You know, some things are known for getting better with age. Certain cheeses, fine wine and single malt scotch come to mind. But, is it true of people?
As my 70th birthday draws ever nearer, that question has taken on new poignancy, especially where outdoor pursuits are concerned. I have been a hunter for 57 years, and an angler for longer than that. A lot has changed in those long years.
When we were young, my friends and I used to refer to the “old guys.” Now, those of us who are still left realize that we are now the oldies. It is a sobering thought, to say the least. One of the things I have noticed is that the hills seem to be getting a lot steeper. My wind is still good, thanks, probably, to years of jogging, which I no longer do. My legs get tired a lot faster nowadays. They are also not as steady. On some occasions, I carry a walking stick, for both support and aid in climbing. Had someone told me 10 years ago that I would do that, I would have laughed.
In the squirrel seasons of yore, I used to get up early and hunt in the morning. When the action tapered, I would go home and then go back out in the evening. In fact, if I was deer hunting close to home I would go in for lunch and head back out. Nowadays, I am more likely to doze in front of the television in my hunting clothes. My days of dawn to dusk hunting are, I’m afraid, a thing of the past.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the shrinking amount of land upon which one can hunt. Logging has spelled the end of a lot of good squirrel woods. In addition, a lot of the land on which I had the most fun is now posted. When I drive past it, old memories are sometimes triggered, and I wish that I could hunt there just one more time. Just an old man’s fantasies, I guess.
Sometimes, I tend to forget that, in addition to feeling older, I look older, too. I love charter fishing on the Great Lakes. The last few years, either the charter captain or the mate automatically helps me on and off the boat, whether I ask them to or not. When I am landing a salmon, they sometimes as if I’m OK. That never used to happen. I know that they are being nice, but it does make me more age aware.
I know that this column has sounded rather gloomy up to this point. Getting old is not all bad, though. First, and perhaps foremost is the fact that many are denied the privilege. In addition, you’ve had all those years to build up a treasure trove of memories. In fact, one of the greatest things about the outdoor sports is the opportunity to fill the memory banks.
Some of my fondest outdoor memories involve my dad. When I got old enough to hold a fishing rod, he took me fishing. He spent most of his time baiting my hooks and untangling my line. By the time I was old enough to hunt, he was 53 years old. Nevertheless, he took me hunting. It must have been physically taxing. When I was old enough to hunt by myself, he quit. I would only hunt with him one more time. That was deer season of 1977. My mother had died the week before, and I persuaded Dad to go along to deer camp. I shot a spike buck, which was legal back then. I mounted the little antlers, and I never look at them without thinking about that long ago day.
I also have some great memories of hunting and fishing with my son, with whom I still hunt and fish today. I know that, in a subtle way, he keeps an eye on me, and I’m grateful for that. I hope that someday he has memories as good as mine.
And finally, I find myself often thinking of the guys I hunted and fished with who are no longer around. Guys like Joe “Doc” Scisly, Gerald Wetzel, John Kusick, Bill “Percy” Kelsea and Steve Posey. Most readers probably never knew them, but you probably know or knew somebody like them.
Wow! As hard as it is to believe, next month’s column will be the Christmas edition. The year really flew by.