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So, it is time.
Time to hang it up, pull the pin, strike the tent, toss the pot of old coffee on the campfire, ride into the sunset, or whatever other long-winded way you want to express the R-word, retirement.
Yes, I am retiring after nearly 30 years as outdoors editor of The Blade and, on Monday, exactly 40 years as a member of The Blade staff. Hard to believe that so much water has flowed downstream seemingly so swiftly, but there it is.
Officially the date is Dec. 31, but accumulated vacation will make it a special Christmas and thereafter for me. Suddenly every day will be Saturday. But it simply was "time." Knowing when it is time is important, for each of us, lest it sneak up on you and catch you unawares.
My long-suffering spouse, Peggy, all these years kept the home-fire burning, the kids and finances fed, and managed in my sometimes long absences and assignments overseas or beyond the blue horizon. But we marked this point on our trail years ago. Now we have hiked to it. The view is fine. We are ready.
At age 64 (next month) I still am young enough and I am fit enough to do some physical things that maybe will be out of my league at 74 or beyond. Try as you might, you cannot beat gravity or entropy.
Sons Andy and Aaron have invited me on a wilderness elk hunt, a retirement gift, at a spike camp at 10,000 feet in the Rockies next fall. A horseback taxi ride, a wall tent and a wood stove, and on foot just the three of us and our trusty rifles for a week in pursuit of those most magnificent members of the deer family.
Daughter Sarah, my beloved Starwalker of years ago essay fame, wants her Poppa to lace up his old, once retired, running shoes and do a half-marathon next summer up Cleveland way. As for the former, the hunt, I'm in. As for the run, we'll see. But it would be good additional training for the elk-hunting life at 10 grand.
But mostly now it is time to slow down, relax and reflect more, and do less. To concentrate on human being rather than human doing, the latter of which is a questionable cultural obsession.
I still plan to do some writing and maybe some lecturing. In the blood, you know. I even have an idea to tell in a small book some of the untold snippets of adventures -- the late Paul Harvey's "rest of the story" stuff -- that you have not read about in years past. We'll see. For now no promises. And certainly no more 190 deadlines a year.
Indeed, conservatively I have penned more than 3,500 thrice-weekly columns and well over 1,000 other articles, essays, and features for The Blade in this unique career. I have shared scores of my photographs from faraway places. It was a labor of love.
Still, you can make more money but you cannot make more time. Each of us only has so much time in his or her life's hourglass, and I intend to savor every grain of what is left for me, be it 20 minutes or 20 years, or whatever.
John Robinson Block, my publisher at The Blade, has left the door open for occasional pieces, on my initiative, as has David Shribman, executive editor of The Blade's sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. So, we'll see.
As for a look-back, I refer you to today's Behind the News Section of The Blade, page B6. There you will find the final, and 170th, Toledo Magazine/Outdoors Page. It is an illustrated summary of my career, which has been a one-in-a-million opportunity. That career is all thanks to the Block family, beginning with a decision by The Blade's late co-publisher Paul Block, Jr., nearly 30 years ago. What the family has allowed and encouraged me to do has been beyond imagining.
As for today's final offering, Jeff Basting, my longtime Outdoors Page collaborator, and co-author of the current Best of the Outdoors Page book, outdid himself with an eye-pleasing layout. Again.
If I have regrets, it is that I left many, many tales untold, often very good ones that for one reason or another simply fell through the cracks in the eternal warp of time. I apologize for phone calls or emails to which I did not respond over the years. There were not too many, but in a way one is too many, especially if it was yours. It had nothing to do with the worthiness of your inquiry, only my inability to put more than 24 hours into a day. All I can say in that regard is, I did my best.
I have met so many fine folks, especially here at home in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, but also across the world. I tried to tell their tales in many instances.
So many individuals were willing to share their expertise and their passion in a given outdoors endeavor, be it learning to flycast, wingshoot, survive in an arctic winter, even how to properly lace hiking boots, or efficiently paddle a canoe or handle a kayak. You know who you are: The list is too long. Suffice it to say, if I ever seemed to know what I was doing afield, it was because I had received and heeded some of the best advice and coaching on the planet, a luxury many other individuals have not been afforded. I was not born with outdoors skills, any more than anyone else is. So a special thank you to my mentors, one and all.
Thanks as well to you, who have invested your own precious time to read my offerings over the years. When traveling the outdoors adventure trail, in particular, I have endeavored to take you with me in words and photographs -- to be there, looking over my shoulder, from deer stalk to trout stream, arctic mountaintop to tropical rainforest, boreal forest or grasslands savanna, or down a lazy summer river. I am so glad you went along.
As for the inevitable "whaddayagonnado!" question, the answer is easy. Live simply, travel lightly, enjoy the day.
There are two new kayaks to enjoy (recreational, touring, no whitewater, no cheap thrills, thank you). They are pure, sensual grace on the water. You have to experience the "womb intimacy" of a kayak to understand. And then there is that sturdy, dependable, old aluminum companion, that 17-foot canoe. Like a panting puppy, it always is out there, by the woodpile, eagerly awaiting the next stream. Behind the little red barn by the pond is an old 12-foot rowboat that needs help; it has suffered from too much benign neglect, rested too long. It maybe could revive with a little repair work, and small outboard or an electric troller ... who knows.
There are plenty of places to hike and camp that have been on the always-wanted-to-do list for years. And I simply have to return to the remote solitude of a wilderness cabin as well, disconnected from everything but my wits, for some time to think about the real stuff, the important stuff -- why are we here? What is this life really all about. Or why oh why do we continue to befoul the only nest we are sure that we can live in in the entire cosmos, this lovely blue water planet, for nothing more than money or transient power?
These are some of the things that we seem to go out of our way to avoid thinking about because we are afraid that we just might learn the answers. Pondering such things takes time and that, for me, is elemental to what retirement is about. It is where I am going, inner exploration moreso than geographical exploration. I cannot wait to begin.
Then there are those deer and grouse hunts, wild turkeys, trout, steelhead, smallmouth bass, the hiking trails yet untrod, the mountains still unascended. Uh, I guess I will be busy after all, but it will be my kind of busy. And if I feel like staying in some remote, beautiful hideyhole a few extra days, I will. No more rushing back home because of a deadline or an office or community obligation.
I truly have had a dream ride through the best of country; it often was physically challenging, and always very demanding on the writing side. But it was an opportunity beyond price to have set foot in 35 countries and see and experience their remote places and native cultures in unique ways.
Well, enough. Lots to reflect on just there.
In any case, it is time to saddle up a fresh horse and ride into some new country. See you on the trail or around the campfire.