All posts by Marty Hogan

McKean Minute: Be a Diamond

A good friend who, as an urban firefighter, has made a career out of helping people in hard times, told me that anxiety and external pressure accentuate the personalities of humans. Generous, benevolent people tend to be more so when the chips are down, sharing precious resources and ministering to strangers in pain. Suspicious, mistrustful folk tend to become increasingly covetous and isolating as the vise tightens.

“Pressure makes diamonds,” he told me, citing one of those platitudes you probably heard from your high-school football coach. But then he adds a perspective from his job. “Pressure also makes coal.”

I mention this, of course, in the context of our current tightening vise, the widening and deepening spread of the vile coronavirus. As I write this, we are in the early days of sequestration as families and small social units and figuring out just how serious and lasting this moment will be.

I’ve noticed a couple of tendencies in this time. The first is a sort of self-satisfied glee that we, as hunters and foragers, have been preparing all our lives for this moment. We post photos of our freezers full of wild game and closets full of guns. The second is a sort of shared condemnation of our neighbors as they (and we) raid grocery stores, stock up on essential (and non-essential) items, and fret openly about what’s ahead.

None of us has a good idea of what is ahead, but if other countries and communities are a guide, then we could be faced with intense pressure as health-care resources are stretched, travel restrictions are imposed, isolation creates anxiety and scarcity, and people we know and love are laid low by this silent, invisible stranger.

I have a lot of hopes about how this all ends, but one of them is that we come out the other side as individuals and communities tested by pressure and proven to be worthy of our own expectation of ourselves as generous and benevolent.

You have a choice. Be a diamond.

McKean Minute: My Father’s Shirts

I inherited my mother’s left-handedness, my father’s nose, and my great-grandfather’s love of lever-action rifles.

If you inspect your own various anatomical and behavioral preferences, I’m guessing you can see shadows of your own kin, whether they’ve passed on to a happy hunting ground or are still on the sunny side of the sod.

There are some less fortunate attributes that I’ve inherited, too. I recognize my father’s intolerance for dim-witted people in my personality. I’ve gone as far as mimicking my father’s term for an enemy, whether it’s someone who cut him off in traffic or a neighbor who has been trying to bilk us out of our land for decades. He calls these folks “Friends,” as in “Thanks, friend, for being a wretched driver.” As a young kid, I recognized that my father’s use of the term “friend” meant pretty much exactly the opposite. I can only hope my own kids—who have well-endowed senses of irony—recognize my similar use of the term.

My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, passed on to me a love of soggy bottomlands and the life they hold, including secluded duck holes in the stinking black timber. My paternal grandmother gave me a love of bourbon on the rocks. And a whole wave of paternal relatives gave me an abiding love of the wide-open West, that empire of drought-parched range, spindly vegetation, and wind-blasted homesteads where they left their mark, at least temporarily.

But my mother gave me her stature. My mom is tiny, and seems to decrease in volume every year. I recall when I was a freshman in high school, and weighed right around 100 pounds, that my mon and I made a bet about which of us would be unable to give blood. At the time, my mom packed 98 pounds into her 5-foot, 1-inch frame. I won, though I also passed out on the blood-draw gurney.

On the other side of the genetic ledger, my dad stood an imposing 6-foot, 3-inches, and he probably weighed 180 pounds at his fighting weight. He also gave blood, and he dressed in Wrangler jeans (or sometimes khaki trousers when he needed to dress up) and a rustic button-down shirt (always with an undershirt beneath) in either twill or chambray. I have a few of his old shirts, handed down to me after his death a decade ago. Some have stains, from bar oil or gear grease, but all have a comfortable, homey, rumpled hand.

My dad and I have similar taste in shirts—and in undershirts. I’d love to wear his old, work-worn shirts, to strike the same heroic pose he did when I was a kid, and transport me back to fixing fence or roping calves or baling hay.

