A Hunter Looks at 40
Tragically, but inevitably, I recently turned 40. I don’t feel 40, but then again since I’ve never been 40 I’m not too clear on how 40 is supposed to feel. What I do know is that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s truly important to me, going through a mental checklist of all the things that I deal with, worry about or get irritated by on a regular basis and dividing those things into mental piles marked “things that matter” and “things that don’t.”
I guess it’s natural to do that when you get old(er), that process of winnowing down – or at least trying to, anyway – the endless everyday distractions and diversions of what passes for modern life and distilling what remains into some cohesive whole that gives a sense of what makes you, you.
The results can be quite surprising. You start life wanting to experience it all, to take in as much as you possibly can, and for the better part of youth (and perhaps beyond) you try your damndest to do just that. But eventually most of those things – including many things you once thought important – slowly fade until what remains is the core of who you truly are.
I am no different. At one time what I desired, what I wanted and confidently expected to experience and achieve would have filled a good-sized (fiction) book. Did I achieve or experience most of those things? Of course not. Are they still important to me? A few are. Many more are not. Such is the charming yet woefully misguided folly of youth. We all go through it. But the upside to that process is that once the ephemeral, fleeting and sometimes goofy interests and desires of youth have finally abandoned you, what remains is your essence.
That’s why I pay particular attention to old bird hunters. I don’t think there’s a more self-actualized group out there than those who, in the epilogue of life, still feel the heart-tug of birds and dogs and contemplative days afield. I’ve always thought of old bird hunters as philosophers; wizened old Zen masters in brush pants and boots who have stripped and parsed life to its core of meaning.
And as I get old(er) and begin my own process of stripping and parsing, I wonder if it will someday bring me to that; an old man walking slowly in a field behind a dog, completely sure of his place in this world. I certainly hope so.
Chad Love writes for Quail Forever (Pheasants Forever’s quail conservation division). From Woodward, Oklahoma, he is a lifelong upland hunter and “bird dog guy” who also writes the Man’s Best Friend blog for Field&Stream.com.
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