Lessons in life are always there if we can only let ourselves take time to learn them. This past weekend was one of those times that I continued to learn. As President of the Kentucky River Ruffed Grouse Society, I have been leading the charge to help this bellwether bird of forest health for this period of time. From habitat search to fundraisers I have been involved.
In June of this year we held our first Habitat and Conservation Banquet in Berea, Kentucky. This was a big undertaking and I had fretted about it in my mind for several weeks. I worried about the location, about the financial support, about the direction of the organization, about the speakers, and most of all whether sportsmen would show up and support the cause. And I am happy to report that all is well and the inaugural event went amazingly well and opened up paths for future cooperation between the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the United States Forest Service.
It’s easy to get upset over the state of wildlife habitat and population of various species. Heck, we all know it’s easy to get upset over the state of affairs here in Kentucky, the United States, or the world. But in the midst of the banquet as I was speaking to the crowd the statement came to my mind that “Life is a journey, not a destination.” And as this statement came from my mouth it certainly was an “aha” moment.
Certainly pursuing the grouse in the Kentucky forest is a passion of mine and the number of birds and the habitat they thrive in has definitely declined. But if I let that stop me from going hunting, what a journey I would have missed.
I would have missed seeing that first elk that was a part of the Kentucky herd as it snorted at me from the head of a hollow. Not many people have had a bobcat brush their leg as it escaped the path of my dogs running down an old logging trail. How many people have experienced a completely albino white turkey as it glided as a part of a flock off of a high rock ledge overlooking Station Camp creek? What about a view from what I call Kansas in Kentucky as I gazed out over the vast mountains of southeast Kentucky? Will I ever forget the purple sunset over the mountains after a grouse hunting expedition several years ago? How about the experience of coming across the final resting place of the “granson of Danial Boon” as we chased a grouse that flew across the cemetery where he lay? Or the lonesome feeling of coming across two unknown markers way back a hollow in Clay County where it seems as if no one could have survived for long. The forgotten houses and barns where families once lived which leaves me to wonder when they left and why.
The banquet provided me with the opportunity to visit with many friends that have hunted with me over the years, And it also gave me pause to reflect on those not present and those that have left nothing but their footprints behind. All my hunting and fishing experiences have been made richer by those who traveled with me.
And, of course, the dogs. Seventeen wonderful canine companions over the hunting years. The memories that we have shared together will never leave my mind. Many have long departed but they still exist in my memory. I can see their statues as they stand proud and tall saying “he’s out there, boss, just take a few more steps and that magical bird will appear. And, boss, just a little love or a hug around the neck is all I need. You know I’ll always be here for you. Even though we flew very few birds we sure had a good time.”
So life is a journey. The destination will get here soon enough. Enjoy the journey. Embrace the little things along the way. That’s really what life is all about. The path can be long and winding or even short and straight. But the journey is always there calling us. Home will arrive one day and we will be glad we embraced the journey.