I don’t even know what a Godfather does. I have a vague idea and I think there may be presents involved. I could ask around, get some thoughts on what other people think it should be, but I kind of like having a blank canvas to make it up as we go along.
Your Dad came up to Montana this summer to ride and camp with me and that’s when he asked me if I’d be your Godfather. He said he and your Mom had talked it over and it seemed right. I laughed it off, but I also have got to tell you, it brought tears to my eyes. The honor of it. We were heading up into the West Pioneers on a four-day horsepacking trip, your Dad riding my old mare, Mac, me on Black Jack, and my new young filly, Sis, carrying our food and a bottle of good Irish whisky. We got rained on, caught some fish, shared that bottle, and had lots of good laughs. In the mornings, when it was quiet and we fed twigs into old coals and watched flame rise in the campfire, I thought about what it means to be a Godfather. To have someone I’m going to watch grow up and turn into a young woman.
This morning, your morning, I hiked out to my upper pasture, caught old Mac and rode her bareback to the house. I didn’t know you had been born, but already in my head, I was thinking about what I might say to you. What I might teach you. Is there something an old bachelor can teach a little girl? Some lesson? Some way of going? What do I know of raising children with no experience of my own?
It’s horseshoe time again. Hunting season is on me and there’s a wind off the Tobacco Roots pushing leaves off the cottonwoods, telling me it’s here, and so I caught Mac and let Jack and Sis run loose, bringing them down to the barn to meet the farrier. In the stirred up wind, the horses skittered. I swung up on old Mac with just a halter, and she pranced and threatened to run with the other two and I thought to myself, “I’m getting too old for this crap.” As the other two galloped off in the loose wind, I worried that I might find myself on top of my head, but pride kept me up there even though she jigged and jogged and threatened to tip me off. She defies her age and I’m at the age when I deny mine.
When I got back to the house, there was a message from your Dad that you had been born. And so you are here, Lucy Gray. A new soul in a complicated world. I’m a new Godfather in that same world. And here are my first words to you: Get outside, find the passion in your life, love someone, and throw yourself at it.
There’s a solace in nature that you’ll find just by putting yourself there. I know your parents will take you into the mountains and desert and open plains and you’ll find that peace. You will learn to ski and ride a bike and a horse. You’ll learn to row a boat down a beautiful river, cast a fly to a rising trout, eat wild raspberries right off the stem.
It’s a wonderful life, this life spent outside. When life is troubling you, go there. Learn the wildflowers, know the birds, the insects. Listen. Grow a garden. Eat farm eggs and elk steak. We live life in a world of machines, but our true nature is nature. This is where our species has evolved, in a world that is dangerous and exciting, a world beyond our inventions. Breathe in that clean air. Get outside.
There will come a time in your life when it will seem as if stress is all you are swimming in. It is at this moment when you will need to open the door and step out into it. Away from the indoor pressures into a space big enough to wash it all away. Get on a horse. Put on some hiking boots. Pick up a fly rod. Get away. Get out.
I’ve been lucky in my life, for my passion is the outdoors, and the outdoors is my work. But there are many other passions. Find yours. Most of all, have fun. We only get one of these things called life. It’s not a dress rehearsal. Find something that you love to do and do it often. Find something worth fighting for and fight for it. Stand up for people and creatures that can’t stand up for themselves. Argue for your beliefs, but be civil about it. Try to see both sides, for that way you’ll be able to understand others and your convictions will be all the more firm for that understanding. But more than anything, have fun. Enjoy it.
Your life is going to be filled with many great people, people you’ll love deeply and without condition. Good people, starting with your parents and spreading out from there. You are born into goodness, with rich souls all around you. You’ll meet many and you’ll know, by looking into their eyes, the depth of their goodness. Love them. Love animals the same way and watch how others treat their fellows and how they treat animals. You can do a lot of weeding if your own eyes are open.
Finally, go at it hard. If the road is rocky, take it. If it’s tough and hard and difficult, it’s worth doing. If it were easy, anybody could do it. No man has made a good name for himself by taking the easy way out. No matter how much it sucks, suck it up.
And so there it is. Get outside, be passionate about it, love well, and work hard.
And always remember, if you need help in this world, if you need someone to protect you and love you and help you fight the fight, he lives in Montana and runs a string of great bird dogs and rides cranky old mares bareback.
Welcome to the world, Lucy Gray.
First published in Wyoming Wildlife magazine and then in the book, Give Me Mountains For My Horses, Lucy Gray is now twelve years old, the old horse Mac has gone to the other side of the ridge and the author has children of his own.