12 November 2003
It is a crisp, bright blue sky Saturday in early November and all I can think about is the word, the meaning, the memories of “snouse”. I have checked the dictionary and it says that there is no such word but I know differently. I do wonder where the word came from? I have checked German dictionaries and it is not there either. Perhaps a secret word or perhaps only a word my family used?
Although many words evoke the same meaning or images in almost everyone, such as the word “cat”, “snouse” is different. In asking several people, they have never heard of the word, much less its meaning. But for me, as a young boy, “snouse” is something my father and his brothers and my brother and sometimes even one or both my grandfathers and I did every year in the first several weekends leading up to the opening of deer hunting season in the state of Virginia. Simply put, “snouse” is to visually sniff or scout around. To “snouse” for signs of deer or turkey and perhaps the location, a spot or position, one might like to have on the opening day of deer season.
“Snouse”. Always a Saturday or a Sunday, everyone would meet in proper attire for the woods and my brother and I would get a chance to try out some new boots or pants as we had outgrown the ones from the year before and everyone would load into various forms of vehicles and head to destinations with names like Hog Back Mountain, Bone Yard Hallow, Stultz Gap, 3 Mile, The Pines, High Head or to a farm owned by someone who someone knew and which was a possible hunting sight.
I am not sure what was so special about these snouse outings. Perhaps it was simply being outside, in a forest, with my Dad and brother. Perhaps it was riding in an old army jeep up over top boulders or between trees so tight, my Dad had to slow the jeep down to a crawl as we all watched the nearby trees or pushed limbs out of the way. Perhaps it was just slowly making one’s way through the woods and all of a sudden seeing where a young buck had scraped the velvet off his horns on some sapling. Sometimes, the sapling would be pretty good size and everyone in the area would make a joke and laugh about this buck’s idea of himself. Did leaves disturbed represent a deer trail? Scratching on the ground where some turkey once stood? Down into hallows and up on the side of hills, we walked along, sometimes making no sound at all, choosing moss to step on and at other times, talking out load about what we had seen or might see. Sometimes we walked as an entire group and sometimes in groups of two’s or three’s.
But there were other things than deer or turkey sign to be had on these snouse adventures. Sometimes it was the remnants of a dinky track, which I came to learn was a sort of small railroad where small wheeled carts were pushed by hand or pulled by horses or mules and which were used to haul out various minerals or other from the deep forest. Or sometimes we would come across the foundation outline of an old house or shack like some ancient ruin and speculate on who lived there and when or perhaps it would be an old logging road that had long since grown over but still held its outline if one looked just right. And I never understand how, after walking for an hour perhaps in any direction, all of a sudden, we would be confronted with a pile of trash, years old or put there just yesterday, or a beer bottle or other sign that we had not been the first person to have walked those parts.
But perhaps what I enjoyed the most about snousing for deer was the companionship of all those men. Brothers together in a way I have not seen or felt since. Although my Dad’s brothers never said much to me or my brother, sometimes they did not talk to each other for long periods and so I did not feel left out. They were, we were, family and part of club. A hunter’s club and snouse was a part of the hunt.
Perhaps I am wrong about my Dad and his brother not talking with me, as who’s memory is perfect after so long but as I have said, it did not matter. At the time, to me, the group seemed like masters of the forest. Not only could they, we, walk along without making a sound but we could sense out where deer might be traveling from or to and someone always knew the name of every tree and the name of the numerous small streams we would have to cross over without getting wet feet. And the various types of rocks or boulders or rock outcroppings were always a source of wonder and discussion. Sometimes rocks where handled and admired. Other times, one had to wonder if the world was not covered in rocks as it was so hard to walk over a seemingly never ending rock pile.
And snousing would take all day and as the day worn on, coats would be shed and sometimes the red wool or hunting orange hats and feet would develop blisters from new boots or need to be retied and someone would comment how it was too warm this year for deer season to be approaching so soon and although the signs looked good, a place to camp was not convenient or might be severely crowded the day or two before the season’s opening day.
We never carried food or not much anyway and although there might be a pistol or two among the group and perhaps a shot or two might be fired, just to see what the old aim was like but really, snousing was just a nice walk in the park.
Sometimes we actually saw a deer or sometimes we could hear them scamper off through some thick underbrush and we always saw squirrels, birds of every type and sometimes a fox or a raccoon, skunk or possum.
Sometimes, we would stop and sit on downed trees and sweat would be whipped from brows and someone would ask if someone else knew where they were. We never got lost although I could not have lead the group home.
And so the day was spent in the woods, walking and talking, but mostly looking with a trained and intuitive eye and once shadows began to get long in the afternoon, we would head back to the cars or turn the jeep or Bronco around we were riding in and head for some road side tavern for dinner out or at least a beer or two, which also was always a part of snouse.
Snouse. The time of snouse has come and gone now. My father and my grandfathers are all deceased now and only two of my father’s brothers remain and I am sorry I did not go with them more often when I was older and sorry that my own son will never get the chance to spend a day out snousing.
Snouse. A word. Nothing but a word but it means a lot to me.
This past Saturday was another crisp, bright blue sky day in early November.
14 December 2005
About a month ago, I received an email from a college professor at a university compiling a regional dictionary and was researching the word "snouse" when the professor stumbled across the "snouse" write up above. Before he read my write up, he had the definition of "snouse" to be "snoop" and was curious as to the ethnic background of my family and anything I could tell him as to the origin of the word in my family. Unfortunately, after consulting all my living relatives, I could not provide the professor with any additional information, but in the end, the professor considered my hunting definition reference to be different enough to include it in the regional definition of "snouse". The regional dictionary will be published in 2006 and so a word my family used, will now be saved and perhaps outlive everyone who participated in this annual, enjoyable rite of fall.