Goodbye and Hello!

Twenty-seven years ago last June, Brian Howell, then City Editor of the Missoulian, asked me if I was interested in writing something personal about my experience as a new father for a Fathers’ Day feature. I had begun that year, 1987, as a reporter covering cops and courts and assorted wrecks and crashes for the paper. However, the arrival of son Sander on the scene converted me into a stay-at-home-dad once his mom Anne had used up her maternity leave. I agreed to give it a try.

That first effort must have been satisfactory because a few months later, just before waterfowl season, Brian called again to ask if I had would write something about hunting traditions I shared with my friends for the weekly outdoor page. I was pleased to do it.

I wrote about the annual get-together at Swan Lake that my pals had come to refer to as Goose Camp. We had been gathering there on the eve of the waterfowl opening for fifteen years at that time, and we were beginning to think of ourselves almost as old timers. Of course, we weren’t even close. Now, after nearly three more decades of Goose Camp, we really are mossbacks.

After that first yarn, I began writing a regular column for the outdoor page that has appeared more-or-less weekly ever since. It all just sort of happened.

When Thanksgiving Day rolls around every year, one of the things I am always most thankful for is that little series of events that led to me being able to share with you some of my adventures, my family and friends, my thoughts and opinions on things from soup to nuts, and my love of this place we call Montana.

Computers were a brand new deal in 1987. I would scribble a draft of my column on a legal pad, and then hammer out a hard copy on my typewriter. That done, I took it down to the Missoulian where I typed it into the system at one of the computer terminals. The notion of sending it in from a home computer was still science fiction then. This column, however, will go to the Missoulian without me having to leave the house or even get out of my bathrobe.

A lot of other things have changed, too. The world seems a more dangerous and confusing place now, for one. Civility has become increasingly rare in our public discourse. And things that seemed black and white to me once now have a lot more gray area in the middle. And, yes, I believe our world is in imminent peril due to our own thoughtless actions and insatiable appetite for the earth’s resources, the energy they can produce, and the temporary riches that those activities may provide.

Even with those dark thoughts hovering, none of this has altered the fact that I can still wake up every day and be glad to live where I do, and feel blessed to have the family and friends who have surrounded me and shared my love of this place for all these years.

Those friends, the ones who have populated my life and many of the stories I have related here, have been extraordinarily gracious and generous in allowing me to write about them, sometimes in ways that were not particularly flattering. Long ago, Erwin put his foot down and instructed me to leave him out of my column after one too many stories about him losing his Thermos or breaking his fishing rod. For a while, I referred to him as Formerly, as in “my pal, formerly known as Erwin.” Eventually, though, he relented and Erwin reappeared as a frequent brave companion of field and stream, never to complain again. They are all dear friends, and wonderful people, I might add. I am forever in their debt.

I am writing today about my gratitude for these things not only because it is Thanksgiving. I am also doing it because this will be the last column that I write for the outdoor page of the Missoulian. This may seem abrupt, but it is something I have been pondering for quite a while, and now seems to be a good time to make this move. By way of explanation, perhaps I could paraphrase the Dude in The Big Lebowski when trying to explain something he couldn’t explain: “ Certain information has come to light, man.” The reality is that it is just time to move on.

I am so grateful for the chance I have had to connect with all of you through these words on the printed page for so long. Many of you have written to me over the years suggesting that you feel as if you know me and my family and friends. In truth, I feel the same way about you. If you happen to be one of those who has written me or emailed me and I have failed to respond, please know that I fully intended to write back. Kathleen, I’m thinking of you here, but there are others also. And I sincerely appreciated every note, every letter, every phone call, and every single person who said something nice to me in the line at the grocery store. It has been a wonderful ride.

Over those twenty-seven years, there has been lots of weather of all kinds in the lives of each of us. There have been tragedies in my life and in yours. There has been darkness aplenty. And there has been great joy. One of my greatest joys has been in being able to share some of vicissitudes of fatherhood with you, from the very first words on that Fathers’ Day in 1987 about pushing Sander around in his stroller, to more recent observations about his journey into adulthood.

In that Fathers’ Day piece, I remember thinking about the fact that in previous years, I would have likely been guiding fly fishermen and women down Montana trout streams on that weekend, rather than tending to an infant boy. And I expressed the hope that some day, Sander would have the same opportunity to explore and enjoy the wild places and moving waters of Montana the way I had been able to, and that those things would fill his soul as they have filled mine. Sander, like the rest of my friends, has tolerated being used as column fodder so many times over the years that I could not begin to count them.

These days, in addition to working on a graduate degree and being an aspiring educator, Sander is also a fishing guide on those same cold, clear trout waters during the summer months that I once plied for pay. And he and his very recently announced fiancé, Grace, spend much of their free time out there on the rivers and in the hills.

Maybe that’s why it is the right time to now to move on. I can’t do that without again thanking the folks at the Missoulian for making it possible for me to share my thoughts every week for so long. I will be always grateful.

I do have to let you know that, at the insistence of Sander and Grace and my friend Patrice, along with many others, I am not about to stop writing. Rather, beginning next week, I will continue with my weekly missives in a blog that you will be able to find at As an extra inducement, I will be occasionally allowing guest appearances from some of my pals who want to prove to the world that they are more literate than I have portrayed them. Walleye and Homer, in particular, have let me know that they have a few things to say.

So, until we meet again, thanks so very much. Or as my old friend Bull Molina used to say in parting, “Congratulations. Thanks a lot. And goodbye.”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.









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