“Now there’s a wall between us, somethin’ there’s been lost
I took too much for granted, I got my signals crossed. . . .
——- Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm,” Blood On The Tracks
I bargained for salvation and she gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence I got repaid with scorn”
Category Archives: Words To The Wise OR Not
Sliding into retirement one receives numerous dollops of “sage advice” from those who preceded you. Some caution to take at least a full year before deciding what new path you will pursue. Others note that you will undoubtedly begin to reflect on your career, now that you have the luxury to do so. The “you are going to love it” group are never shy with their enthusiasm.
Then reality arrives with no dinging alarm, no commute, and no meetings. What comes with reality is a growing collection of moments that can loosely be categorized as “awareness”. Night ends with silence, and the timing of leaving the bed’s layered warmth is a choice. Breakfast is an agreed upon activity with only self-imposed time constraints. Coffee is a peaceful transition into the day; not a supercharged jumpstart.
Every morning outside my window the cardinals appear like early 19th century Hussars emerging from the hedges and brush on the edges of my patio. Bright red males like Murat leading an assault surrounded by numerous colorful, but less flashy females forage for breakfast. While watching them and appreciating their inherent beauty, a kind of calm rolls in silently like the tide on the bay.
If the mind is cluttered the mile and a half walk into the center of town begins the clearing process with an additional few tenths of that distance finding the shore of the Bay. Move slightly over 1400 more feet and the end of pier thrusts all clutter into the breeze sailing across the salt water.
As Jimmy Buffett once opined, “the days, they don’t have names.” Sunday is an exception, but most of the weeks have days named, “Doctor’s Appointment”, “Tennis”, or “Nothing Planned.” Peace comes in the form of a calendar marked by blocks of anonymity. It is Tuesday somewhere, but here it feels like Saturday.
Two or three times per week the day is organized around tennis. A fifty-year love affair now finds a new motivation. The need to win concedes to the pleasure of competing, and the joy of playing. Finding the sweet spot on the 16×19 hybrid grid that constitutes my racquet’s face is a reminder of the evidence trail to pure joy. Hansel and Gretel, eat your hearts out.
The awareness of life’s greatness becomes a collection of moments and visuals. Together they dampen the noise and pull the soul into the light that so often is dimmed by decades of daily grind.
(I miss you two.)
“Now you can take some Black Diamond strings
And put ’em on a J45
You hit them chords, you get that thump
You downright sanctified
Or you can take a lipstick pickup
And play it through a Fender tweed
Oh, it’s sweet,”
—–Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Down Home Country Blues”
“I’m no stranger to the rain
But there’ll always be tomorrow
And I’ll beg, steal, or borrow a little sunshine
And I’ll put this cloud behind me
That’s how the ‘man’ designed me
To ride the wind and dance in a hurricane
I’m no stranger to the rain”
———-RON HELLARD, SONNY CURTIS
“Columbus died penniless.”
—-Richard E. Byrd, 1927
“Forgive me all my anger
Forgive me all my faults
There’s no need to forgive me
For thinkin’ what I thought”
—- Guy Clark, “Dublin Blues”
In the process of straightening up and trying to clean out my life, I came across these thoughts scratched on the back cover of a graduation program. It was the last in a series of 40+ that I attended.
The line arouses itself and begins to extend toward the future. One soul, twelve steps continuing into the fog of uncounted tomorrows. Hope plundering the shadowlands of uncertainty in the carriage of youth.
One last out and in. Grace in the cloak of repetition. The ease of innocence–some even genuine. Raging talent unprotected by the cloak. What pagans are gathering in the borderlands of the next sunrises? Or are the pagans sires to the Messiah? The chosen ones; but to what journey?
Chapter 1 of The Old Man And The Boy opens with the Old Man teaching the Boy about hunting quail and the many collateral issues that attend to the practice. One of the most important lessons revolves around the Boy’s first shotgun.
The Old Man: “You always got to remember that when a gun is loaded it makes a potential killer out of the man that’s handling it. Don’t you ever forget it.”
The Boy noted, “I said I wouldn’t forget it. I never did forget it.”
