A Good Place to Say Good-Bye

The other day at the range I was talking with a pair of fellow codgers, and one of them allowed as how he had been hit by lightning a few years ago. A thunderstorm came up suddenly and he was unaware that his right foot was in a puddle of water. He became aware when a bolt struck his right foot, went up his leg, destroying a number of veins, into his chest where it punched a hole in his heart, and out his left hand, which for some reason it spared.

He reminded me of a barber I used to go to who was with the Second Division at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea; every day he had after that was a gift.

"But," he said, "my wife doesn't want me to go hunting any more. She's afraid I'll have a heart attack and die in the woods."

When you think about it, there are much worse things that could happen to you. It beats breathing your last breath in a hospital, staring at the ceiling, hooked up to a machine that goes ping at the cost of $1,523.64 an hour. That is truly a wretched way to check out. Warren Page once said that he hoped to die on a mountain having just shot the biggest elk of his life. It was not to be. His heart attacked him fatally in his living room as he was watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That was a hell of a poor note to end on for someone like Lefty. Craig Boddington once wished me a glorious death beneath the hooves of a Cape buffalo. That would be fine, if messy. Considering what I've done to buffalo over the years, it would be fitting if they won one for a change.

Years ago, I met a Montana cowboy named Tommy Sicard, who had been a demon elk hunter but he smoked and drank himself into a wreck and now he was dying. He looked up at the forests where he once hunted and would never hunt again and said, "Oh God, I miss them mountains." I've never heard more anguish in a human voice.

There are worse things than dying in the woods.