all his life’s experiences collected over 70 years of living, the times spent embracing nature with all its challenges and rewards were a the forefront of his thoughts. He never once spoke of money he had made or of a particularly good job he had landed. It was the hunts that comforted him, helped ease and calm his mind in those final days.
In the end, memories are all any of us will have. When death comes to call, if we are allowed the time, our life will be but a stack of memories for us to go through. It will be a time of reflection and reliving, hopefully a good life with few regrets.
I believe many of my thoughts will be of the trapline and all the wonders of nature. I doubt fur checks, big or small, will have anything to do with those precious memories.
There are those times when the money runs out and the bills pile up and I wonder if heading out to the trapline is worth it. But then I think of the memories I have and the experiences yet to come as I anticipate the coming seasons. I relish the experiences that await me around the bend in the next set. I think of the approaching time when age, illness, or calamity robs me of my ability to wander at will and marvel at all nature’s wonder and beauty and harvest her renewable bounty. But mostly I think of my old friend and the gift given to me long ago, that gift of insight that can tell us all what true worth really means.
As for me, I guess I’ll just keep trappin’. “Why?” you ask. It’s simple. Because it’s worth it.
Marty Meierotto is an experienced trapper from Two Rivers, Alaska.