On the occasion of my reaching the “double 8” landmark of octogenarianism, any “words of wisdom” that I could share would seem superfluous since there are so many of us ‘20s- and ‘30s-born still around!
There are a great number of folks celebrating not only their 80s and 90s but the 100 mark — with a handful of up to (and over) 70 years of marriage making headlines as well. It would seem that Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” was referring as much to hardiness as accomplishment!
Nonetheless, my 88-year stint on earth thus far has been important at least to me and mine, and I am grateful that my six children, six grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren have weathered the years in health and a modicum of prosperity. My deep and abiding love for all of them is enough for me to accept the few negatives during the years since March 5, 1930.
All my residences since birth in Coeur d’Alene have been within a 100-mile radius of each other: Cd’A, Twin Lakes, Spokane, Hauser Lake, and finally, Sandpoint since 1980. The Rocky Mountain area has ever been my home and the many happy years of exploration among the peaks and valleys of eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana are still bright in Technicolor memory of adventures within them.
Adventures small and large, I might add, since many of them consisted of simple pleasures – coming upon a flush of Morels on a late spring hike; watching the antics of a Water Ouzel or Dipper bird (Cinclus mexicanus) running underwater at Light-ning Creek, turning over pebbles and sand while looking for food; following bunny tracks in snow to a sudden stop as though it had disappeared into thin air – which it had, for the slight flurry in the snow at the end of tracks indicated that an owl had dropped upon the hapless rabbit and lifted it away. Nature can also be poignant.
I recall the many interplays with chipmunks, including the time I was sitting “on stand” during deer season. I didn’t really want to kill a deer, but we were hunting after all, so I sat on a boulder against a small tree, waiting.
I was so still that a curious chipmunk decided to “explore” me. It hopped onto my arm, moved up to the elbow and finally to my shoulder.
Carefully, I reached into my pocket for a peanut and lifted it to my shoulder, whereupon the chipmunk – rather than running away, took it and proceeded to crack and nibble at the shell.
His furry little body was tickling against my cheek and I couldn’t take it any longer: I carefully laid down my rifle, reached up and tickled his furry little chest. He lifted his head as though to let me scratch his chin, which I did. I must have spent a good half-hour with that adorable little fellow and coincidentally, never saw a deer. It was one my favorite hunts!
My most UN-favorite hunt was one with Daddy when I was 17 and a senior at Coeur d’Alene High School. We were walking together through the forest, talking quietly, when we saw something strange and went to inspect it. It appeared to be a mass of fur until up close we saw it was a bobcat which had been caught in a trap. The ground all around was torn up and the poor dead creature must have suffered terribly: it had chewed at its leg to release itself from the cruel jaws of the trap, but to no avail. It had died there in agony – and obviously some time ago. Which means that the trap-setter had not checked his “weapon of choice” for some weeks. I was devastated and cried hysterically. Daddy was furious. He had always despised trapping for furs as a shameful practice, along with the fact that no one knows what creature could be caught in them – including dogs.
I have never forgotten that terrible experience and still cringe when I see the current “classes” offered for trappers in the newspaper. I strongly feel this anachronistic practice should be outlawed. Why should people profit from the cruel act of killing and skinning the fur from the bodies of our dwindling and precious woodland creatures for sale to thoughtless, uncaring people in other countries? Why, in fact, would any self-respecting person wear such reminders of wanton waste of wildlife when perfectly beautiful faux furs are available on the market? At the very least, the Fish and Game department should show on-site pictures of animals which have been killed in traps. Perhaps one or two people at least might realize the enormity of what they are planning.
OK, that’s my big belly-ache that old folks get to vent on their birthdays. Our world is, indeed in a sad state – especially as regards the environment, and people are becoming more and more self-absorbed: cell-phones always at the ear – whether in the car or on the street – “selfies” predominating, “virtual” reality chosen over actuality; it’s so sad how afraid people are.
We must all remember we are not alone; there is a Loving Presence available for recourse. Some people find its solace in church; others perhaps on the ski slopes or boating; I, as many others, I’m sure – find mine in the forest and my own small at-home sanctuary gardens. I have truly and literally been recognized and “blessed” by bumble-bees, wild violets, butterflies, Chickadees – and yes, even the wild turkeys and the deer that I have helped though this mean and merciless snowy winter. They see me – with my offerings of sunflower seeds, carrots and apples — as a provider of safety and comfort – thereby rewarding me with the great gift of trust. We must remember that the same Hand that created us created them.
May all our future birthdays see more happiness, trust and beauty. Spring will come!
Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-265-4688.