Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Yesterday I read that Stewart Udall died over the weekend.  For those unfamiliar with the name, Udall was Secretary of the Interior for eight years spanning the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and is widely credited with making major contributions to the National Park system and wilderness areas.  I'll skip the details (try that Google thing) and get right to my point, which is that Udall's passing got me to thinking about the significance of the Secretary of the Interior, both today and going forward, and the more I thought the more I realized that over the next 30 years, the Secretary of the Interior will likely be the cabinet position having the greatest impact on our lives and those of our children and grandchildren.

Yes, I said Secretary of the Interior, not Defense, not Energy, not Health and Human Services or any of the others.  Hear me out, now - while there are many factors that influence the quality of our life in this country, those that fall under the hand of the government while at the same time having the most enduring effect on our mental and physical well-being intersect at the Dept of the Interior.  I'm talking about energy, clean air and water, natural resources, recreation, the things that could really make your life suck if you took them away.  And yes, I've thought about all of the other things controlled by all of the other government agencies and instead of listing them here I'll give you the synopsis: some of them can't or won't be taken away, and the ones that can you won't miss.

The key to these quality of life nuggets remaining beneficial is balance.  Too much of one at the expense of another and it's not long before you're left with only one.  Utilize, but sustain.  From a hunter's and outdoorsman's perspective this balance is ever more critical.  As recently discussed in several excellent blog posts (Exit Booming, King of the Big Empty, and Greater Sage Grouse Dilemma), federal decisions will impact our sport and our heritage, often in ways that are difficult to change once the path is chosen.  Too much grazing means too few western gamebirds.  Too many wolves means unplanned thinning of cattle, sheep, and pets.  Too much drilling and you can place an X on the habitat for a few generations.

Udall was able to find the balance for an unusually long period of time in the life of a government official.  He never quite mastered the art of pleasing all the people all the time, and I'd be suspicious of anyone who did, but he was able to accomplish quite a bit of good, placating  most of the opposition with good old-fashioned logic and honesty.  Without destroying commerce he kept commercial interests from running roughshod over the land and still allowed our resources to be used commercially.  He saved a lot of wilderness at a critical time.  Forty years later we're fast approaching another critical time.  Here's hoping the person in that seat over the next few decades can find that balance.

 Stewart Udall
1920 - 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Crisis? What crisis?

Recently I was reading an email to a friend, proofreading really, before pressing Send and it struck me how much it sounded like a country music song.  In reality it was not lyrics but a summary of my hunting season  and it was downright pathetic.  No duck hunts, no grouse hunts, no woodcock.  Didn't make it to South Dakota.  Bird dog died last spring so I had to bum quail hunts off friends.  Shot one doe - in the gut - and it turned out to be a buttonhead.  If it weren't for a few good dove hunts I'd be forced to write the whole thing off.

The reasons behind the catastrophe are myriad but carry a common thread in the reminder that my life isn't quite what it used to be.  I vividly remember seasons that I hunted every weekend and was no stranger to playing hooky during the week to steal a few hours in the field.  I raised a really good bird dog because of this, put him on lots of birds at a young age and let him do what he loved doing.  Honestly I couldn't haven't owned him at a better point in my life.  Sometimes things just work out.  And sometimes, like this season, they just don't.  And when they don't you start to get these odd emotions, odd because you're pretty sure you haven't felt them before, at least not in the way they feel at the moment.  Sort of unhappy but not entirely, kind of resentful but not at anyone in particular, well short of miserable but with the feeling that more of the same could bring it on.

I haven't taken a poll but my guess is that I'm not the only guy out there who's had this feeling.  Plenty of us have kids, a job, a mortgage, a house with something constantly in need of repair.  They all sap your time, your money and your will to fight them off and go hunting.  Some of the guys you used to run with waved the white flag years ago and the ones that haven't now live so far off that it's an expedition just to catch up with them.  At some point you realize you're in purgatory, no longer able to do the things you enjoy and not yet having accomplished the things you set out to do.  And then it dawns on you: maybe this is what they were talking about when they said 'midlife crisis'.

When I was younger the whole concept of a mid-life crisis seemed absurd to me.  More ridiculous still was that someone would use this to justify buying a sports car or fooling around on his wife.   If you want a sports car and can afford it, buy it and don't apologize.  If you can't afford it, don't buy it.  If you feel the need to cheat on your wife, well, that's your little cross to bear and I'll offer no advice.  On a more abstract level, why a mid-life crisis at all?  Why not an early life crisis or a golden years crisis?  What in the world could or would trigger a crisis at this stage of the game?  Simple - the realization that the hands on the clock are moving and you no longer have your whole life in front of you, no longer is there plenty of time to live out all of the great dreams and big plans you had as a younger man.

Most men live in fear of insignificance.  Fearful that they will reach the end of their lives and look back and see they have done nothing more than exist for the previous 70+ years.  Some men want to leave their mark in history books, some want to leave a mark on the land, some merely want to pass on a treasure to the next generation, but most all of them want to feel that they accomplished something.  And in the middle of life something happens like this disaster of a hunting season and it taps you on the shoulder and reminds you that the clock and calendar wait for no one.  This one's gone and you can't get it back, and the opportunities you missed are like a stock you thought about buying but didn't, and then watched it double in value.  It can drag you down if you let it.

So you take stock knowing that those great dreams aren't going to happen all by themselves.  The road divides and the choices appear: abandon the dreams and settle for what you have or figure out how to make it all work, keeping what you have while chasing down the rest.  Is there a happy medium?  Is it even fair that you have to choose?  As a lawyer friend of mine likes to tell his clients, "The fair comes in October."  Either way you find out what you really love.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Anyone else NOT in a hurry for Spring?

There comes a point every year where I'm done with the cold weather and ready for Spring.  But that point ain't here yet.  Apparently I'm in the minority, because just about everyone I've talked to in the last week is "ready for spring".  This whole whiny mindset gets triggered every year by one warm weekend and from there until Spring actually arrives it spills out of mouths like drool from a baby.  42 degrees this past weekend and I saw two separate droolers riding around town with the tops down on their convertibles.

I'm not in such a hurry.  Spring means several things to me:
  1. Hunting season is over (yeah there's still turkey season, but that's not the same)
  2. Hunting season is a long way off
  3. I gotta find something to do for five months
Technically hunting season is over, but as long as it's cold and cherry trees aren't blooming I can still pretend.  This hunting season wasn't exactly one for the ages (more on that later) and I'm neither trying to salvage it nor drag it out, I just really, really enjoy that stretch of time between the first cold nights and the last cold nights.  Way too soon it's back to cutting the grass, pulling weeds and trying not to sweat my nuts off just walking to the truck in the morning.  No, I'm not ready for Spring.