At the top of my short list of friends are the ones I like to spend time with outdoors. Their success in the field isn’t important to me, but enthusiasm and attitude are. It’s rare for one of us to find a kindred soul to share precious hunting time.
I lost such a person in a fiery head-on car wreck this summer that snuffed out both drivers” lives. Exactly how it happened is not clear, but it doesn’t really matter.
His name was Todd. He came to work for me a few years ago and we spent almost every day together earning a living. Our mutual interest in the outdoors and his easygoing personality made him a quick friend, the type few of us deserve.
The first fall we hunted together I infected him with my terrible duck hunting addiction. He was a good wing shot and the transition to waterfowling came naturally. I had the gear (canoe, decoys, calls) and Todd contributed desire, humor, and the camaraderie that makes hours in a blind pass like minutes. We filled the time between action with stories and jokes or silence, and it didn’t matter which. The half-hearted competition for the best shot or most birds was spice on the day, forgotten at its close. I’ve only known this special bond with a few hunters.
Hunting with these few is as comfortable as a favorite shirt, the one you always reach for. The years have faded its color, but the neck tag never picks or scratches. There is history.
Our first time out, we hunted ducks on the Shiawassee Flats. We took a spot in a backfield. This meant we’d be pulling over three tall, muddy dikes to get there. My 15-foot canoe loaded with three dozen duck decoys, two shotguns, ammo, and a six-horse outboard motor is not exactly a featherweight. At the first dike, we climbed out of the canoe and I grabbed one bag of decoys to set them on the ground and lessen the load.
The sound of aluminum dragging across the ground made me turn around just in time to see the back of the canoe with outboard disappear over the top of the dike. Todd was dragging it all by himself. What a partner!
Todd once hunted ducks with another sportsman from our company. I forget the whole story, but Todd ended up peppering one of this person’s decoys with steel shot. The next day at work, the poor hen mallard decoy was found on the break table. It had about 20 Band-Aids stuck over the shot holes and a little white surrender flag on a wire taped to its neck. The flag carries the words, “Don’t Shoot, Todd!!!” This trophy has been on display out in our shop ever since.
The first day of duck season last year, that deke joined my spread. When the shooting slowed up and I looked out over the decoys, I’d see that little white flag and remember what used to be.
Todd was having some personal problems at home the last few weeks of his life. The last time we spoke I was just trying to be there for him, listening. The words of encouragement I tried to give him and his reply will haunt me the rest of my life. I told him, “God always looks out for us and has a plan for our lives, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time.”
He laughed, looked down at his feet, and told me that’s what his mom always said, too. He added, “We just gotta take life as it comes.” I’m trying, Todd, I’m trying.