But I buy my clothes—when I buy new clothes—on the Youth Large rack. I’m a small man, only slightly larger than my mom at her fighting weight. I could probably fit two of my statures inside one of my late dad’s shirts. Still, they hang in my closet, waiting for the next right-sized heir to heave into them, and then to swing an ax or a hammer, to shoulder a vintage rifle, or to coax a corner post into place. It’s what passes for inheritance in my family.

McKean Minute: A Dog Named Sue

I recently wrote in this space about the untimely passing of my best friend. I may have mentioned Scott’s incomparable personality, an infectious mixture of mischief and malarkey sprinkled with equal parts responsibility and get-er-doneness. Scott was the person in my life most likely to show up unannounced with a six-pack, and also to write my own mother on her birthday.

I was asked to say a few words at Scott’s memorial service earlier this month, and I regret to say that my remarks were hurried and unformed, partly out of grief, partly out of my inability to believe that he was really dead, such a vibrant person undeservedly plucked from the living.

I started my remarks talking, as I often do, about my dog. Her name is now Nellie, but for the first couple weeks in our house, she didn’t have a name. We were trying to define her personality, and would hang a name on her only after we got a sense of her dogness. I didn’t tell my family at the time, but I nearly named her Scott.

The first reason was high irony. Scott’s favorite song, and one he belted out at the top of his voice on long road trips with me, was “A Boy Named Sue,” the Johnny Cash version. He would gravel his voice for the part about “the mud and the blood and the beer.” I thought how funny it would be to name my own female dog “Scott” as a sort of homage to Johnny’s Sue.

The more I considered the name, the more it fit. Our dog is a charming, maddening, delightful, aggravating mix of rascality, loyalty, spontaneity, and surprise. While she’s unlikely to ever write my mother on any occasion, she otherwise is a pretty good incarnation of Scott. I mentioned all this at the funeral service, but I may have overly stressed the more unfortunate traits of my dog. She’s a delinquent and an opportunistic petty criminal, more likely to retrieve a rotting deer leg than the stick I just threw her, and incapable of walking away from something putrid, the more stinky and skanky the more likely she is to roll in it.

But Nellie also has the keenest senses of smell and humor of any dog I’ve encountered. Everything for her is potential fun, whether it’s a sock or a log larger than she is, she’s going to find a way to bring it to me and then make a game out of it. That’s Scott. He could find fun in the most mundane, stultifying, and tedious task, and turn it into an opportunity for mirth and mayhem. I mentioned all of that, to the knowing nods of Scott’s friends and family, at the service.

What I didn’t mention, though, is the absolute tenacious loyalty that both Nellie and Scott possess. Nellie simply won’t give up, whether it’s in pursuit of a downed rooster or a thrown ball. She’ll keep searching until I call her off or she finds it. Scott was the same way. He’d do anything for a friend, and keep on the task until it was finished or forgotten by everyone but him. Nellie is loyal to a fault. She’ll have fun with fellow dogs and visitors, but at the end of the day, she’s by my side, ready to hunt them up or hook up for the next adventure. Scott was the same way. There was no one in my life with a fiercer sense of commitment or loyalty to a friend or a mission.

So, you’ll excuse me if sometimes when I send Nellie for a long retrieve, I slip up and say “Go gettum, Scott….” Or if, when she comes back with some putrid find and looks up at me expecting praise and a pat on the head, I shake my own head and say, “Scott, yer a dumbass.” I say it all with the greatest affection and the grievous knowledge that best friends, like good dogs, don’t live nearly long enough.

McKean Minute: Define Yourself as a ‘Wildlife Trustee’

You may recall that I wrote in this space last year about my unease with our traditional term to describe those of us who hunt and fish. We’ve called ourselves “sportsmen” for the better part of a century, and while the term describes a certain type of person, it leaves some people out of the club.

