column By: Tom Carney | November, 17
You know how hearing an old song can unlock memories from years and years ago?
My reporter’s notebooks do the same thing. Rummaging through several of them recently to see if enough pages remain for reporting more stories, I came across quotes, notions and inspirations that had long ago been recorded and promptly forgotten.
1999 – Our cabin in northern Michigan
Self-described “rookie” bird hunter from Florida, Ric Hunter, saw his first several grouse flush from under the patient point of my setter Lucy.
“Ric – ‘I don’t know how you’d ever hunt these birds without a dog.’”
“Tom – ‘I don’t know why you’d want to.’”
2003 – Leen’s Lodge in Maine, Charles Driza, then-owner
“Pointing dogs are the zen of bird hunting.”
2008 – Michigan State University, East Lansing, writer Thomas McGuane
The first question from the moderator: “What effect does getting older have on you?”
“It means I won’t have to bury many more bird dogs.”
He later added:
“Every now and then you arrive at the realization that your friend’s dog has lost all respect for your friend.”
“My grandfather said, ‘You can’t leave a room until everyone is laughing.’”
Various dates, just from me
“The sky wanted to snow, but the temps did not warm up to the idea. … So we had rain.”
“Fir and spruce saplings so dense you couldn’t swing your gun, even if you were carrying a sawed-off derringer.”
2009 – Dorchester Shooting Preserve, Midway, Georgia
“If you don’t like today, you don’t like days.” Also, “You can’t cook scared.” – Rita Galbraith
Not sure what the context was, so now I am intrigued by the note I took about quail hunting guide DeWayne French – “Only drive Ford truck on dirt roads here b/c if I’m seen, it’s like takin’ your sister to a picnic.” Maybe he was telling us that in real life he is a Chevy man.
“Rifle in front seat – coyotes.”
“DeWayne – ‘I’ve got a permit for the shooting preserve. Biggest predator you can’t do nothin’ w/him.’
“Tommy – ‘What’s that?’”
October 2010 – From a drive throughout Montana
A public service announcement from a Burma Shave-type series of small roadside billboards:
“For every white cross
Off to Heaven
A wreck sent one
But smoking sent seven”
“Heading south on Judith Landing Rd. On the west side, tumbleweeds pressing their faces against the fence like toddlers wanting to escape their playpen prisons.”
“Mike England of Bozeman calls the Missouri Breaks an ‘inverted landscape.’ They look flat, but you come upon jagged, rough, tough, narrow valleys.”
November 2010 – Alberta, Canada
“On Highway 43 in Alberta about a half mile south of the sign for the Ross Haven Bible School, on the east side of the road, in a pond there is a beaver lodge; the square footage is bigger than that of our first house.”
Dec. 17, 2014 – Back home after a “training trip” to Illinois, South Dakota, Oklahoma
“Dogs. I worry. Lost. Will they quit jumping on the door wall to go in and out of the house? Hunting. And so on and so on. Will they come around?”
Oct. 10, 2015 – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
“Sometimes, it’s enough, at a log cottage on one of a chain of lakes, during a drizzly U.P. October day, to spend your time with a pal and his golden retriever, looking up from the books only when one of you wants to share a thought.”
Jan. 20, 2016 – Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, New Mexico
“Sometimes the music, the setting, and the timing on the audio player just line up in ways one never could imagine – or plan for.”
In 1992, Jerry Dennis and I were driving back to Michigan from North Dakota. Somewhere between Chippewa Falls and Wausau along Wisconsin Hwy. 29, a long driveway, a yard and a white farmhouse appeared. The exact scene I had always envisioned whenever I heard Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash sing “Girl from the North Country.” As if on cue, the tape deck played the song.
Flash forward 24 years, and I’m driving around the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument trying to get some photos while Katie McKalip and a few others are working their ways up a thousand feet to the crest of a hill where they will put some quail to flight and others into their game bags.
I stop the car to take a photo of the scrub growth choking the landscape. At that moment, on my iPhone, up pops “Far from Any Road” by the Handsome Family:
“From the dusty mesa
Her looming shadow grows
Hidden in the branches of the poison creosote”
The late physician/essayist/educator Lewis Thomas could doubtless express this in a more lyrical manner. But for the second time I can remember, I found myself within a scene that added a perfect, complementary dimension to a song’s words, music and feel.