Remembering outdoor enthusiast, author, story teller Doug Deats … 1946 – 2015

By Lynn R. Mitchell

“His pen is silent but the echo of his words lives on.”
– Audrey Harkenrider, Doug Deats’ sister

It’s probably a lot quieter around Rasawek Hunting Preserve today as friends pause in silent remembrance of a mentor and companion.

The Facebook message at 5:53am Monday morning was chilling. Doug Deats, 68, who had been battling cancer for the past several years, took to the keyboard one last time and wrote:

“I appear to be fading fast. I have no idea how this thing goes or if this will be my last post but it most likly will be but Pat will keep you informed. Don’t feal bad for me help Pat and live so I see you on the other side. I can;t tell you how much you have meant to me these last three years.”

He had cheated death before … perhaps he would again, I thought to myself as I stared at the message in the darkness before dawn. But this time it was not to be. The Facebook message this morning from his wife Pat said, sadly, “Doug went to be with his God this morning. He is pain free and at peace. Let us rejoice for having known him. Thank you for your prayers and kindness. Pat.”

There followed a flood of messages expressing thankfulness and remembrances and condolences, a testament to a man who reached out to many in words and actions and who had become a friend to many along the way.

In October 2013 Doug hosted an “I Ain’t Dead Yet” party as his preserve in Goochland to welcome friends and strangers alike — anyone and everyone was invited to share a fun time with a man who was grateful for an extension of time on earth. That was followed in October 2014 with the second gathering and celebration. He won’t have a third.

His last trip was to the small western town of Cody, Wyoming, a little over a week ago where he spoke to the Cody Bible Church. Doug wrote of the difficulty undertaking the trip but he badly wanted to be there and felt guided to make the journey:

As you know I am very sick. Could be days could be weeks. But in my weakness God was strong and we are still hearing from people affected by this trip. Almost didn’t share it because I look so bad and actually didn’t know at the time if I would live through it but understanding can wait obedience can’t.

Just 10 days ago Doug wrote on Facebook:

“Put on the head phones and listen to my testimony written and preformed by Marv’s son Craig Deats . He wrote this for me and sung it at my first I ain’t dead yet party and then again at the second. Unless God changes his mind my time is very short on this side now so this means even more to me. If you keep listening he has other songs on his channel. The one he wrote to his son is fantastic. https://soundcloud.com/ducxsterdoo/valley-of-the-shadow.”

As the outpouring of love continues on his Facebook page, many are from folks that he never met in person but his bigger-than-life personality came through to all. Count me as one of those.

Here’s my story of getting to know Doug Deats, published on my blog in February 2014 (see Author Doug Deats’ ‘Smoke On the Wind’ includes one of my photos):

The request came through Facebook inquiring about one of my photos of Virginia. It was from Doug Deats who was writing a book, Smoke On The Wind. He lives in western Goochland County, Virginia — that place in between Richmond and Charlotteville — on Rasawek Hunting and Fishing Preserve. Check it out on Facebook. They provide guided hunt for quail and partridge on hundreds of acres of rolling hills on a managed pine plantation.

In his folksy way of telling a story, Mr. Deats takes his reader on adventures in the woods and along streams with tales of woodland creatures and events that take place in all seasons of the year.

As far as his book, if you look on page 61, you’ll see a picture of summertime Virginia taken from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. It’s mine. Mr. Deats contacted me months ago and asked if he could use that particular picture for his book. I was delighted to share it.

Last week a complimentary copy of “Smoke On The Wind” showed up in the mail. Inside was an inscription:

Lynn, thanks for letting me use one of your pictures. If was hard to pick just one but I thought this one said “Virginia” so I chose it. [signed] Doug Deats

The joy and honor were mine.