I’m not the most politically correct person you’ll meet, but I do think that language matters. In this age of inclusiveness, people are hyper-sensitive being excluded by terms that seem to favor one group over others. Add to that the documented decline in traditional hunters in America. As a dwindling community we should be looking for any term that helps add to our ranks.

Last year I introduced the gender-neutral term “chaser” to describe our pursuit of wild animals. Taken deeper down the linguistic rabbithole, the term echoes the French term for hunter, which is “chasseur.”

It will be no surprise to anyone that the term didn’t exactly catch fire—maybe because of the French connotations, maybe because we hunters think ourselves as catchers more than simply chasers. Consequently, we’re still using “sportsmen” to describe our male-dominated fraternity. So, I’d like to try again, in the hopes that we can expand the parlance of our predilection.

I propose the term “trustee” to describe those of us who fund wildlife management in this country, those of us who buy hunting gear, who buy hunting licenses, and who abide by the laws—both written and unwritten—that define the proper way to chase wildlife. The term, like all terms, is loaded, but it harkens back to the essence of our role in the very American way that we manage wildlife.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the North American model of wildlife conservation (if you haven’t, then download almost any archived episode of our podcast, On Gravel, and hear Ryan Bronsen extol the virtues of this model). It establishes that wildlife is owned by everyone, and is held in trust by state and provincial wildlife agencies, who manage it according to scientific principles and democratic distribution. When we individuals buy a license, we accept our trust responsibilities to take only what we can use, to obey all other rules, and to pursue animals in an ethical and sustainable manner.

In essence, we hunters (and anglers) are trustees of this public resource. So what better term to describe our community. We are wildlife trustees, or in short, trustees. It’s a noble term, asking members to uphold high and community-minded ideals. It’s an inclusive term, not singling out a specific gender or singular type of pursuit. It’s an ambitious term. If you accept that you are a trustee, then you are required to uphold the highest and best purposes of the public resource that you’re entrusted with. And it’s expansive enough that it allows us to carve out specific definitions. Some of us might be bass trustees. Others elk trustees.

It also implies fiduciary responsibility. Just as a school district’s trustees are responsible for appropriate use of public funds, a wildlife trustee is entrusted with upholding the assets of our rich heritage, the wild animals that we share in common, but pursue with purpose as licensed, capable, appreciative protectors and beneficiaries of our public resource.

So, welcome to the club, fellow “trustee.” Now, go out and add to our ranks.

McKean Minute: The Greatest Treasure

I have a couple of heirloom rifles that I wouldn’t sell for all the farms in Iowa. One is a Winchester Model 1892 chambered in .25/20 that my dad took in trade from a Hunkpapa Sioux when he was a ranch hand in South Dakota. Its serial number indicates that it was made in 1899, and I often wonder all the things that rifle has seen: the end of open cattle range, the first generations of reservation life, scabbards on the flanks of dozens of good horses.

The other rifle is a Remington Targetmaster .22, a single-shot bolt action that was my first gun. Before that, it belonged to my grandfather, a red-dirt Mississippi hick who was the smartest kid in his town, so smart that his teachers paid for his first years at Mississippi State, where he got a masters degree in engineering and later a PhD. He worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, powering the big hydro dams that electrified the Southeast and put wire and lights in his parents’ farmhouse.

But I’d trade both those rifles to have Scott Hamilton riding shotgun again. Scott was one of my oldest and best friends. He died last weekend at his home in Austin, dropped dead in the shower after a strenuous hike.

Though we lived in distant towns and saw each other at most once a year, the accumulated experiences and shared memories were like inertia, pushing us to the next plan. Most of those plans involved some sort of road trip. Outside of my family, I’ve spent more time in pickups and covered more miles of open road with Scott than anyone. It was nothing for us to drive 500 miles for a burger and a beer in some dive bar.

We hunted together every chance we got, and our plans were to meet in northern Wisconsin, where Scott had a cabin, for deer season. I was already savoring our evenings, pulled up to some North Woods bar, a cheeseburger and a frosty Old Style either celebrating the success or soothing the disappointment of the day.

