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    Aspirations

    A friend and I were talking recently about the way we measured success and happiness, and as usual, the conversation eventually turned to dogs and bird hunting. We acknowledged that bird hunting with dogs is a very big part of our lives, as neither of us could possibly define happiness without at least alluding to the pursuit of feathered game with a Lucy or a Sis or a Jack or a Bo.

    We both admitted that as young men, our goals had been to shoot limits of whatever bird was in season, and a limit of pheasants and quail in the same day was a double-double.  Later, we sought birds in faraway places, sometimes opting for countries with “generous bag limits.” Now, however, we just want some good dog work and a pleasant, safe day in the outdoors, the closer to home the better. If we shoot something, that’s a bonus. If the dogs get a few points and it doesn’t rain and we don’t have to get up in the dark, that’s even better.

    “Another dose of happiness,” I told my friend, “comes during a break in the hunt when I sit in a warm truck with a cup of hot coffee and a package of Double-Stuff Oreos.” Getting a dunked Oreo to just the perfect consistency – not too soggy, yet soft enough to melt in the mouth – brings me a lot of pleasure.

    “I know exactly what you’re saying,” my friend told me. “I used to chase my dog, Bailey, all over the country, and I demanded his perfection while mine was always suspect. If he messed up a point or made a sloppy retrieve, I yelled and got angry and just generally made a fool of myself.

    “I’d come home from a hunt with my blood pressure borderline lift off, but when Bailey was killed on the highway and I couldn’t find a pup right away, everything started to change. I acquired Gabe, a rescue golden from the pound, and we became inseparable. He’s not a great hunter, but he’s a good pal. Now, I want a dog for company as much as anything.”

    When I retired, I was sure I would spend the rest of my life traveling, and within a few years, I had carried a shotgun to South America, Africa, the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Mexico. I had always planned to also do some fishing in New Zealand, Costa Rica and even Russia, but I find the motivation is no longer there.

    It’s not that I’m tired or jaded but rather that I’d just as soon pull my boat out to Loon Lake on summer evenings and fish for 10-inch kokanee salmon. I have found that the size and the number of fish are only relative anyway – it’s the process I enjoy. A small kokanee on light line is almost more fun for me than a 7-foot sturgeon on 80-pound test braid.

    The same goes for birds. I do still enjoy my trips to North or South Dakota to hunt pheasants, but trips abroad for other species are now more about new cultures and new sights. I found that “high-volume shooting,” such as that available in Argentina for eared dove, made me feel dirty.

    I used to aspire to write the great American novel, win a Pulitzer and be the toast of the talk show circuit. Now, I am very happy, thank you, to write an occasional magazine or newspaper article, savor the occasional fan letter and know that somewhere, somebody smiled when they read something I had written. I’d rather read a good book than write a bad one, and I like the immediate, positive reinforcement in writing short articles like this one.

    I think my children worry about me. I think they suspect I am now doing something I always encouraged them not to do – settle. That’s not it at all. In fact, for the first time in my life, I’m doing what I want to do rather than what I think I should. If I want to stay home and work in the garden, that’s what I’ll do. If I want Oreos rather than expensive cheesecake, cheap light beer rather than an expensive IPA, that’s what I’ll have.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a lady to an expensive restaurant and spent a small fortune on miniscule servings of pricey food when what I really craved was a big, greasy cheeseburger and fries. And I’ve attended many an evening at the symphony when I would have preferred a night at the Arena watching hockey. Nowadays, I don’t aspire to any more culture than what I inherited from my mom, and everything I ever wanted to know about wine, I learned at age 16 with a bottle of Ruby Grape in Jerry Many’s basement when his folks were out of town.

    There have been periods of my life when happiness has been elusive, and happiness is all I really aspire to anymore. Too bad it took so long to find me.


    Wolfe Publishing Group