Like many of us who write about what we know, Doug Deats shares memories and stories. His reason? In his book he reveals:

As a writer I am like a magpie or a packrat collecting the shiny experiences of life and storing them away. For some I keep notes, most are stored in my memory, but some can only be hidden in the heart. I could label these under people, places, and things but they are almost always a combination. There are thousands of them and I bring them out as needed to complete an article or start a story. And then there are those I don’t expose to the public because they are too personal but they are there anyway shaping how I feel and how I write.

I heard a preacher the other day say when we get to the other side we won’t remember anything from earth. I hope that’s not true because I have been blessed with the best of memories and the magpie in me would like to keep them and bring them out every once in a while for the joy of it.

Mr. Deats’ words strike at the heart of many writers. His stories even more so. I think I’ll settle back and read another one. If you’re interested, read some of his writings that can be found From the Desk of Doug Deats. If you’re so inclined, join me in reading “Smoke On The Wind” and be pulled into the world of Doug Deats.

Thanks, Doug.

After I published the post on my blog, Doug left a comment: “Thanks Lynn for your kind words and your friendship. We are a blessed people indeed.”

Blessed, indeed.

All of Doug’s writings were folksy and written just as if he were talking to you but one essay spoke to me in particular because it addressed the need of those of us who write. We have to unclutter the corners of our minds by emptying the words onto paper or keyboard in order to allow more words to fill those spaces, only to be written out and the process continues. Sometimes it is a flowing process while other times it is more difficult and time-consuming. He understood that. He also understood looking back and gleaning words from our life experiences, something he did extensively at his blog (see DougDeats.com).

The essay Doug wrote that stood out was called “Writing Pains and Labor Pains.” Of course, in true character, he used an analogy that included dogs. I think he would be okay with me sharing it here:

Writing Pains and Labor Pains
By Doug Deats

A bunch of writers on a Face Book site I belong to were chatting about what hard work writing can be at times and how  they will chop wood, take out the garbage or most any excuse to put off actually sitting down and pounding out their next article.  They got me thinking about this thing that some of us do; this writing thing and how we do it.

I had two dreams career wise as a kid; to train dogs and to write.  I wish I had started writing sooner but learned early on that it wasn’t about drinking coffee and smoking a pipe it was about extracting things from deep inside yourself and exposing them to the public.  It was about trying to describe in a man-made language the wonders of God’s creation. It’s hard for me this thing I love to do.

With me it’s sort of like an old hound dog having puppies.  There is a gestation period after the seed of a story starts to form.  With dogs it’s sixty three days, with me it can be anything from days to years.  The Idea is always there growing inside me.  I feed it with the things I have experienced, the people I meet, the joys and sorrows of everyday life.  As with dogs genetics play a huge role.  My favorite picture of my dad is of him as a young man lying on the grass surrounded by a litter of bird dog puppies.  My second favorite is of him standing high in the mountains with gun in hand looking down on the valley below.  As an old time bird dog man said to me about genetics “blood will always out.” My Grandfather on my mom’s side was a preacher who died in his early forties of a burst appendix.  My Dad was a country preacher who practiced what he preached.  So it is only natural that my writings reflect these genes.

When it comes to actually writing a story I’m sort of like that old hound dog that crawls up under the porch to give birth.  It’s painful at times and there’s a lot of pushing and groaning.  I just can’t find a place that’s comfortable and I have to move around every once in a while.  I do everything short of digging a hole in the soft dirt.  But then the birthing is over and I’m left with the cleanup to make sure this puppy is ready to meet the public. Once again I’m nervous like that tired old hound as she presents these things she’s given birth to for public scrutiny.

We recognize good writing when we see it and I make no claim here but good writing touches us.  Good writing stirs emotion and touches memories.  It encourages or even inspires us.  It is often an escape to a place of solace.  But no matter how good it is it always falls short of the authors goals.  And as good as it may be it doesn’t have puppy breath.

When we are gone, we are silenced but those of us who write leave behind a trail of words and memories. Doug’s trail is long and filled with adventures and tales of God’s creation, outdoor critters, and a man from Pennsylvania who enjoyed life until his call to go home. RIP, Doug Deats … see you on down the trail.

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