Friends like Scott aren’t gifts, they’re made every day. While there’s nothing greater than meeting a new friend, there’s also nothing like the easy pace and conversation of an old friendship. It’s like the wood on an old rifle: smooth and worn, with a few nicks and scratches earned through honest use, that takes your hand and holds it, ready to lead you on your next adventure.

McKean Minute: The Hourglass Dilemma

The world is evenly divided into those who will nod knowingly at what I’m about to say, and those who will have no idea.

“I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had.”

That’s both a quotation and a statement of reality. It’s a quote from my dad, and his dad before him, an aunt or two, my neighbor, and the clerk at the vet clinic. But it’s also a description of my every waking day, and has been for the past couple years. It’s the best way to declare, without complaining about, all the aches and pains that come with aging.

I’m not over the hill – not by a long shot. But a decade ago I was ignorant of these little physical gripes. Now, they’re part of the landscape. I mention this not to solicit sympathy from you, my dear reader, but to inform my outlook of the year ahead, and the years beyond that. And maybe your approaching years, too.

Every new year is full of resolve, which manifests as resolutions, generally pithy phrases that promise, or at least imply, some sort of improvement. Of lifestyle. Of habit. Or of personal commitments to eat more greens, or to get to know your brother-in-law better, or to stop scratching yourself in public.

My commitment this year is both simpler and far harder to achieve, given the arc of time and its toll on the human body. I resolve to spend more time exploring. I mean that metaphorically, by reading and inquiring more I can explore other worlds without leaving my own. But I also mean that literally. I want to move my feet across places I’ve never walked before. And that gets back to all those little hurts in the unknown places of my body.

One of the certainties of all life is that it dies. One of the certainties of hunters is that we “age out” of the activity that defines us. We’ve seen this represented in statistics that track participation—measured by buying hunting licenses—in the blood sports. Demographers reckon that when the human body reaches about 65 years old, it stops hunting.

I intend to be one of those erratics that skew statistics and confound demographers. I intend to hunt well past age 65. But in order to do that, I intend to explore this year. And the next. I intend to keep my body trained to hike, my eyes peeled to see animals, and my instincts sharpened to react to all the changing variables of a hunt.

But I’m also aware that I’m doing this as a defensive, rather than an offensive, gesture. This is the hourglass dilemma. We will never know how much time we have left, how much sand remains in the top of the hourglass. As long as we’re ignorant of the quantity, we spend it recklessly. But as soon as we’re aware of the grains sifting through the neck and accumulating in the lower bulb, we become cautious, self-conscious, and timid. And sedentary.

I do not intend to be any of those. I intend to hurt, to complain loudly and often about my physical pains, and to beat you to the top of the next hill, if only to have the first view of whatever’s on the other side. With me?

McKean Minute: Gifts for Your Mentor

This is weeks too late—or months too early—to be any real good, but I’m going to give you some holiday advice, anyway.

I’m going to tell you what to gift your mentor, that person who taught you to shoot a gun, read a deer track, and watch the wind. If the world was right, and I had a better sense of time, I would have written this back in November, just before Black Friday and the retail mayhem that lights the fuse of American gift-giving.

But I’ve never been very good with time. Neither have I been very good at gift-giving. But I’m really good at lighting fuses…

The best thing about this particular gift list is that it’s timeless, just as the knowledge and confidence that your mentor poured into you is timeless. So, if you don’t use it in what’s left of this year, you always have next holiday season. But it’s just as valid for Valentine’s Day, or a birthday, or September 1, which is the unrecognized national holiday for hunters as the gateway to fall.

Before I divulge the gifts every mentor wants, I want to commiserate. Just like the other avid hunters in your life, your mentor already has everything he or she wants or needs. Right? You observed that as she was gifting you surplus backpacks, or he was giving you your first rifle. But this roster is designed to both surprise and delight, and to fill those little needs that your mentor probably has, but would never divulge.

