Sporting Life

The Wings of an Idea

A quiet time when the cosmos comes calling

By Tom Bryant

“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both.”       — Forrest Gump

Over the bay there was a bright moon coming up that seemed so close I could reach out and touch it. A few light cotton strips of clouds drifted across the brightness and fostered a feeling of loneliness, although I was right next to a full campground.

Linda, my bride, and I were in Florida, camping in the little Airstream, on a late season trip. We were at our favorite spot, Chokoloskee Island, to hang out, fish (I would do most of the fishing) and, in general, break away from all the rigmarole that seemed to infest our lives of late. Also, it was a trip ostensibly to help me pull together what has become known around our house as “The Book.” I’ve been working on this particular manuscript forever, it seems, and I hoped the different scenery would add a little incentive for getting the bloomin’ thing finished.

Tonight, though, I thought I’d do a little evening fishing to catch some trout for tomorrow’s supper. There was a group of folks out on the end of the boat dock enjoying the moonrise, and they wished me luck as I shoved off in my little canoe.

The bay was as calm as a lake, and the tide was in, which meant I had a couple of hours before the tide shifted and I’d need to get back. Thinking about the tidal flow, I paddled inland toward the Everglades so I’d not have to buck the outflow when it changed.

There is a peacefulness on a gulf bay backlit by a full moon. In no time, I had put out a line baited with shrimp and was enjoying the solitude. I kicked back in the canoe to await a little action and also enjoy the scenery.

During my lifetime in the great outdoors, I’ve had some amazing experiences, a lot of them defying normal explanations; and tonight, drifting along, fishing the bay, I had another. I had just settled down and opened a drink from the cooler when a dolphin surfaced right off the bow of the boat. He played around like he thought the canoe was a friend, and after a short visit, he did a final leap and was gone.

I’ve had other surreal encounters with amazing wild creatures, and as I floated in my canoe on that early spring night, I thought about a couple that had no explanation other than what each was, a gift.

Rich Warters, a good friend, and I were coming out of the woods one spring morning after an early jaunt to try for a turkey. This was our third attempt of the early turkey season, and we had been unsuccessful thus far. Dogwoods were in full bloom, and the air still had a little winter nip in it, so we were glad to get back to the truck, where we had a thermos of coffee waiting. We had poured ourselves a cup of steaming coffee and were standing at the back tailgate of my vehicle commiserating over our lack of success in the turkey-hunting department. We were planning the next day’s adventure when, all of a sudden and seemingly from nowhere, a ruby-throated hummingbird flew right between us, hovered a few seconds, looked at both of us, and was gone. Rich and I stood there opened-mouthed, and Rich exclaimed, “That made my day!”

I replied, “Rich, that made my year!”

There was another time when I was duck hunting and a pair of otters surfaced right beside my boat, looked me over slowly, then disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

The appearances of these wild creatures were amazing, but there was one other wonderful encounter that I’ll always remember.

In the late ’70s, a good friend and I decided to fulfill a long-time career desire to start our own newspaper. Now, we were good in our newspaper endeavors, if not exceptional. Jim was the features editor of a major daily paper in another county, and I was the ad director of our city’s daily newspaper. We were both doing well in our separate divisions of the business, and we felt the timing was right for a new community voice in our market. So, after a year of planning and three months of pulling everything together, we launched our first edition. It was October 1976.

Jimmy Carter, bless his heart, a good old boy from Georgia, was elected president a month after our first edition. Right away, it seemed, the economy tanked. Now I can’t blame Jimmy; I even voted for him. After all, he is Southern, and I loved his brother Billy; but I believe the quagmire that was Washington then and still is today sucked him down as surely as the economy was doing to our fledging newspaper.

For three years we waged an uphill battle. Our circulation continued to climb; but small advertisers, our bread and butter who paid the bills, were on a downhill slide. My partner decided to hang it up, and I was left, a captain on a sinking ship.

I did everything I could, cut everywhere I could, and thought of every solution to save the floundering business, but I had hit a brick wall. One Saturday after a morning at the office, I went home to take a break. Linda was grocery shopping, so I grabbed a beer from the fridge, went out on the deck and sat in one of our rockers. I glanced up at the big white oak trees in our backyard, leafing out in early spring green.

As I looked up, I noticed a piece of leaf, or I thought it was a piece of leaf, fluttering in the top branches. In a moment, I saw it was a butterfly. I watched it for several minutes as it flitted from one tree to another, and then just as if it were on a string, it fluttered down to the deck and lit on my knee. I watched open-mouthed as the big monarch sat there for a few seconds, wings opening and closing, then flew away.

That night I awoke from a deep sleep, sat upright in bed and mentally grabbed the remnants of a fleeting dream. The dream was about a new publication, published for the retail outlet craze, which was in full bloom.

Thus was born The Outlet Outlook, a shopper paper designed for transient outlet shoppers. In no time, we had papers in outlet centers in Burlington, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach and Spartanburg, South Carolina; and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. As Forrest Gump so eloquently put it, “We had more money than Davy Crockett.”

The tide was beginning to change, and I had three trout in the bucket, enough for tomorrow’s supper, so I decided to head back to camp. It was an easy paddle, and I let the boat drift along, remembering those days when I was much younger. I don’t know if that butterfly was a messenger helping me with my destiny or just a beautiful piece of nature floating along, but I tend to agree with Forrest; maybe it was a little of both.  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.

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