Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
There are moments in this life too precious to forego but we sometimes only recognize them when it’s too late. I’ve missed a lot of them, sometimes for reasons I could not control, sometimes for want of perception. They constitute miniature tragedies, tiny opportunities lost that I think about a lot as I age. I’ve resolved to at least be better at recognizing them in the moment, at knowing what I am missing. Moreover, I’ve resolved to capitalize on them as often as is practicable. So when Mike asked for the third year that I hunt elk in Colorado with him and Josh, both of them men with whom I shared service twenty-five years before, there was but one answer.
Thus it was, that fourteen hours after I left my home on the banks of a tidal Creek in coastal Carolina, and following a crushing bear hug from Josh, I found myself in the mountains of the San Juan National Forest in Colorado, eating shrimp and grits at 9500 feet. Mike, Josh, and I stayed up late over burning aspen logs, as friends do when taking stock of the passage of a good percentage of a lifetime. We rose early, as hunters must.
Sitting on a snow bound pond, banks stippled with elk tracks, I stayed silent as long as I could. But knowing Josh had delayed his departure for a two-day drive home to hunt with me and would work Thanksgiving for the privilege, I could not help but turn my attention to him. We spoke of children, wives, and work; the province of the men we’ve become in the years passed since we first met just on the far side of boyhood. Seeing no elk, we returned to camp and with another bear hug, he was gone with mutual oaths not to let another two and a half decades pass.
The next day, Mike and I arose with a plan to go high and deep in the mountains. Accompanied by his son, we saw huge quantities of elk sign (along with enough bear sign to make a flatlander look over his shoulder). We jumped a large flock of Merriam’s turkey and a single grouse whose explosive flight made me flinch. With only thirty-six hours to acclimate, I felt any elk in the area would hear me gasping as we ascended to gain expansive views of the scrub oaks a local told us are manna to the elk. Perhaps that was the case, for they eluded us for my second and final day of hunting. But standing on that mountain, engaged in an honest pursuit with a friend, meeting his son, and looking back decades from whence we’d come, I was twenty-three again. For a moment, my knees and back stopped hurting. The burning in my lungs subsided. My mind was as clear as the air. I was in a moment too precious to forego.
It was neither easy, nor inexpensive, to get to that muddy campsite in the mountains for two days. Friendship is that way. It requires initial investment, risk, and the costs of long-term maintenance. But the dividends it pays leave me enriched beyond measure.
My hunt was unsuccessful, but I found everything I sought. May you be so blessed.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe