Waypoint: Cold calling
Twenty-eight years ago this fall, I found one of the great treasures of my life. I was the dirt-poor editor of a weekly newspaper in eastern Montana and an aspiring mule deer hunter, walking a dry creekbed below a ridge of adobe knobs, when something in the sand caught my eye.
It was the aft 3 inches of a bonehandled knife, the burnished brass lanyard hasp glinting in the sun. I dug out the rest of the knife and knocked the slag off the blade. It was obviously well made, because it had withstood the elements in decent shape. It cleaned up nicely.
Owing to my poverty—but also the quality of the steel—that knife became my main deer-gutting, elk-skinning, and meat-cutting blade for the next several years. I made a crude sheath for it, kept the handle oiled and the edge keen. I eventually moved to Seattle. It was there, cleaning blood off the pitted but serviceable blade, that I noticed faint writing. Etched in the steel, in a fine cursive, was a name I could make out only under a magnifying glass: “Don Simensen.”
I recalled the surname from my time in Montana, and I always intended to find out if Don still lived in the area and if he’d recall losing that special knife. But I acquired other knives, and life got in the way. And though I had since moved back to eastern Montana, Don’s bone-handled blade migrated farther back in my knife drawer every year.
But I thought of that old blade as I worked on our feature that details
the surprising things that sportsmen and women find in the field (“Lost & Found,” p. 54). I am convinced that, because of the places we roam and our peculiar habit of noticing granular details, we hunters and anglers are the world’s greatest finders of lost items.
The feature prompted me to retrieve Don Simensen’s knife from its drawer. I did some sleuthing and found that Don is still alive and lives about an hour from me, in a simple ranch house just down the road from where I discovered his knife. I called him and made arrangements to visit.
Don is up in years, and his memory has holes in it, but you could read in his eyes that he recognized his blade. “Lost that when I was just a pup,” he told me, turning the knife over in his calloused hands. He wasn’t sure who had given him the knife, or who might have etched his name in the blade, but we both felt good that, after so many years, that bone-handled knife was back in his hands.
As I pulled out of his driveway, I could see the ridge of badlands where I had found that knife nearly three decades earlier, and marveled at how much had changed since my discovery. And I wondered at another realization: We outdoorsmen might be great finders, but we tend to be lousy keepers.
Don Simensen’s bone-handled sheath knife.