Saturday, September 7, 2013

Back to the Basics

Several years ago, I struggled mightily to train my wing-shooting eye. Struggle might be an understatement. I had no shooting eye. I remember going something like 1 for 90 at the range on a box of clay targets, launched in singles with a hand thrower. Fortunately, I had a great teacher that day, and he calmed me down and inspired me to right the ship.  After that first session with my brother, who patiently guided me through the process of securing the fundamentals first and not worrying about hitting and missing, I've committed my time to practice sessions before each hunting season. Now, I probably shoot hundreds of clay targets, launched from my slick foot-pedal thrower all during the late summer months proceeding October's pheasant opener.  My rate of success on the range and in the field has increased dramatically, and while I am not at 100% yet, on some days, I get really close.  My brother, George, was a hundred percent accurate in his lesson however—success in shooting is cemented in fundamentals.

Image from

Today, as I drove to the range on a deliciously cold September morning, my thoughts drifted back to those teachable moments with my brother so many years ago, and while I was really terrible, I will always be thankful that my teacher that day was my brother. He was the salt of the earth, not the salt in the wound, and that in itself was a lesson worth remembering too.  My friend Spencer met me at the range, and before long, I found myself repeating the same words of wisdom my brother had spoken to me. This time, I was playing the role of instructor, and it was satisfying to see an apt pupil instantly improve as he took the lesson to heart.  In late October, we'll surprise a hen or perhaps a rooster, and then, the hours poured into practice will pay great dividends—and the sense of satisfaction will be worth it.

Called Again

In a few short days, I'll be tracing the conduit of the Yellowstone River from Billings to Gardiner, Montana. My thoughts during this upcoming journey will be with those who traveled this way some 200 years ago—those members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. If there ever is a way to "live" the journey, it certainly isn't hurtling along I-90 at eighty miles per hour in a rental car, but I did read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.  I devoured that novel, and in the end, I realized that both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were at their absolute best, their true finest, during the two-year journey across the continent. I actually felt a degree of sadness while reading the part about their return down the Missouri River to St. Louis, because I knew the journey was over, and I had so much enjoyed being a part of it—vicariously through Ambrose's exceptional prose. 

Lewis departed from Pittsburgh in late August of 1804, drifting down the Ohio River to meet William Clark in St. Louis. He would arrive there in October, meeting Clark and making a winter camp before they would begin the expedition in the spring. From St. Louis, it would take the 30 some member group a year to reach the Pacific Ocean.

I too will be departing from Pittsburgh.  But,  I'll be in Montana just five hours later. Yet, I will be thinking of Lewis, and wondering what thoughts coursed through his mind as he paddled down the Ohio.

Meriwether Lewis (image from

This will be my fifth journey to Yellowstone National Park in the last eight years. Why I am going back again? Simply said, it calls me back. I've never been there in any other month outside of August. And, while all of those trips were magical, I am looking forward to seeing the park in the slightly waning light of Autumn. I will meet up with my good friend Pollarine who has participated in each one of my YNP adventures. I can sense the twinkle in his native Montana eye when he describes the scenes of September in the west. 

The closest memory I have is Yosemite in September, and goodness, was it ever beautiful. Cool nights led to sunny days. The kind of sun that is pleasant to stand in. A warm sun. One that knows winter is coming and tries to make life wonderful while it lasts.

I love the anticipation of reaching some of my favorite mountain streams and discovering new ones.  The overwhelming joy of casting that first imitation of the adventure, and hooking the first cubby char for the campfire.

There are new streams to fish this time: Solfatara, Pebble, and Gibbon. New mountains to climb: Electric Peak. And new memories to be made. Perhaps some will involve the bugle of the fall elk or the howl of wolves on crisp, cold nights.

Regardless, I hope for a safe journey for all involved, and I hope for a good time to be had. Maybe, just maybe, old Meriwether Lewis had hoped for the same things.