I was over my hip waders in mud, on my back in the bottom of a gully, with my shotgun to my chest and rain coming down. Steve stood at the top of the cut looking down at my situation. He did not immediately call off the hunt or clamber down to my rescue. He had turned with a brief look of annoyance at the delay, and when he saw my misfortune, his face turned to a smile and then chokes of laughter as he said, “I wish you could see yourself!”
The struggle to right myself in the mud gave me the appearance of a turtle on its back, and I was getting no sympathy.
Not long after that day, I woke up in the middle of the night and opened a Word document on my computer to write a story entitled “No Sympathy.” It was a humorous account of a woman’s first duck hunting experience on the Kenai Peninsula.
After a few pots of coffee, I did something that I would later learn is not a recommended practice for writers. I found the email address of a magazine editor and submitted the story without editing it.
My excitement to share an experience that connected me to a world more moving, complex, beautiful, responsive, and full of life than anything I had ever known overrode the logic that would have made nonsense of laughter. It was the first time I had submitted my writing work, and in the harsh light of the next morning, I wondered what I had been thinking.
I received a response just after the new year, 15 years ago. The editors felt my story had potential. It wasn’t there yet, but if I worked on it on an “on-spec” basis, which in no way was an agreement to publish nor an assignment, they would examine the story and decide on its suitability for their magazine.
Since that day, I don’t know how many nights I have been awake at my desk writing. As I write this column, it is after midnight, and Hugo, the “hunting-est” of our family of bird dogs, has just sat down beside me. He is still excited to see me up at this hour, and I always reassure him because his eyes seem to plead with me, “Yes, we will still have adventures.”
We both have our different ways of expressing a love of the outdoor life we share. Mine is often to get up and write about something that I hope others might also find true.
As I look back to the thrill of seeing my first published story, which was illustrated with a comic rendition of myself as a bulbous-nosed lady in hunting garb, so many images flash in my mind. An old chocolate Lab perched on the edge of the duck flats, a black and white English setter running a mountain valley covered in crowberries, the light on his feathers reflecting the warmth and glow only possible in those enchanted moments that make life worth living.
I reflect on these moments because, although I might appear here again in the future, this column will be my last for now. For the past five years, I have thought and reflected behind the scenes to write a biweekly column, often in the wee hours of the morning attended by lounging bird dogs.
Someone might call taking a break from regular writing a resignation, although I struggle with the word, especially as “The Great Resignation” taking place in our country makes headlines. Resignation is often used to describe something we are giving up: a job or fight, not a quality of life but an object in time.
It is almost as if this inclination comes from the idea that we are as fixed and never-changing as the places we occupy. It seems truer to life that we are always exactly where we find ourselves and part of an infinite journey full of alternate paths and winding roads there and back.
In nature, resignation might be the leaves falling or the snow melting with the seasons.
Like for many of us, the past year has been the toughest of my life so far. Still, with so many wonderful moments and much to be grateful for between all the difficult news.
To say that our home on earth is being destroyed along with cultures and creatures and even our humanity as we struggle to fit ourselves into mechanized environments may sound severe. While it might be easier and more joyful to stick to something cheery, the anxiety from this growing loss or things we cannot control, along with a kind of sadness at the level of resignation, has impacted us all.
I struggled with whether or not to take a break from writing this column while major life pressures took my attention over the past many months. Part of me thought maybe I should push through the difficult time and continue to write without taking time away to reinvigorate. Then, I remembered something a reader wrote to me early in this column.
She wrote, “I fear we are losing our interpreters of a language more connected to the land.” She thanked me for remembering how to speak it. While it’s wonderful and lovely to think that I might be one of those interpreters, the person who can craft such a statement likely understands how to speak the language better than I do.
Steve reminded me the other day that there is a difference between quitting and stopping.
Yes, I thought. A person stops to smell the roses. We stop to listen, or we stop to consider or to get our compass bearings. I will sometimes resist a word like “resolution” or “resignation” because they seem to react to single conditions rather than bring into being a whole world.
I will miss sharing stories here, especially the antics of Rigby the Labrador as he begins his hunting life and the many emails readers share of dogs past, present and future.
Please accept my resignation as an invitation to go hunting, go fishing, get outside and let the wild surroundings share their story — one of regeneration, renewal and reciprocity. And, if you can do it in the company of a good dog or with a friend who can laugh at you when you fall back in the mud, all the better.