Well, I’m here to tell you now
each and every mother’s son,
You better learn it fast,
you better learn it young,
‘Cause ‘someday’ never comes.
– Lyrics from the song
Someday Never Comes,
written by John Fogerty,
lead singer of the rock band
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Someday never comes
There is a custom-made birch wood elk hunt in our kitchen.
About 15 years ago we paid for our kitchen remodeling project with money that had been set aside for an elk hunt, dollar-by-dollar, over a period of five or six years. Before real life toppled fantasy life onto its ear, I was on fire with the desire to go on a ten-day hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. There was no doubt I would go.
Looking back, I must have seemed quite the empty-headed day-dreamer, picturing what would be the perfect once-in-a-lifetime big game hunt in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. A hundred times I envisioned myself driving to the outfitter’s lodge and awaking early the next morning to strap panniers onto pack horses and then saddle up to ride miles of steep, treacherous trails to a base camp. The first evening in the mountains would be spent setting up wall tents – complete with bunked cots and a boxy, sheet metal sheepherder’s stove – sitting by the campfire while the cook grilled steaks over open flames, and listening to the guides’ advice for the next day’s scouting of the forested slopes above us.
Two days in, we would be pegging down a two-man tent at a remote spike camp, awakening in the pre-dawn of a freezing morning to the squeal of a bull elk’s bugling not more than a half-mile distant. I would wriggle out of a down sleeping bag, pull on layers of wool clothes and sturdy leather lug-soled boots, gulp down a few cups of too-hot coffee, warm myself beside a small campfire, and hike off into the timber to track, stalk and shoot a trophy six-by-six bull.
Occasionally the dreams expanded to a seven-by-seven bull with dagger-like brow tines, but I was usually content with a Boone & Crockett class six-by-six.
I read everything I could find about elk hunting, especially in the wilderness areas of Montana. I contacted outfitters and called successful hunters who regaled me with stories of the romance and exhilaration of their horseback pack-in elk hunts in the Rockies. I began assembling gear: eight-inch leather boots with heavy “mountain climber” soles, down sleeping bag, hunting coat, military weight thermal underwear, knee-high wool socks, water bottles, knives, an expensive compass, and an image-making balaclava hat, two-layered knit wool with short visor (I did not want to arrive in camp wearing a cowboy hat, looking like an Eastern dude).
In the excitement of the moment I sold my custom Mauser-action 6mm Remington rifle that had served me well for years of whitetail and mule deer hunting, and I bought a .30-06 Mountain Rifle. The new .30-06 has proved to be an excellent rifle, used on a couple more Great Plains deer hunts but, damn, I wish I had held onto the 6mm.
All was ready for the wilderness elk hunt. Then life intervened. Life in the form of a cancer diagnosis and a follow-up full-body bone scan that revealed I needed a hip replacement surgery.
When the surgeries, treatments, recovery and rehabilitation were over, the elk hunt plans and preparations were still there, and the money and equipment were ready and waiting, but desires and priorities are reordered by life-changing events, as all of us in our later years have learned, and my passion for the hunt had faded and was gone.
Quiet times at home and on familiar hunting grounds became much more valuable to me than the allure of trips to exotic and adventurous locales. My outlook on life became less quixotic and more utilitarian. Budgeting money for house improvements – new kitchen cabinets and countertops, for example – oddly became more satisfying than caching money for a safari or a wilderness hunt. Some would say I have become humdrum and boring in my dotage. Perhaps they are right.
For those who still have their own flame of desire burning for that once-in-a-lifetime adventure, I recommend you do not delay but do it now. Postpone your adventures and you may find that the “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Life goes by quickly, many dreams are left behind, some promises are never kept, and at the end of our days, it is said, we will regret our sins of omission more than we regret our sins of commission.
Remembering my elk hunt that never was I do not feel any great sense of loss or yearning for what might have been. Hunting adventures and stories aplenty are locked away in the vault in the memory attic. And, except for those expensive mountain hiker boots and that ridiculous balaclava hat, all the elk hunt equipment and gear has been put to good use on other hunts.
Still, every now and then, there is a flicker of that old flame for the Rocky Mountains, and a few years ago it inspired a poem. Isn’t that strange?
Dreams of West
My father always promised us that we would move out West,
And he would teach me how to hunt ’cause I could shoot the best.
We lived in West Virginia then; he worked hard in the mines.
His dreams were promises to us: we would move in time.
All my brothers soon were gone to Boston and New York,
Following their different dreams, their women and their work.
So I was left the youngest, hearing his stories all alone,
As the colors of my father’s dreams faded and were gone.
Now I live in Idaho, and all my children dream
Of stories of a miner’s life in a land they’ve never seen.
Each fall I hunt the mountains, burnt brown after summer rain,
Look up at Western skies, and see the blue of my father’s eyes again.
If you enjoy reading pieces posted on my blog, Dispatches from a Northern Town, you may like the collection of essays, Crazy Old Coot, available in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon.com.
Nicely written. I used to think of doing the same hunt. Never got as close to it as you did, though!
Seems like anything cold has dropped off of my bucket list. Used to love late fall fishing, have a large walleye hanging on the wall that was caught on the 7th of Nov many years ago. Now I can’t take the cold. Hands get achey and stiff and gloves just don’t work fishing. Reading your musing about the cold, sleeping cots and the spare accommodations of the spike camp does sound romantic but, alas, my idea of roughing it now is staying at a motel without a restaurant. I have to have a hot shower too. Close to home is good. Warm is great. There’s no harm in dreaming and your got both a new kitchen and an ’06 mountain rifle out of the deal. Thanks.
Times change, people change, and dreams change. The trick is to get them all to sync up so you are ready for the next chapter when it comes and not left looking back and wondering if you missed some vital element of the plot to your own story.