Hunting First Light

Hunting First Light
Presented by Cheyenne Ridge

Sunday Morning Lanford Monroe
Sunday Morning by Artist Lanford Monroe
Sporting Classics Magazine
Sporting Classics Magazine

Columbia, SC –-( A man can’t afford to live but so long. The price gets too heavy.

I suppose it’s the toll we pay for the gift . . . and the curse . . . of conscience. The ability to perceive tomorrow, and to remember yesterday. The perception of present and past. The cognizance of joy and melancholy. The fragility of life, and the certainty of death. The velocity of time and the weight of eternity.

Being human may not be all the blessing we’re born believing it to be. Along with the intellect comes a fearful load. It grows with the years and can never be unshouldered.

A man can escape a lot of things, but never himself.

Truth is, in the ecological world at large, a man can pretend arrogance only with his own kind. Nobody else cares. Sooner or later, a man is left to find he must suffer on his own. Unless he is totally insensitive to life and living, the cost of love and loss carries ultimately beyond his pretenses and layers heavily upon his heart.

The older I get, and the more time I’ve spent wild, the more I’m brought to believe that maybe it’s the rest of the creatures in the kingdom that God loved best. So that He didn’t saddle them with too much memory, or curse them more than temporarily with the sense of loss, or see fit to constantly remind them with a chronograph or a calendar on the wall, of how much of life they have left to live.

Rather, He left them to fare within the moment, to worry only of the perils of the present, to accept and appreciate living as a spontaneity of unordained incidents. The sun rises and the sun sets, slumber is unblemished by nightmares, and tomorrow, and the tomorrow after, is unburdened by anything beyond what’s ultimately important . . . the necessity of survival.

Ironically, within an existence of such unencumbered simplicity, the “lower” species have come to epitomize almost every value we hold of greatest esteem: heart, courage, resourcefulness, tenacity, fearlessness, devotion, fidelity.

Yes, their lives are often abbreviated, and they spend their entire existence in the tiny corner of the world they were born in. But the life they live is free of sorrow, and without the baggage of tortured emotion.

Would I trade?
Give up the joys of anticipation, sacrifice all the beautiful memories, all the pictures of the past a happy heart takes? Would I barter away the adventures of imagination, bargain away the ability to conjure a dream?

Comes square down to it, I guess not. But I’m not so damn cocksure and proud about it as maybe once I was.

The one thing I do know is that I don’t want to live forever. There’s not enough of me, I’ll be just about spent. Ready to go.

With everything and everybody I’ve lost, I’ve buried a bit of me. Each time, I’m a little less than I started with. There’s another increment of sorrow to laden any given moment of joy.

Old folks, on the days they were down, not long before they would go, back when I was young and careless and would ask them why . . . would look off across the green meadows for a time and say, “I’m old, Boy, old and tired.”

I always thought physically, cause they were stooped and wrinkled. Couldn’t do the things once they could. But that wasn’t the most of it. Now that I’m old, and a mite wrinkly too, I know better.

I’ve been a spite out of sorts with myself lately, and I’ve tried hard to figure out just why. Cause all my life I’ve been a more-than-willing man.

It’s just that, more now, some days aren’t as happy as others. It’s taken me 67 years, but now I think I’ve come to a thing I wish I hadn’t.

Happiness is of the moment, and sadness accrues. Sadness is like the moss that grows on the north side of an evergreen. It thickens through the years, latches on and grows, until one day the tree isn’t so green anymore.

If that looms the secret of life, I’m almighty glad I didn’t discover it any sooner.

The bouts of sadness stage closer now it seems.

Too many folks, too many dogs, too many things that are the same as heart and home, are gone. Each layered another little chasm of loneliness, that nothing or nobody else can fill. Each kept a part of me I can never have back again.

I look down the narrowing road, and can see too many more to come.

In the greening beauty of each new spring I can find again an Old Granpa Graybeard in a white ash tree, but I can’t have back the softness of my mother’s eyes, when I was seven years old, and first she gave him to me. I have a Christmas tree each December, but I can’t have back my father’s pride, the year I found the Winchester 20 gauge under the one Mama decorated, when I was 13 and Daddy let me know I was coming a man.

I’ve killed a book whitetail, and I’ve killed a brown bear, a Cape buffalo and a kudu, but I can’t recover the exact same feeling I had with the Old Man who took me under wing when I was 16, showed me how, and stood silently beside me as I beamed over my first forkhorn. Or the completion we shared when he stood again in the shadow of an oak tree, when of my own, I weighed in my first ten-pound largemouth on the old Chantilly cradle scales behind the boathouse of City Lake #4.

Of Dogs Past & Future
I’ve had dogs since, and I’ll have dogs more, and it’s all been good . . . and if I was a-mind to, I could whelp another litter of pups in a lot better digs than once we did. But I can never have again the absolute joy and exhilaration of that first litter of setters we whelped, Loretta and I, in that two-by-twice, little, two-bitty shed in the backyard 40 years ago. Nor can I ever rein up my horse again at the gap of the finish at Rappahannock, no matter how many dogs I field, and feel the same exultation I did as I watched one of those same pups, in her prime – the greatest field trial dog of my life – top the far distant hill, two valleys over, carrying on and away.

She’s pointed Up There, somewhere. I know. Waiting for me to come move her birds. I want someday sooner, now, to do so.

I’ve still got a few good friends, Thank God, but I can’t have back again the ones I shared many a rod or gun with, whose handshake would turn into an embrace come end of the day . . . who as Stonewall Jackson said, “have crossed the river, to rest in the shade of the trees on the other side.”

I try to be a boy again. Go squirrel hunting with the same little rifle I grew up on. But I can’t have back the man who helped steady it against my shoulder when I was six, the same one who told me in his 70s, while he was dying of Parkinson’s disease and a host of other ills, just before he willed his way on to join my Aunt . . . not a thing on God’s earth I could do to stop it . . . “Bout everything I had is gone, Jughead, and I ain’t never gonna have enough else. I’ve fished my last creek and treed my last squirrel.”

The bill of burden weighs on. Sum of it is, I can’t have back the lot of myself that was me. I can’t have back all the full-of-myself days when I was younger, and stronger, and quicker, and could do the things better that I can’t anymore. I can’t have back yesterday, and there’s a hell less assurance on tomorrow.

As painful as it is to admit it, I’m a lot older, and a little bit tired.

I’m not broke yet. I’ve still got some hope in my poke. And I’ll spend it both foolishly and wisely – like I always have – long as I can go the way.

But the circle goes unbroken. Things keep spinning back. My grandmother, when one day as a little man, I cried, when some small something happened and I tried so hard not too. She pulled me to her side, dabbed away the tears with her apron hem, said,

“One minute we smile. In another, we cry. We live our lives between a laugh and a tear.”

I think, now, it was out of kindness . . . she didn’t tell me, also . . . how small would become the margin that lies between.

Editors Note: Lanford Monroe’s painting is among 130 works in our acclaimed book, Homefields. We still have a few Deluxe edition copies of Homefields, each signed by the author, at the reduced price of $100. Call 800-849-1004.

Sporting Classics Magazine Sept/Oct 2010
Sporting Classics Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

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