Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks

24 weeks later

This writing marks the 24th edition of this column. When I started it in the June 14, 2012, edition of The BEE and Park Falls Herald, I had no idea what it was or where it was going. I distinctly remember going to Eric, the editor, a week or so prior and explaining to him that I had started working on a series of stories about my outdoor adventures, thinking it might fill some space in the Outdoors Section. What I was really looking for was an excuse to dig into something more creative and expansive than reporting high school sports. To my surprise, after only one round of revisions, words and thoughts that reflected myself on a personal level were suddenly being sent to a printing press, soon to be distributed to the entire county. Yes, it was terrifying.

In the following weeks I never assumed it was a given that what I wrote would go to print. I never took for granted that the piece I wrote stood the possibility of getting yanked with no prior notice or reason necessary, and it kept me on my toes. Every week I've tried to expand in a new direction, tried to really grab hold of some experience, no matter how big or small, and riff on it to the point of exhaustion. I have branched out into many areas, seeing how far I could take my mind wanderings before someone put the axe to this little project, before someone told me I was full of nothing but hot air and to go sit in a corner to wear a dunce hat. And yet, here I still am.

Part of the reason this project has been able to expand the way it has is because of its name (and when I say “expand” I mean morph into covering a broad range of topics). When I chose the title "Woodsman Enough" it appealed to me because it covered a few key points...

First, I wanted it to fit into the Outdoors Section because I love writing about the outdoors. I thought to myself, "Hey, self, you know some stuff about fishing and hunting and trapping and cutting grass and raking leaves, but you sure don't know it all. What's going to happen when someone with much more authority on one of these calls you out?" My answer was simple. I don't know it all, but I know enough. I know enough to get by, and enough is just a little bit more than someone else.

My idea here was that we often learn from people that know just a little bit more about something than we do. For instance, say you want to learn to play guitar. Now, are you going to take lessons from Jimmy Page or Eddie VanHalen - no. You want to get introduced to the guitar by somebody that is only a few levels above you. Their level of expertise is obtainable, realistic, achievable, and they can help you get there. Perhaps you're the next Dylan; sure, but you need to start with the basics.

The point here is that allowing yourself to be just enough of an expert gives you the breathing room to succeed. It says you don't have to be perfect, or know it all, or shock the world with your knowledge and ability. Just simply allow yourself some credit to start with and work from there. Allow yourself to grow, realize you're not perfect, and never stop learning.

Am I getting sidetracked? Probably.

To be honest, when I first started this column I thought it would be more practical. I shied away from getting too lost in the broader strokes. I thought I would offer advice along with nuts and bolts advice on the specifics of fishing for trout or trapping for mink. What I found was those were a type of safety net, or defense mechanism, because before long I was getting the most positive feedback on pieces like "Slow Summer Down", "The Northwoods", and "The American Dream" - none of which were very technically inclined. The nuts-and-bolts-style stories were keeping silent what I really thought - the greater meanings of what I learned outside - and other people saw that before I did.

Still, I was anxious, cautious, and weary. I didn't want to come off as sounding insane, but I also didn't want to fake it. And that's where you stepped in. You, reader, sent me your thoughts. You called, e-mailed, or flagged me down on the street. You told me you enjoyed something I wrote or that you wish I'd do more of this or that, or you wanted to talk about the latest story. You told me to keep up the good work, that my work was interesting or that you thought something was provoking, and you told your friends. You, reader, are the reason I'm still writing, and I can't begin to thank you enough.

So many weeks I've had nothing to say. I would have been content to stay dormant, save my aimless musings for the ear of a friend, put in my time, punch out, and be on my way. But you didn't let me. It was you in the grocery store, and you at the baseball game, and you on the other end of the phone who reinvigorated my sense of dedication or inspired a new direction.

Thank you.

Thank you to my friends in the Sugarbush. Thank you to my friends on the Flambeau. Thanks to the gentlemen across the street. Thank you to my friends with a place in the Loon Capital. Thank you to three very talented brother raccoons. Thank you to everyone who has moved away and kept in touch. Thanks to that one guy who made fun of my long hair at the bowling alley all those years ago - you're so bloody intolerant that I'm still fired up.

Thanks to everyone who has called, e-mailed, snail mailed, relayed, or otherwise reached out to me. Thank you to my editor, who for some reason still prints my rambling, rushed, incoherent, self-absorbed scraps of English. And thank you, my family, you’ve been holding me up for a lot longer than 24 weeks.

I can't begin to fully explain all my thanks to everyone who has read once, who has continued to read, who has kept an article or sent one to somebody they know. Thanks to everyone who has spent inspiring moments with me - you're the fuel to my fire. Thank you for allowing me to be enough. Thank you all.

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” - Henry van Dyke

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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