Sundays have been the day for me lately. I’m cut in half. I have a herniated disk pinching the L5 nerve that goes down my left leg. After PT and a cortisone shot failed to reduce the fire, brimstone, and other medievalnesses, I’m looking at back surgery. After the season, if I can wait. But I’m cut in half. Half the hunts, half the distance (well, maybe more than that), half the fun. Half the time on my feet.
Yes, I most definitely feel sorry for myself. I feel sorrier for my wife and even sorrier for my dogs, because they have to put up with me falling on the ground, moaning, stretching, and, eventually, moving on up the hill. I’m slow. Half-speed. This is new. Not only am I trailing Leslie, I’ve been unable to stay close enough even to watch her from a distance bust birds Angus and Peat point. And Peat’s now outrunning Angus for the first time, not because he’s hunting more or running bigger; he’s confused about why I’m so far behind and ping-ponging back and forth between Leslie and me. Still, it’s much better (for me) than not being out.
Sundays used to be the second or third consecutive day I’d hunt each weekend. Now it’s the day I look forward to all week but dread its arrival. It’s a regression to an earlier time. When I was a kid, Sundays saddened me. It was a day of profound gloom, and Sunday’s dusk was nearly unbearably morose, both the moment itself and my occupation of it. The light oppressed “like the heft of cathedral tunes.” As a middle-aged adult, and until this nerve thing kicked up, I’ve felt pleased by having rescued the day from my adolescent demonization of it. The light felt right, where it should be; there was no “heavenly hurt” to it. Things were in their place, and so was I, perched at the edge of Hells Canyon. The dogs confirmed this, as has Leslie, especially the last two seasons. It’s remarkable how a pastime such as chukar hunting, which occurs for one-third of the year, can dictate an identity perpetually. Until there’s some kind of rupture.
I realize I’m making too much of this, but that’s kind of my MO, for better or worse. Most chukar hunters have been injured. Larry, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), might be called Full Metal HipsKnees, and he’s the hardest working man in chukar business as far as I know, despite being a couple days older than I. He’s got to have had more comebacks than Broadway Joe. So I expect to solve this and can see the future as rosy. I try to avoid taking things I love for granted, but it’s one of my — and maybe humanity’s — greatest flaws, probably by design: if we constantly stood around in awed appreciation of the thing, we wouldn’t be doing the thing. I’ve been very lucky: aside from paying the price for jumping off a cliff toward a pointing Angus in 2011, I’ve been able to write my chukar-hunting ticket and enjoy taking it sort of for granted.
So the new project is to refashion Sundays somehow. I’m getting a taste of my own medicine, which is fair: I regularly tell my students that if they don’t feel challenged and frustrated they can’t be learning anything, and just to work through it. Try new ideas. As someone close to me likes to say, “It’s another f&*ng chance to grow.” Or as Emily Dickinson sang about the slanting of light in the winter, a metaphor for challenging changes:
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference —
Where the Meanings, are —