Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
It is October in the Cape Fear, a time which Ruark’s Old Man said,
“…was the only perfect month of the year, because it was a month that really didn't have to do anything to justify itself. All it held was present perfection, beautiful memory, and magnificent promise…We shook the bloom off the doves in September, but the trees were dropping sufficient leaves now that you could see a squirrel, instead of just knowing he was there. We had had the big rails - the marsh hens - and the first nor’easters with the full-moon flooding tide. A few transient ducks – teal - were beginning to drop in and you knew that the first really cold snap would fetch a mess of mallards.”
One hundred years later, I suspect Ruark would be dismayed at the state of the flyways and the now questionable notion of a mess of mallards borne upon cold winds to Southeastern North Carolina. But the nature of the hunter is to hope, and even one hundred years later, I do. The truth is I must, lest I give way to despair in a time in which it feels as if the only thing that unifies us anymore is a collective determination to tear ourselves apart.
For years I dabbled in cynicism. It was a young man’s pose, designed to make me seem more worldly, more exhausted by my experiences, than I had any right to be. I suppose it’s a natural tendency for Marines and lawyers and writers, each of which I’ve been by turn and many of whom find validation in darker corners of their experiences. However, this October is the one in which I turn fifty and the fact is I no longer want to seem worldly or tired or put upon.
I suppose it’s ironic, but after spanning the globe and fighting wars and living in questionable circumstances and having improbably become a less capable version of The Old Man, all I want now is a return to a child’s amazement at the world around me. Perhaps I am too far down the river of time for all that. But if I cannot have genuine wonder, I can at least choose curiosity and hope it fits me more aptly than did my Holden Caulfield pose. It is likely no coincidence I’ve begun wearing an old Jones cap like my great-great-great Aunt Laura, a woman who seemed to have an inexhaustible desire to know the secrets of the span of marsh and oak and river she rarely left. Maybe I’m still channeling Caulfield, only now in the “very corny” moments when he wore “this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks.”
Walking the woods along the river yesterday, looking for scrapes and licking sticks and making silent promises to the fresh tracks from the Tom who eluded me last spring, my chest swelled with an incipient shout, or a sob, or a song. It often happens there, when the sun and wind hit the water such that it looks more like a field of scattered diamonds, when the gray bearded Live Oaks sigh in that same breeze, and when I wonder if I have not perhaps already passed over into a better land.
It is increasingly hard to drive away in the wake of those moments, to trade the silence broken only by wildlife and wind for places somehow thought more civilized. In fear I question whether it will somehow all disappear, like a dream lost on waking. Or worse, that if I have indeed crossed over, perhaps I’ve been judged and found wanting; that leaving such a place is simply a cruelly repetitious reward for my sins, rather than the blessing I believe it to be in the moment.
But the nature of the hunter is to hope. So, I put those thoughts away, exchanged for the notion that I’ll get back as soon as life allows and the certainty that I’ll soon be in South Carolina chasing redfish with people who love another piece of this earth that they have offered to share with me. My chest swelled once again, a feeling I can only truly explain to those who likely already understand it or those who have it yet within them to discover. I hope there are enough of us that we may find some common purpose there, freed of our manufactured differences to find the similarities born of our souls.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe