My Opa was a hunter. But I feel I need to clarify, he was a German hunter, a Jäger, and to me, hunting has a unique culture in Germany. He would rise early or go out in the evenings in Lederhosen, tall socks and a very German looking hat, not full fledged camouflage but still looking very forest green. He'd hop on his Motorad with his rifle slung over his back. Upon his return, he would tell us about what the animals were doing, where the foxes were, how many boar or deer he saw. Mostly I felt he went to observe and learn. In my eyes, he was a guardian of the forest.
Typically the deer he did shoot, were those that were older or ill, not those who were "prized". It is serious business to hunt in Germany. You can not just "get" a hunting license. The country has some of the strictest gun laws there. Hunters are respected for their wealth of knowledge and watch over the land.
These antlers, though, of my childhood were so weird to me! Some were unusually gnarly and I imagined eyes where the little holes are in the skull, not where they truly would have been. It bothered my young self they were all twisted and deformed...let alone that they were skulls hanging on a wall. Ewww! or as the Germans would say, Igitt!
But now, I LOVE them. Perhaps I love their imperfections most as I am learning to embrace my own. I credit my Opa for instilling in me a love for observation of the world around me during my summers. He taught me that the Magpies are not a friend to the Songbirds, that Kespie pflücken ist wunderschön and so much more.
And so since last summer I have wanted to paint these antlers. I have almost finished all of them. I love that on the back he's noted the date and location as well.
Ihr glaubt der Jäger sei ein Sünder, weil er selten zur Kirche geht.
Im grünen Wald, ein Blick zum Himmel, ist besser als ein falsch Gebet. - Jäger Spruch
You think the hunter is a sinner because he rarely goes to church.
In the green forest, a glimpse towards heaven, is better than a fake prayer. - Hunter Saying
I think back on some of these phrases that hung in the house. They have taken on a new meaning to me as an adult as well. Now I know his church standing suffered for marrying a non Catholic. And then this one...
Erst wenn man in der Fremde ist weiss man wie schön die Heimat ist.
It's not until you are in a strange land that you realize how beautiful your homeland is.
This image below has my Opa's father and two uncles in it. It is taken in the lands surrounding Lippein (their home prior to WW2). My great grandfather is the second to the right. They lived there for 240 years before being displaced at war's end and the family of farmers and foresters dates back to 1709.
And while I am not hunter, I appreciate the art of the Jäger in their observation and care for the land. For more on German hunting culture, this older article featured in Montana Outdoors in 2003 describes it better than I can.