McKean Minute: Get Ready for the Greatest Month

Sure, September is cool. There’s the dove opener, and screaming bull elk. There are the month’s archery deer seasons that open like so many fortune cookies. Some folks have early waterfowl opportunities. If September has a mascot, it’s the grouse.

But the greatest of all months is October. In my country, pheasant opener is fast approaching, and antelope rifle seasons are close behind. Montana’s rifle deer season opens late in the month, but it’s easy to be distracted by the migrating waterfowl that are pouring south.

The greatest attribute of the month may be its killing cold, frosts that should finally end the tyranny of mosquitoes that make it either impossible or extremely uncomfortable to spend an evening in a deer stand or kicking around for prairie or forest grouse. With frosts also come the turning of leaves, and the quintessential sight of October might be a yellowing leaf fluttering down on a buck coming into range, or a rooster rocketing out of curing cover.

We might see our first snowfall. Did I mention all those geese and ducks, cupping onto ponds and lakes that will be frozen in another few weeks? Brown trout and brookies are running, and any fish with an appetite and a sense of the future is feeding aggressively as the water cools.

Go head, tell me why October is so wonderful in your area. Or, if you dare, tell me how wrong I am, and why February is your most favorite of all the months.

McKean Minute: The Long Run

Thirty-five years ago this month, I was a college freshman, a farm kid who had no business attending the liberal arts college where I ended up. I hadn’t been assigned a single paper in my small high school, and based on the amount of writing that confronted me, I was sure I’d flunk after my first college semester.

Another thing I had never experienced at my high school: cross country. I had run track fairly successfully, but we didn’t have cross country at my school, which is why I had no expectation that I’d run in college.

But if you’re a runner, you run, and on my first days on campus, I spotted several runners who looked a lot like me: skinny and scared. On a whim on a sunny September afternoon—largely because I was procrastinating over a late paper—I decided to join them, which is how I became a college cross country runner for the next four years. My teammates became my best friends, then and—a full generation later—now.

But the glue that held everything together, from the team to my sanity, was my cross country coach, Will Freeman. My freshman year was his first year of coaching the team. Will was a lot like me – a country kid who didn’t take the indulgences of academia too seriously. He had a gravitational pull on me that told me that no matter how hard the classes got, no matter how long the papers, or how stressful college can be, he’d be there every day, a whistle in his mouth and a stopwatch around his neck, encouraging me to run just a little faster.

I’ve long since left college and made my way in the world. I still run. I still am connected to my college teammates. Will is still there, still coaching another round of skinny, scared college kids. But this is his last season. He announced this summer that he’s retiring from coaching, and last weekend 35 years of runners converged on our alma mater to celebrate his career and his impact on us.

I ran the alumni race, not because I wanted to—five miles at collegiate race pace is not comfortable—but because I wanted to run for Will one last time. It occurred to me, somewhere between miles 3 and 4, that I’ve always run for Will. I wear a whistle and a stopwatch and coach my own teams because of Will.

You can’t know these things, but I hope some of the skinny, scared kids I encourage to run just a little faster will look back with fondness on their experiences, and realize they also run for Will.