I cannot remember the day, month, or year that I first saw it. I was no more than nine years old, and my Dad was working a second job, part-time, at a tackle shop in my home town. In those days in the Panhandle of Florida the term “tackle shop” meant only one thing–a store where hunting and fishing gear was sold. I loved going there with him because I felt like an insider and was going to have an outsized percentage of my curiosities fed. It stood in a rack of guns behind the counter. Most of its neighbors and relatives were dressed in walnut or similar wooden stocks ranging from dark chestnut to light blond in color. However, the apple of my young eye was a Harrington & Richardson .410 gauge single shot breach loading shotgun furnished with a fire engine red stock. Unusual, but with irresistible appeal. Time has destroyed my memory as to the day and occasion that the red H&R became mine. Yet, the purpose, protocols of use, language, and love that came with the gun are indelible. My father refused to allow any of his children to own a BB gun. His intransigence on this point was based on simple logic. He did not want his sons (my sister had no interest in hunting) running around the neighbor hood developing bad habits with guns. Each appeal for a BB gun was met with, “When you are old enough to own and use a real gun properly we’ll see about getting you one.”
So even before the desire for a gun found specific expression, the lessons of patience and listening were seeded. Listening and observing over time were key because hunting and guns were part of who and what my family did in the fall and winter. As the Old Man told the Boy, a gun is dangerous.
Lesson one: Every gun is loaded until you personally physically check that it isn’t. This rule was intended to be followed literally. I could stand next to my father as he removed his 16 gauge from the closet checked the breach and found it empty then closed the breach. If he handed me the gun in the same motion that had closed the breach I was expected to open the breach again and examine the chamber. Even now I do it, as does my brother.
Lesson two: Safety was and is priority one when using a firearm. Bird hunting meant either doves or quail. Each activity had general as well as very specific protocols for handling the shotguns. Quail required a dog as well as a good deal of walking and waiting on the sudden explosion of targets spreading out in an unpredictably wide high speed arc. Most of the old men would not allow a third party on a quail hunt. When the dog flushed the birds one shooter took birds flying right and the other took birds flying left. A third hunter increased the risk that a gun would be fired in the direction of one of the others and increase the risk of a human casualty. My dad and his father would take me along but with strict rules about where I aimed when the covey rose. We never had an accident.
Doves involved different logistics and rules of firing geometry. Since the hunters were stationed around the perimeter of corn or millet fields it was not unusual that one man’s field of fire would be directly across from another’s. In other words, hunters could easily shoot someone on the other side of the field. Thus, the vertical firing angle was as important as the horizontal.
In addition, both quail and dove hunting often required crossing streams, working one’s way through difficult brush, or crossing fences. Fences were particularly important in the realm of gun safety. Guns had to have the chamber unloaded, then placed on the ground pointing away from where the hunters were crossing. The weapons were retrieved after crossing and then reloaded. Early in my career failure to adhere to this procedure cost me the use of my gun and thus meaningful inclusion on the next hunting trip. My father’s word was his bond. Breaking rules had consequences.
Lesson three: You never point a loaded gun at anything unless you intend to fire at it. Guns were/are not forms of play, threats, or intimidation. Loaded guns were always pointed at the ground in front of the hunters or at the sky away from all the hunters. Thus, any unintentional discharge would not result in a casualty. We never had a gun tragedy in my family.
Lesson four: If you shoot it you dress and eat it. My father never countenanced the idea of hunting for trophies. Hunting required killing and killing was to obtain food, NOT to hang something on the wall. Thus, when early in my gun life I wanted shoot a cardinal or jaybird (memory fails me as to the exact species) my father relented. Once the deed was done, he reminded me that I must dress the small victims, have my grandmother cook them, and then I had to consume them. They were small, tough, and about as tasty as the leather from the masts of Magellan’s ship. Lesson learned.
Eventually my Dad gave me a Winchester .22 hammerless lever action rifle and later added a scope. Respecting guns and the attending rules was the path to a more varied set of hunting tools. I shared many days in the woods with my Dad and grandfather. I came to appreciate that well made tools appropriately applied to their intended purpose were to be admired, but never misused. A respect for animals and their habitat was the other integral piece of my education with guns.
Through guns and hunting my Dad and the old men in my family taught me that life is to be respected; that life is finite; and that death is part of living. My Dad is gone now, but he left me his Marlin .22 calibre lever action rifle. I never pull it from its faux alligator leather case without remembering him and the deep respect for life that he taught me.