So, with all those caveats and qualifications, please, give away. If not this giving season, then all the ones that follow.


Powderhook App – FREE

This most necessary gift is not only evergreen, but it’s free. It’s an invitation to join the Powderhook app, and connect with other apprentices, other mentors, and a whole community of folks who think—and even more importantly, act—like your own mentor.

https://powderhook.com/

onX Digital Map Subscription – $119 annually

Next to Powderhook, what better gift can you give a hunter than the gift of bearing. An annual premium subscription to onX provides state-specific maps that detail public-land boundaries, private landowner names, and overlays like hunt-unit boundaries, CWD areas, and even the dates of forest fires, so you can target elk and deer in succulent green-up areas. Make sure you buy a subscription to the correct state!

(https://www.onxmaps.com/)


Ka-Bar’s Dozier Folding Hunter Knife – $29

This is the do-everything, hard-wearing, multi-purpose knife for any task. It’s also a raging bargain, and if your mentor taught you anything, it’s how to shop for a bargain. You can get this blade with black, or red, or orange handle scales. You can get the clip point or the drop point. But whatever variation you choose, you know this is an honest blade. That’s more than you can say for most of your friends.

(https://www.kabar.com/products/4062KG)


How To Hunt Everything hardcover book – $24

I’m obviously biased here, since I wrote most of this book, but it’s a handsome compendium of nearly every huntable species on earth, including a few your mentor probably hasn’t pursued. Whether he or she dreams of hunting Africa, packing in to a Canadian big-game camp, or pursuing a grand slam of grouse, there’s tons of information here along with some magnificent photography.

https://www.amazon.com/How-Hunt-Everything-Outdoor-Life/dp/1616288167/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=how+to+hunt+everything&qid=1574450834&sr=8-1

Leather Cartridge Pouch – $30

Maybe your mentor warned you against stuffing your pockets with loose rifle shells. They can clink and rattle when you move, creating more noise than you want. You can show him or her that you got the lesson by gifting them this beautiful pouch that holds 5 rounds of their favorite centerfire cartridge. A slot in the back fits belts up to 2 inches wide so that that extra round is always at their fingertips.

https://www.cabelas.com/product/Ruger-reg-Round-Leather-Rifle-Cartridge-Wallet/708283.uts?productVariantId=1399085&WT.tsrc=PPC&WT.mc_id=GoogleProductAds&WT.z_mc_id1=02475116&rid=20&ds_rl=1246555&ds_rl=1246558&ds_rl=1252245&ds_rl=1252079&gclid=Cj0KCQiA0ZHwBRCRARIsAK0Tr-pBX3nccv9uLbMhR89VVsrRKVk60aIfZv9pxs4bFDbENB9P9Cjdt00aAgn0EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Whiskey Glass Set – $19.69

I don’t know if it’s true that whiskey tastes better in a fine glass, but it certainly doesn’t taste any worse. This 6-pack of non-leaded crystal stemless glasses will look good behind a bar or on the tailgate of your pickup at the end of a long day of hunting. Hopefully, you’ll be right there with your mentor when they raise a glass to toast the thoughtful gift.

https://www.amazon.com/Style-Fashioned-Whiskey-Glasses-Camping/dp/B073QM7QR1/ref=sr_1_9?crid=1BJ7G8IE83019&keywords=whiskey+glass&qid=1574451260&sprefix=whiskey%2Caps%2C201&sr=8-9

Otterbox Elevation Tumbler Mug – $25

The other end of the drinking day, and utility, this mug is a simple reminder of the early mornings and road trips you probably shared with your mentor. There are no shortages of insulated tumblers on the market, but this one gets our nod for its elegant design, excellent lid, and finger-grabbing handle. It comes in stainless steel, but we like the powder-coated colors for extra distinction. Like your mentor.

https://www.otterbox.com/en-us/elevation-tumblers.html

Conservation Group Membership – $35-50

This is one that’s hard to find on Amazon, but it will put more ducks on the marsh, more deer in the woods, more elk on the mountain, plus more acres to hunt well into the future. It’s a membership in your mentor’s favorite conservation organization. Sign them up for a year—most basic memberships run less than $50 per year, and include a regular magazine. Your gift, in their name, shows your mentor that you get the big picture of conservation, and our collective responsibility to pull on the oars.


