When we're growing up, we hear that phrase often. Might start hearing it again when we're retired. Too often it's more like: "These SHOULD BE the best days of your/my life."
What are they, though? Can you rattle off a bunch? How about the day you got your drivers' license? How about your first date? First payday on your first job a wedding your first child/grandchild. As I think about these, many are rites of passage; phases and stages and transition points. Some great days
Every year at about this time, since about 1962, this "best day" comes back to me. I was never what you'd call a serious hunter. I did love to be in the woods and I was a decent shot and one of my perfect days involved those things. I was about 14 and visiting relatives in the extreme northeast corner of the state. We usually went there in the summer and I fished a lot with my great aunt and uncle, Edie and Frank. This particular trip was in the fall for some reason, so I took my shotgun.
Edie and Frank had an English Setter named Sam. He was as good a companion as a boy could ask for. He was a great hunter and a great house dog. In the summer, he "hunted" frogs in the farm pond. He'd spy one and s-l-o-w-l-y approach it. Once in a while he'd pounce and capture one under his paws. He'd be all wiggles until someone went out, rescued the frog, and praised him for his excellent work. But in the fall, his specialty was woodcock. I guess some dogs don't like to retrieve them, but Sam, he loved doing that. Picture this, it's like a Ned Smith painting on a Pennsylvania Game News Cover:
A tree-lined stream bordering the house golden birch leaves fluttering in the breeze against white tree trunks big, bright red maples in the background over-grown pastures, now shades of brown, framed by tumbled-down fence posts and rusted barb wire a boy walking up the hill through a broken-down, half-open gate flanked by his guides Sam working the area between the pasture lane and the creek, white flag of a tail straight up as he zig-zags through the thick grass
Get the picture? Man. It's beautiful, isn't it? Then Sam freezes on point and I'm encouraged to shuffle slowly up to him. A woodcock takes off, straight up like they said it would. I shoot as the bird levels off. Shoot high and the bird escapes. A few minutes later, the pattern is repeated. This time the boom is followed by a shower of feathers! Sam finds the bird and brings it to me. Wow! Wow. Wow. What more can be said, even an adolescent boy is moved by the perfection of it all. It is unbelievably wonderful. It's a dream come true. We take turns and I miss two more and bag one more. Edie and Frank have a little better luck, Sam performs perfectly, and after a couple of hours, we're heading home through the magazine-cover scenery. Edie is talking about how she'll stuff the birds with pieces of apple, orange, and onion, wrap them in bacon and roast them for supper.
Back at the house, I got cleaned up a little and settled into an over-stuffed chair and footstool with an Outdoor Life magazine. Sam jumps up into the chair with me and settles in with his head in my lap. It's unusual for an active young teenager to take a nap but I drifted off to sleep stroking Sam's long, soft ears and getting whiffs of the roasting woodcock. Was that a best day or what? I think the nap was a sign that I needed to take a break so the memory would become fixed in my brain. It worked, didn't it? It's nearly 50 years later and the memory is still solid, one of the best days of my life for sure.
Hunting season is upon us again. I wonder how many times stories like mine will be repeated. I hope they are. And I wish all you hunters, especially the young ones, a safe and productive season. I hope one of these days soon you experience one of the best days of your life and, like me, that you remember it fondly forever.
Gary Lester, M.S., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that helps people solve problems and be happier through counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups. Learn more about this important work at www.fswc.org.