Wind blowing across the frozen lake has carved a thin layer of snow into hard-packed ripples, like white mud that has flowed down a hill during spring thaw. The granddaughter and her young friend make tracks across the ripples, then take running starts to slide across the ice where the snow has blown clear and polished the glassine surface.
Occasionally, we stop to listen to the eerily hollow moan of stress cracks racing across the lake, each a lower pitch than the previous as the ice thickens under foot in the single-digit temperature of a winter afternoon. The air is so cold, just walking creates a breeze that lowers the wind chill, and threatens to freeze nose and cheeks where they were not covered by a knitted hat stretched over young ears and old.
An old guy enjoys the youthful abandonment, cavorting in the snow and racing up minor hills along the shore. Watching them delight in their existence suggests some of the outdoors may just last another generation or so.
I hunt and fish mostly for the excuse to be outdoors. Years ago, I used a gun or fishing rod, each in its own season. I killed for the table, but it was the being out there that was the real purpose. I’ve since traded Ruger and Fenwick for Nikon, but I have a picture in my mind of every animal and bird I killed, and many of the fish. Whitetail deer in Maine and Virginia, caribou in Alaska, Striped Bass and Bluefish in the San Francisco and Chesapeake bays.
It’s a connection with life in ways most of us have traded for what we euphemistically call “progress” and “civilization.” I’d accept that, except when I see our kids are afraid of the woods. They think milk comes from the back of the grocery store, and meat in its natural state is served between two pieces of bread handed across a counter at one of the numerous burger joints on the commercial strip at the edge of town. We try to forget every hamburger or steak we devour represents a contract we have taken out on a cow, hiring a farmer or stockyard to handle the details.
For several years, urban dwellers have outnumbered their rural brethren, and whole generations of us have never passed food across our lips that did not first cross a grocery store checkout scanner.
I once was an excellent shot. I loaded my own ammunition, and enjoyed target shooting the same .44 magnum revolver with a 2x scope with which I hunted. Archery replaced the gun, in part because I could shoot a bow in my backyard without worrying that the shaft would find a human target across town.
Stopping hunting had as much to do with laziness as anything else. Now that my family has scattered, I find buying a piece of meat easier than shooting and butchering a whole critter – though I still am well aware of that contract that hides in the price-per-pound.
I agree guns are largely unnecessary in contemporary society, but to blame guns for the San Bernardino massacre is to over-simplify and distract from the problem. After all, for most of us, “unnecessary” includes large four-wheel-drive pickups, loud Honda-cars, and motorcycles that glitter and rumble in herds across the landscape. I drive a Harley, and there’s still a part of me that lusts after a Jeep Wrangler with huge tires and a snorkel that places the air intake well above the level of any creek I’d ford only in my dreams.
But I may take up fishing again. Granddaughter wants to go, and she needs to learn about the contract.