Lifetime Hunting Licenses – $various

What better forward-looking gift can you give than many years of hunting and fishing. Many states offer these lifetime hunting licenses. Get one for your mentor. You won’t have to say—or give—another thing as long as you know each other.


Camp Chef PRO90X Three-Burner Camp Stove – $320

Whether it’s for making camp coffee at the trailhead, crawfish boil for the buddies, or grilling burgers for the family on the back deck, this heavy-duty propane stove will produce the BTUs. There’s nothing fancy about it, just three durable burners on a stand that will hold your biggest pots. A cast-iron griddle works great for burgers, bacon, or backstrap. And it’s a reminder to your mentor that creature comforts come in all sizes and types. Maybe it also gets you invited on his or her next deer hunt.

https://www.campchef.com/camp-chef-pro-90x-three-burner-stove.html

McKean Minute: Past, Imperfect

I literally drip with nostalgia. When I recall a particularly poignant moment, or approach a tender memory, my eyes well up and my nose runs. I’m a sucker for tradition, heritage, and cemeteries. Maybe that’s why I majored in history in college. I love learning about where we’ve come from. And I often speak in the past tense.

For the record, I’m not proud of this. My kids laugh behind their hands when I tear up, and my wavering voice has caused me to pause many a private conversation and public presentation while I regain my composure. That’s not to say that I spend my life looking in the rear-view. I am optimistic, hopeful for the future, and cannot wait to rise every day to greet what’s coming.

But neither am I embarrassed by my wistfulness.

Memorializing our ancestors is one of the qualities that elevates humans from hominids. Wild animals may use their memories as a tool to help them avoid being eaten tomorrow, but biologists call that instinct, not nostalgia.

My personal past snapped into hard focus this week during a trip back to the rolling hills and hardwood draws of northern Missouri where I grew up. I was back to see for myself if reports of the return of wild bobwhite quail to the area are true, but I also reconnected with classmates, their families, old childhood haunts, and the fields and brambles who made me who I am.

Walking the field edges where I shot my first wild quail as a kid, visiting the cemetery where my father is buried, and driving the back roads where I learned everything from grain-truck airbrakes to country girls immersed me in memories. When I drove past the farmhouse of my youth, now owned by an out-of-stater who locks his gates, I had a physical reaction to the accumulated years I spent there, and the weight of the years since I left. I sputtered and misted up. And drove on by.

Maybe that’s the point. It’s important for us to revisit our past, to spend physical time in the places and with the people who forged us, because faded memories require periodic polishing. But it’s unhealthy to remain there, always looking backward, whether with fondness or regret.

The future is equal parts exciting and terrifying precisely because it’s unscripted. Will you do things you regret in the coming days and years? Sure. But it’s when you can look back on them as memories, however imperfect, that experience crystalizes into legend. Legends that you’ll pass forward long after your own memory sputters and dims.

McKean Minute: Outdoor Classroom

Thanks to my dad, I am a wind Nazi. I can tell you from the warm comfort of my bed, by looking at the tippy-top limbs of the ash tree out the window, which way and how fast the wind is blowing. When I’m hunting, and I feel the wind shift to my back, so that it lifts those gossamer neck hairs, I know my approach is doomed.

I’ll walk 10 miles out of my way to get the wind right on the approach on an elk. And I’ll wait days for the right wind to stalk into the badland catacombs where the oldest, smartest mule deer think they can hide.

