There will come a time. I know this to be true, but I cannot acknowledge the truth. The truth is gossamer, whispy, a fog that shifts, thickens, then blows away. Elders speak these truths—the days go faster the older you get, enjoy it while you can because it won’t last, someday you won’t be able to climb those hills—and yet the depth of those words cannot be realized by the synapses of youth. Or even middle age. We deny that ache in the lower back in the morning after a day of work on the ranch, we ignore that tightness in the knee on the climb to laughing chukar, and that blood pounding in lung and temple is merely the price of exercise and not the product of a slowing physicality. We hear those words of things to come, but we don’t listen. They don’t sink. There is no overt repudiation of them. It is more of a “yeah, right, okay.”
Even when I see it right before me. We are driving to the airport in Tucson and it is early morning and my friend’s hunt has come to an end. I’m not sure if he has had a good time. I’m not sure I would were the roles reversed. A lame dog, a mysterious weakness and lack of energy that no amount of rest can cork, a dizziness that makes shotgun shooting tricky at best. Dangerous at worst. Meanwhile, your companion has climbed hills, dropped into deep oak, followed a racing young setter to shotgunning glory, brought home bounty and tale. No, I would not enjoy that swap.
So I drive and there is a quiet in the pickup. I’m keeping Pat, who is no longer lame and both his shotguns and his travel trailer and he’s flying home to Montana and a warm fireplace and a good wife who will take care of him. I wonder, as I steer through the rising dawn, what his thoughts are. I wonder if he knows how much I admire him for trying, how much I think of him as a stud horse who is ten-times the equivalent-aged man anywhere in the country. There are damned few middle eighties out there who can walk five miles in rough terrain, shotgun in hand. Who can camp for two weeks foregoing genuine indoor plumbing and a hot shower. Who can stay up at night talking Trueblood and Harrison and Leopold and the sad state of wildlife conservation, then rise early in the morning to do it all over again. Day after day after day. Pushing that wretched time tide back. And again.
And I wonder about his thoughts. About being here on a high mark for desert quail, about having a good dog and a fine old shotgun and a younger companion who happily does most of the work and all the driving. About being set up for success like that. And then not being able.
They wave us through the border check station, nodding at our cowboy hats, seeing the dogs in the back, making a quip about hunting. It’s getting lighter outside and there are no other trucks on the road yet. So I drive, pushing the pickup up past seventy, pushing north toward civilization, an airport and the end of my friend’s hunt.
Still south of the interstate. But if I hurry, I should probably have enough daylight left for an afternoon hunt.