For nearly two decades as the outdoors writer at the Bangor Daily News, I traveled thousands of miles and wrote hundreds of columns and stories about wild places, wild animals and wild adventures — both mine, and those enjoyed by others.
Since giving up that position in May so that I could go back to school (who saw that coming?) and pursue a second career as an English teacher, I have learned that I may have taken one benefit of my former profession a bit for granted.
I no longer have a ready-made excuse that I can tote out to explain my frequent forays into the woods.
That may not sound like much to you, but as someone who always knew (or, make that “almost always knew”) that if I wanted to spend a day chasing birds, or looking for deer, or standing in a river with a fly rod in hand, or talking to moose, all I had to do was tell my boss that I was heading out in search of something to write about.
Most times, with most of my bosses, that was as much explanation as was needed. They’d smile, maybe tell me they wished they had my job, and let me go on my way. And then, if the column gods were willing, that day’s adventure would end up on a printed page a few days later.
It was, as I’ve often said, a pretty good gig.
And although I’ve been loving the changes that my new priorities have introduced into my life, I have also begun to recognize the realities that most of my hunting and fishing pals have been living with while I was happily hunting and fishing while calling it “work.”
It’s just not so easy to get out there in the woods, or on the water, any more.
My professors at the University of Maine, I’m sure (though I haven’t had the guts to actually ask) would probably be less than impressed if I emailed them and said, “Hey! There’s fresh tracking snow on the ground, so you won’t see me in class today. I’ll let you know if I bag a big buck, just in case you want to come help me drag it out of the woods.”
Or, “There’s a great evening hatch on the river lately, so I plan to spend Wednesday fly fishing on the West Branch. I’ll catch up with you and my classmates at next week’s night class.”
No, none of those excuses seem like they’ll work any longer. Somewhat sadly, it appears that I’ve had to grow up and stop heading into the woods to play.
Or, at least, I’ve lost most of my spontaneity, and now have to plan ahead, realizing that the only days that work are those when I don’t have class, or papers to write, or projects that are due, or in-school observations to conduct on my way toward becoming a teacher. Oh: And those days when I have family commitments, or when I’m trying to earn a little bit of cash at one of several part-time jobs won’t work, either.
So, what has my newfound loss of freedom (is that even a thing?) done to my recreational life? Well, I didn’t do much fly fishing over the spring and summer. But I spent a lot of time teaching young athletes how to high jump. And I only spent one day all fall trying to find a grouse or two to shoot. But I did learn how to be a productive member of a crew that times high school and college cross country meets. And I spent a lot less time trying to find a deer than I have in past years, and had the same results I always have: no deer for me. But I did produce a 75-page fiction project for one class, a 12-page paper about Gothic novels for another and a 65-page personal portfolio for an education class.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, “No. I didn’t spend all that much time outside this year.”
The good thing, I suppose, is that I was just too busy to realize it.