My father was a shoe-leather hunter. He never climbed a stand in his life, but he managed to kill some doozie Missouri whitetails. He watched the wind, moved surely and silently, and he taught me the same lessons, though he never uttered a word of instruction.

It’s how we learn, and probably how human hunters have learned since we wielded clubs instead of Creedmoors. We watch, we notice, we absorb, and we repeat. It’s become fashionable for folks trying to pass on knowledge of our natural world to host “outdoor classrooms” for wide-eyed and squirmy students. But the best learning is done in the quiet, by seeing a veteran move, act, and react.

I was reminded of the silent scholarship the other day as I watched my daughter, 15 going on 50, stalking a bedded mule deer. I knew we would be inside his alarm perimeter by the time we popped over the prairie ridge, so I sent Iris by herself. She had a good idea where the buck was bedded, and as I waited below the ridge, out of sight of the buck, I marveled at all the skills that Iris deployed, skills that I may have demonstrated at some time in our hunts together.

She unslung her rifle, so that the barrel wouldn’t stick above the horizon and betray her approach. She deployed the spring-loaded bipod with ginger care, so its legs wouldn’t snap. And, just before she dropped to her stomach for the final approach, she tucked her binocular inside her vest, so it wouldn’t drag in the snow and dirt. She belly-crawled to the lip, using a clump of sagebrush for cover. She got behind her rifle, and she waited, slowing her breathing to a steady cadence.

I was anxious, just as I always am in the final moments of a stalk. But my daughter’s calm, sure approach soothed my jangled nerves. She had this. She must have seen me pull off just such a belly-crawling, ridge-topping stalk a half dozen times. She never hunted with her grandfather, but he’d have done exactly what she did. I never hunted with my grandfather, but I can almost picture him, in Levi’s, hobnailed boots, and a lever gun, making just such a stalk on a South Dakota buck.

The shot surprised me, but the result didn’t. The chick of the bolt working, a second shot, and then my girl looking back down the hill at me, utterly surprised and flushed with the experience and the relief.

“He’s down, Dad.”

Of course he is, kid. Of course he is.

McKean Minute: This Thanksgiving, Be Grateful for Your Memory

A friend of mine, his body atrophying from time and cancer, looked me in the eyes and testified: “If you have your health, you have everything.”

Another friend, widowed and alone, once told me that the secret to happiness was having a family nearby.

And yet another acquaintance once pronounced that to be wealthy was to be free. “The people who tell you that money doesn’t matter? Those are the people who don’t have any,” he said.

On this Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my health. And my family. And if I’m not rich, at least I’m not wondering how to feed and house myself.

But as I enter an age where it’s an increasingly perishable commodity, I may be most thankful for my memory.

I’ve been thinking a lot about memory lately, as I’ve chased deer and elk around this state. About memory and instinct, and how they’re similar and vastly different.

One of the silent pleasures of hunting is anticipating the actions—and reactions—of wild animals. And then having your hunch either confirmed or rejected by their behavior.

Normally, an animal’s reaction is an expression of its instinct. When a whitetail catches my wind and runs to cover, it is obeying a primitive, hard-wired command to flee. More interesting to me is watching an animal’s learned behavior. When that deer runs for cover, and then takes a left and returns to the field because it knows I’m simply cutting firewood instead of hunting, that’s an expression of its memory.

That’s an important distinction for us humans, too. We do so many things instinctually—yawning when other humans yawn, for instance, or blushing when embarrassed or aroused. Those are gifts from our ancestors. They’re common to all us humans.

But memory is something far different. It’s handmade from our own, individual experiences and perceptions. No one else shares it, or can really even experience it except through our own insufficient accounts, related through stories, histories, and remembrances.

That’s why memory is so precious. When we go, so goes this entire parallel, invisible life of the mind that will never again be replicated on this earth. So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful for your memory. And simply remember. Remember all the great, awful, awkward, happy, remarkable, mundane ingredients of your day, your week, your hunting season. Maybe some of those memories will make you blush.