Mulling things on my morning ramble with Storm, the family’s mixed Lab.
My dad emailed earlier this week that uncle Leroy Horst died. The funeral is Saturday. I will be unable to attend, but most of my family will.
He was one of my favorite uncles and the one I most often went deer hunting with my dad and younger brother. They had boys close to our age, so it was natural
His son Artie was my closest cousin, both in age and friendship.
Memories and thoughts came easily of them this morning as we set out in darkness, especially after another restless night.
Darkness seemed apt when I remembered Artie. We had shared much over our lives. On our first doe hunt, we were young and tough so both of our dads made us climb near the top of mountains in the woods of Pennsylvania’s famed Potter County when we made drives.
I most remember one drive when Artie was flanking on the driving side and I was flanker on the sitting side. Near the end, a herd of eight does jumped and tried to squirt out the side between us.
We began slinging lead. And as Artie got closer, I realized some of his slugs were slamming the trees around me, so I ducked and covered behind a tree but kept firing myself.
The deer escaped unscathed and some of our other uncles and cousins held a serious discussion about whether we should have our shirttails cut off.
It was an old tradition that if you missed a deer, you had your shirttail cut off, then hung on the meat pole or something similar as a sort of flag of shame.
But I think my dad and uncle Leroy prevailed and we were spared the indignity of that.
Both my dad and uncle Leroy were quiet men, especially compared to somebody like my favorite uncle, the late Ray Horst, a loud, fun-loving guy, who taught me things my straight-as-an-arrow dad never could.
A few years later, I had already bagged my deer, so I was always on the driving side. One deer drive I was next to Ray and a doe snuck back through the laurel between us. I whispered to Ray in warning, but it was his deaf ear side and he never heard me.
Afterward, he asked, “Why didn’t you just shoot it? And I would have tagged it.” My dad would never have suggested something that unethical, even if the game wardens would have looked the other way because they wanted the herd thinned down.
My dad saw the world as black and white, right and wrong. Ray saw more shades of gray. It is good to grow up with both perspectives.
Not much moving this morning, probably because I was out so early. Another fine fall morning. I could almost learn to love these. A lone mourning mourning dove fluttered loudly off in the dark near the north old clay pit. A belted kingfisher flew across on the other side of the bridge over the neckdown between the two pits. It was close enough I could easily see its striking white neck belt. A great blue heron flew off, too, from the same spot. Blue herons aren’t that big, but when they crap it is an impressive dropping and splash in the water. As this one did.
I said darkness and Artie seemed natural. Depression caught up to Artie when I was in college and he killed himself.
A few months ago, I was invited on the Mac and Spiegs show for some talking about fishing and the outdoors.
One of them, I think it was Spiegs, asked me why the outdoors obviously meant so much to me.
The question caught me off guard, because there is an honest answer. I sidestepped and gave half an answer, saying that I thought the outdoors made more sense than humans.
That was and is true in as far as it goes.
The full answer is bit more involved.
Strands of mental illness wind through my mother’s side of the family. From the time I was about 8 until 15, my mother was in a psychiatric hospital or ward at least once a year.
There is no way to sugarcoat that. Even though she was a loving and caring mother, it is tough to deal with the chaos of a mother bouncing in and out of hospitals on a regular basis.
I found and find a great deal of solace outdoors.
The outdoors made and makes sense.
An eddy would hold fish. And if you fished it right, you would catch them.
A brush pile at dawn or dusk would almost always hold a rabbit. Sitting 20 yards from a den tree–if you sat still enough–would usually produce a squirrel.
Walking at dusk by the weeded side of a dirt lane between corn fields in the fall would usually produce a dove or two.
Those things made sense. Had an order.
Human things, not so much.
Not a single dove sat on the wires or picked grit by the grain elevator on the edge of town. Scarecrows and pumpkins dominated as we came back into town. The 25th annual Pumpkin Fest, our town’s great celebration, is this weekend. A gray squirrel with some fall nugget in its mouth ran up the neighbor’s young oak. The meathead felt obligated to chase it, more of a token chase than a mad dash.