Squeezing the most out of precious time

By Tom Bryant

Here we were rushing, hell bent for leather, into 2018, March already to be exact, and I wasn’t through using up 2017.

Linda, my bride, and I are in Florida escaping a winter that seems to be on a quest to freeze off all my digits. We are rambling in our little Airstream, wandering from one fish camp to another, sort of like modern day gypsies. The year I wasn’t through with yet played havoc with our normal fishing port, Chokoloskee Island, just below Everglades City. During the summer, Hurricane Irma all but washed the little place away, and we decided not to revisit the island on this winter excursion.

Last year would go down in the journal as a very different one from those in the past. It was a time of extremes, good days and bad. We finished off duck season with few good results. Then on our venture to Chokoloskee, the weather was beautiful, fishing unsurpassed, all in all good times. John Jarrett, a good friend from Rotary, gave me a call early one evening while we were relaxing under the awning of the Airstream. “Tom, this is John Jarrett, how about we get together for lunch tomorrow?”

“John, we’re in Florida.”

“We are, too. We’re visiting friends in Naples, and I remembered you’re usually at Chokoloskee about now and thought I’d give you a call.”

Naples is only about a 30-minute drive from Everglades City, and the following day found us enjoying a wonderful seafood lunch with John, his wife, Linda, and their friends at the venerable old Rod and Gun Club. It was a wonderful visit and a welcome break in our daily routine. John, who put up a gallant battle with cancer, succumbed to the disease later in the year. I’m glad he gave us a call for lunch. John lived his life to the fullest and will be missed. Like a lot of us surviving the golden years, he made the best of his days; and following his example, I’m determined to do the same.

Another good friend, Rich Waters, often says that a lot of people catch the rocking chair disease. As soon as they reach a certain year, they sit down and rock themselves into old age and perhaps an early grave. I feel a lot like Rich, a moving target is harder for the grim reaper to catch.

In 2017, Linda and I were on the move. Checking out the journal, we made several trips to the beach, an impromptu trip to Florida, and a nice visit to Charleston. We spent good times with friends and family. My first book was successfully published with the expertise of the folks at The Country Bookshop, and another is on the way.

Duck season last year may not have been up to earlier successes, but I believe it’s a sign of the times. I’ve had the opportunity to watch several wild areas suffer the wave of progress, too many people after too much of the same. Currituck, for example, was one of the finest duck hunting locations on the East Coast. Today it has become a place to remember as it used to be when canvasback and redhead ducks made it a waterfowl haven.

Just before last Christmas, my good friends John Vernon, Jack Spencer, Art Rogers and I enjoyed a few days at Lake Mattamuskeet duck hunting. It was a classic hunt, shooting over an impoundment loaded with corn. In earlier years, we would have had ducks by the hundreds paying us a call. On this adventure, though, the weather refused to cooperate and ducks stayed out on the lake and on the sound basking in 60-degree temperatures. There was sufficient moaning and groaning at the warm weather and lack of ducks, but the four of us have long ago given up equating the success of a hunt by game in the bag. It was enough for us to enjoy the camaraderie of good friends, good food and incomparable wild scenery. Tundra swans by the hundreds flew over the blind at treetop level, and their primal calling reminded us of days long gone.

For years, tundra swans’ numbers were down, almost on the endangered species list and off limits to hunters. Their recovery has been so good that today a waterfowler, with the correct permit issued by the Wildlife Resources Commission, can shoot one bird. In our hunting group, we have declined; not saying it’s wrong, but watching the birds’ majestic flight, long necks extended, calling their wild call is more than enough to just file away in our memory banks.

On the same trip we observed several eagles soar over the lake in numbers I haven’t seen before. They, along with their cousins, the ospreys, have made a remarkable recovery from near extinction.

So why do I have the concern that there is something I missed in the last year, something that I should have done to close out the time with a more satisfied feeling? I think that if the truth were known, I’m a lot like Calvin in the classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbs, by Bill Watterson. Calvin admonishes his imaginary friend Hobbs to “Hurry. Hurry. We’re having fun but not enough fun!”

While 2017 is a not too distant memory, the new year is up and running. There are fish to be caught, dove and duck hunts to plan, gear to repair, and some of the latest stuff to buy. Right now, I’m sitting on the gulf, just off Cedar Key, ready later this afternoon to launch my little canoe for some laid-back fishing. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch enough trout for supper, and if not, I’ll boil up shrimp that we just picked up from the local fish market. When I asked the crusty old owner if the shrimp was fresh, he replied, “Man, those shrimp were swimming yesterday.”

In my own mind, I might not have used up all of 2017 to the extent I wanted, but I plan on wearing 2018 down to a nub.

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

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