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Participants sad to see Rendezvous go | Slideshow
The way of life Don Abel and his wife Margaret have enjoyed during their retirement years will continue to take place in other parts of Washington state, with the next stop penciled in for Sequim in early September.
But when Abel took off his bear claw necklaces and packed up his Ram’s Lodge tent at the Rendezvous on Central Whidbey Island Sunday, it marked the end of an era.
It was the last Rendezvous put on by the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association after a quarter century on the island.
The club couldn’t find enough interest among members to continue an event that reflects on, celebrates and re-enacts the fur trader and fur trapper gatherings that were once a part of the North American landscape in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“I like the people on Whidbey Island,” Don Abel said. “Even the people who live there, not just the Rendezvousers. They’re a gracious bunch of people. I’m going to miss them.”
Abel, 83, and his wife of 55 years live in Kenmore but have traveled the state to participate in Rendezvous for decades. Abel, who goes by the mountain man name of “Ram,” gets dressed in full “buckskin” fur trapper attire from the pre-1840 period and sets up a tent filled with period items for sale that range from antique knives, dolls, turkey-tail fans and hat bands.
Margaret spends much of her time “bead looming” hat bands or making other items, such as turkey-tail fans.
“This is like family,” Don Abel said. “We all have fun.”
Outside of looking the part, participants act it out, too, competing in friendly period games such as blackpowder pistol and rifle shooting, tomahawk tosses and knife throwing.
Abel enjoys sharing his knowledge of the mountain man era and being around others who share his passion.
He points to a necklace around his neck filled with grizzly bear claws and shares a story about the bear’s demise.
The incident happened before he was born during the early 1900s in Whatcom County between Bellingham and Lynden, he said. A grizzly bear attacked his grandfather’s horse, tearing off one of its ears, and prompting his grandfather to reach for his rifle.
Abel said he remembers seeing the horse — and the missing ear — when he was a young boy.
It’s one of two bear claw necklaces he wore as he visited with others who attended the Rendezvous, including Earl Irish of Bellevue.
Irish said he’s attended the Rendezvous near Coupeville for nearly 20 years and couldn’t miss the final one.
Chris Eliassen said a lack of interest by the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association led to the decision to end the event. With a membership of roughly 500, only Eliassen and David Hollett volunteered to organize the event in each of the past four years, and it got to be too much for two people.
Eliassen said it takes about a half dozen to adequately put on the Rendezvous.
“With two guys, we’re just cooked,” Eliassen said.
Abel said attendance over the four-day gathering wasn’t as large as he hoped it would be.
“Some people are sick. Some people pass away. Other things have taken place,” he said. “This has happened in more than one Rendezvous. The interest is still great for anybody involved in it.”
Abel said he hopes there is one day rejuvenated interest on Whidbey.
Finding new locations is tricky. Sites must meet safety requirements because of the shooting that’s involved.
The Rendezvous near Coupeville was unique because it was highly visible from State Highway 20, while many sites are tucked away deep in the woods. That’s another reason Abel was disappointed to see the Whidbey Rendezvous go away.
“But that’s part of life,” he said.