Two weeks ago I had a birthday and someone who came by to eat some of my birthday cake reminded me how old I was. My gosh, I can’t hardly believe it. I was only complaining about turning 40 just awhile back, it seems. I started writing about being a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman back then just for a lark, and now I really am one!
Early in the day, when I am paddling my boat down the river or trying to call in a turkey or stalking squirrels, I feel like I am 30. As the sun sets, I feel like I am 90. I know now why my grandpa went to bed at 9:00 o’clock. There are times when I am sound asleep in my easy chair at 8:00.
Senior citizenship has caught up with me, but I will live as I always have, thankful for the day I have and the blessings of wild things and wild places where man has not intruded. I will make plans for tomorrow only, not for days ahead. God has blessed me, I still have a full head of hair and it is still the same color it was when I was 40.
I don’t have to comb it anymore. Older people can look scroungy and no one cares. I can still run pretty darn fast for a short distance on a gentle downhill slope if I absolutely have to, say if an old wild sow hog chases me away from her piglets. That happened not long ago. And I can easily walk five miles over and through these wooded hills with my shotgun on my shoulder. Most importantly I can put two people in my johnboat and paddle it all day long without missing a stroke, and load it in my pickup when I get there.
The best thing about growing old is the experience you have gained. I know how to do so many things so much better than when I was young. And now, I don’t care if I kill my limit of ducks or catch a limit of crappie. Anything you get is aplenty, as long as you can be outdoors and find a place to be alone and pretend it is 1965 again, or even 1975. I never enjoyed life more than I do now.
Since I am getting old, I have decided to retire just a little bit. The two magazines I publish, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and the Journal of the Ozarks, will be continued one more year, through December of 2015. But if you are someone who has subscribed to issues much beyond that, don’t worry, I will return any subscription money to you that you have coming, a promise I made when we started them.
Amazingly, I never intended to publish a magazine, but I got the idea fourteen years ago to try to put forth a few issues of an old-fashioned outdoor magazine just like they were when I was a youngster. Now our winter issue, coming out in mid-November, will be the fiftieth one we have published. I hope that after next year someone will come along to take over and keep it going, but truthfully, the days of outdoor magazines like I remember them is over.
Today’s outdoor magazines are so product and technology oriented. Young outdoorsmen live for tournaments and trophies. It is like today’s outdoor publications are being produced for a different type of human. And truthfully, they are. Who cares about real conservation, preserving the quality of our dwindling woods and waters?
The outdoors I have known is going away quickly, and in another 50 years the age all of us old-timers recall so fondly will be a forgotten time, and the woods and waters we knew will be gone forever. A different kind of society, a different set of values is ahead of us, and it might be merciful that you and I don’t have to see it. Our treasures were not colored gold or silver.
In a hundred years our descendants will not know that you could once drink from pure Ozark springs and rivers, they won’t know how big the trees once were, and they will have little notice of species of birds and fish and mammals that are gone or diminished. The truth then will be what the news media allows them to know, and what they are told by the television and the computer.
I have finished seven books on the outdoors, and in this semi-retirement I will try to do a dozen or so more. I will also continue to write this weekly outdoor column until all the newspapers are owned by those big conglomerates like Gannett, who won’t tolerate views and ideas they don’t agree with. Right now this column goes to about 30 newspapers in three states.
The readership may continue to grow as I have time to talk with more newspapers. But truthfully, the readership of a grizzled old veteran outdoor writer has, to a great extent, died off, with my dad and uncles and grandfathers. All things, in time, shall pass, just as the Bible says.
Over the years my friends and I have noted the hornets nests along the river. Speculation has been that you could sell the big ones for 25 dollars or so, but the woodpeckers destroy them in the fall, so you risk getting stung if you try to get one before it gets ragged.
I was amused to see a little hornet’s nest about the size of a baseball under my screened in porch, the smallest one I have ever seen, obviously started and never finished. Then my daughter found the biggest hornet's nest I have ever seen in the woods only about 30 yards behind my office here on Lightnin’ Ridge.
The mile long trail my family has built here on Lightnin’ Ridge is absolutely beautiful now, and if you don’t have a really good woodland trail to walk, you are welcome to see and enjoy ours. The trees are big, the spring is cold, and you might see anything from a buck to a bobcat to a bobwhite. Just promise you won’t hire a lawyer if you trip over a rock and skin your elbow. I only have a couple of hundred dollars buried in a coffee can in the back yard and I don’t want to lose it.
Two game wardens came to my place this week to tell me what a bad thing I had done when I printed that column about the wild turkey I killed on my place. They want me to print another column confessing to doing such a despicable and illegal thing, and I promised I would. Look for that next week. We spent three hours out by my dog kennel disagreeing about many things. I know a great deal about both of them and what they have done on the job as conservation agents and so I brought those things up and we argued about that.
In three hours we didn’t agree on a darn thing. They are more concerned about what is legal than what is right. I guess they have to be that way. But I maintain that if the Conservation Department eliminated about half of their penny-ante, silly laws and regulations, then they might be able to concentrate on real violators instead of trying to stick innocent people with petty violations. Their half of the story comes next week.
In the winter issue of my magazine you can read the stories about three Missouri citizens who died recently from Cruetzfeldt-Jakobs disease, the technical name for mad-cow or mad-deer disease (chronic wasting). Nowhere else will those deaths, and the stories of their surviving relatives, be told….. because if people stop buying deer tags, the economics of deer hunting will be harshly affected.