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Repairing the soul at ‘Deer Camp’

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The title, “The Deer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, a Family and the Land that Healed Them,” might mislead you to think the book is about farts, fanciful tales and beer. It is, however, about a deer camp where a father and three sons, who have been at odds for a lifetime, rediscover love with the help of nature.

You can leave behind any vision of Jeff Daniel’s “Deer Camp.” This new book by former Michiganian Dean Kuipers is part memoir and part nature book.

“This book happened because my dad underwent a remarkable change,” Kuipers said, talking to City Pulse from his home in California. “He was the guy I loved.”

Kuipers said he loved his father for his commitment to the outdoors, despite being “a difficult man in-house.”

“Home life was pretty hellish,” the author said. “I was in my mid-forties and I got a new dad.”

In his book, Kuipers attributes the change in the relationship between a father and his three sons (Dean, Brett and Joe) to a 100-acre plot of property in northern Michigan’s Oceana County and the family’s commitment to restoring the natural habitat for deer, grouse and woodcock.

Kuipers said a lot of issues with their father, born in 1944, were generational.

“He was like the old teacher in a Peanut’s cartoon with nothing but blah-blah coming out of his mouth,” the author said.

Kuipers’ father is portrayed in the book as a controlling parent who was quick to anger and whose communications were always in terms of disapproval.

“Nothing we did was good enough,” he said.

That is until the boys, under much duress, visited their father at his deer camp, a trip they had been avoiding for years.

With the guidance from Kuipers’ youngest brother Brett, who worked for his father’s contracting business, they talked their father into doing some habitat work to improve hunting — a passion they’d picked up from him.

At first it didn’t go so well. Brett, who had taken some forestry classes, convinced their dad to cut the Aspen which populated the property — a procedure well-known to habitat practitioners since the trees regrow providing cover for birds and food for deer.

In 2004, the family cut the trees and Kuipers said his father “was certain it wouldn’t work.”

“The next year, when the trees came up, he was a different guy. A single thing happened; he was listening. Suddenly he dropped silence, anger and disapproval,” he said.

“Here’s a guy who would keep the lights off and the shades down in the cabin so as not to scare deer. The next year we come up to the cabin and the shades are up and the cabin is wide-open with a warm breeze blowing through it,” Kuipers said.

“He came up to me, hugged and kissed me. The first time since I was 16. The positives just rolled off him: ‘You boys made it happen,’” he said.

Kuipers contributes the change to the mind-nature connection. Even though their father would only live about five years following his transformation, Kuipers said, “I got five years of the dad I really wanted.”

Reading “Deer Camp” and talking with Kuipers made me think that the boys were also transformed in ways they are still trying to comprehend. For one, Kuipers who had written about the environment in the past, found a new voice in his writing that is reminiscent of some of the best nature writers such as Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry.

Kuipers has also passed the legacy of the natural world to his son, who was a computer kid before visiting the cabin where there was no internet.

“The next summer he wanted to stay for a month, then for an entire summer and asked could he bring friends,” he said.

As we spoke on the eve of Father’s Day, Kuipers’ advice to other sons who are in similar positions with their fathers is to keep trying.

For more information about Dean Kuiper’s book tour, including Michigan stops, visit deankuipersonline.com 

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