column By: Tom Carney | October, 21
Highway 12 runs from Detroit to Aberdeen, Washington, and Route 20 wends west from Boston to Newport, Oregon. U.S. 41 begins in Copper Harbor in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and ends in Miami, Florida.
That stretch of Indianapolis Boulevard has always intrigued me as a great place to meet up with a friend for an impromptu winter road trip. We’d each bring one bag for the sun, one for the snow, one for the East and one for exploring the Pacific Northwest. We’d decide in which direction we’d head and each leave three bags behind.
In terms of bird hunting, it seems I’m standing at a similar junction.
Last spring, as I signed the papers to sell our northern Michigan cabin, a knot formed in my stomach. And it wasn’t only because we were voluntarily parting with the only material object I had ever desired. For the 29 years we’ve owned the cabin, everything had been clear: the coverts I’d hunt, the roads I’d take to get to them, which dog I’d hunt in which cover, the areas to scout for new spots, at which party stores I’d stop along the routes. Before long, that lump was joined by a disquietude arising from the thought, “What now?”
For example, one cover we called “Gumpers” merited an annual visit or two. Belle at 6 months pointing a dozen woodcock there in 45 minutes, making it easy for me adhere to the plan I had outlined to Maureen: “First, I’ll get my woodcock limit with Belle and then focus on grouse with Lucy the rest of the day.” The time I showed Jerry exactly where to stand in the clearing beside the aspen stand to get a wide open shot at the woodcock Lucy was pointing. The other time in the same stand when three of us shot in three different directions at three woodcock that had flushed simultaneously. The back aspen stand a few years after it was clear-cut: About 10 days after 9/11, John, his son Zak too young to carry a gun, and I enjoyed excellent, tag-teaming dog work from Lucy and Belle and excellent bird work from some ruffed grouse. Then we returned to the cabin, prepared and ate dinner and then settled in to watch the tribute concert to America heroes.
The weekend after we signed the purchase agreement, I headed to the cabin with Abbey and Lizzy to start packing my cargo trailer with what Maureen called “your junk.”
“They’re memories, man!” I replied.
I packed them, then sat for hours in the recliner chair with at least one dog on my lap and thought about them as I looked out over the pond at the clouds and the geese and the ducks and the great blue heron and the bald eagle, probably for the final time. The lump and perturbation stirred an ache I hadn’t felt in ages: loss.
Eventually, perspective visited in the form of memory.
One of the themes of The Iliad I used to teach my students was, “Learning to live means learning to let go.”
Achilles was not very good at letting go. Neither am I, it seems. Loss as an abstract concept casually discussed with adolescents is easy; as an emotion eating at my core, not so much. And any way you slice it, loss, that sneak of a pickpocket, had struck again. This time at our invitation.
Loss. Ache. Sadness. Remorse. Rinse and repeat.
One day as summer approached, however, a fresh thought struck me: Loss leads to a type of freedom. Seriously, if you think about it, it really does, even if it’s only the opportunity to trade one burden for another. In fact, that might suggest one interpretation of the recurring line from the poem “Easter 1916” by W.B. Yeats: “A terrible beauty is born.”
It can be the nightmarish freedom of choice after the loss of a loved one, the future a young man envisions after his girlfriend dumps him, the scarily exciting world of “what ifs” after losing a job. The bittersweet decision to start over with a new pup.
Therefore, this voluntary loss, I decided, gives me a chance to flex some freedom wings. I no longer am confined to a corner of northern Michigan for my bird hunting.
I applauded myself for having excellent, original insights. But then “Me and Bobby McGee” popped up on my music app and assured me I don’t. More than 50 years ago, Kris Kristofferson said the same thing only better: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
Except for the road.