Field and Stream
A Sportsman’s Life
Perspective is key, especially nowadays
Getting a fresh perspective might help your outlook.
EVERYTHING IN LIFE depends on how you look at it. Take the events of the past 10 months. My life has been pureed by the pandemic. The stupendous income I generated as a freelance writer has dwindled to the point that my vintage Bentley Azure (assessed price $690,000) has had to go. Like many in financial straits, I’m now looking for a Hyundai Accent from around 2010. They used to give those cars away. Poverty has led me to spend a lot of time on websites that claim lentils and chickpeas can be made to taste like prime rib and lemon meringue pie. While my social life is Zooming, it’s not going well. I have trouble relating to people the size of newspaper comics. My background image might not be helping. I am using a photo of a wedding party with a dog pooping in the background. If my life were a report card, the teacher’s remarks would read, “Makes animal noises in class, does not work well independently or with others, has not handed in homework since second day of school.”
The times are many things, but normal is not one of them. Nor do words like unprecedented, fluid, or challenging begin to do them justice. A disease is transporting about 700 people a day from this plane to the next one. The key to thriving in such times is to reframe the situation. These days, just avoiding contracting the virus and staying alive is a home run. And so far I’m swatting that ball. I don’t know about you, but I feel better already.
Last weekend, I was walking along the Potomac with a friend who fishes near Great Falls for walleye a few times a week. At a certain point, we took a break and he pointed to a boulder and asked if I noticed anything about it. Well, it’s made of rock, I said. This whole place is nothing but rocks. “You ever hear about the petroglyph that’s around here?” he asked. Sure. I’d heard about it for years, but I’d never seen it. “Well, you’re sitting in front of it.” I looked where he pointed but still didn’t see it. Then I unfocused my eyes, blurring the edges of my vision. The image popped from the rock instantly—three concentric diamond shapes enclosing three circles that became eyes and a face, with a fishlike tail emerging at the top. It was both completely unremarkable and stunning. Somebody thousands of years ago had thought this pool important enough to carve something—a reminder, a blessing, who knows—into the rock. I tried to imagine the precontact Potomac, how a pool like this one would have run black with herring and silver with shad. The petroglyph had been there the whole time. I just needed to change focus to see it.
Maybe, like me, you are a parent. For the past 10 months, my daughter has been working on a ranch in Texas that captures and trains wild mustangs. Except—possibly because she is 20 and more than a tad willful—Emma would not tell me or her mother the address of the place, out of the well-founded fear that we might come and visit her. To date, she has broken her foot, her arm, and most of her ribs and toes. Her right knee pops in and out from when a horse fell and rolled over her leg. She has had two concussions, both involving spooked horses. She was recently kicked by a horse, which left her with a bruise from her sternum to her chin. An inch one way or the other, and the outcome would have been very different. She could be playing professional rugby and not get this banged up. Last week, she left this job for unknown reasons and was driving back to her mom’s in Denver when she noticed that she was using up 30 gallons of gas every 75 miles. It turned out there was a hole in the gas tank. I wired her $550 to get it fixed and haven’t spoken to her since. (Incidentally, she knows that I’m divulging this information because I texted her, explaining that I was on deadline, that this is how I make my living, and that at such times she is mere material. She texted back the emoji that means I’m laughing so hard I’m crying. That’s permission in my book.)
Emma has shown zero interest in going to college, despite having a fund for it. She has no plans for her future except to try to find another ranch job. Once she does, I doubt she’ll tell us where that one is, either. But as a friend recently reminded me, there’s another way to look at this. “She’s doing work she loves,” he said. “She’s with other young people who grew up on farms. She’s not into drugs. She’s making her way.” Then he hit me with a low blow. “You remember how far you and I had our heads up our butts at 20?” An excellent if unfair point. What I’m realizing is that Emma is doing great. And it’s mostly because I’m such a damned fine dad.