Resilience

You know that feeling when you start looking over your shoulder wondering, “where will the hit come from next?” That feeling has haunted me for the better part of six months.

“I’m fucking heart broken… You must be hurting. Sorry man”

“Had a tent, then a camper, then an addition on the camper, then grouse camp palace. So, just part of the evolution I suppose.”

“I like your style. Glad to be a part of it man. Regardless of what the sleeping arrangements look like.”

“Glad we got what we got from it over the years. Tent and fire if we have to, not hunting is not an option.”

“A-fucking-men”

You know that feeling when you start looking over your shoulder wondering, “where will the hit come from next?” That feeling has haunted me for the better part of six months. A series of unfortunate events, none of which I can control. Large. Small. Some important. Others the quintessential little things, the “you’ve got to be effing kidding me” things that accumulate like dozens of paper cuts in the same spot.

My truck has been on the fritz since the end of October. Two torque converters, and this past week an oil pump. The check engine light came back on as I pulled in the driveway coming home from my mechanic. 

The freezer portion of our refrigerator bit the dust in November, I replaced every part and sensor I could to no avail. The chest freezer in the garage took on double-duty. Then, this weekend I took the first bite of cereal and had that funny gut feeling of “something isn’t right here”. …Cereal should not have room temperature milk. 

And then, the news that prompted the above exchange. My northern Wisconsin grouse camp as I know it is done for. This year’s snowpack too much for the old trailer’s roof to handle and in it went. 

I say “my” grouse camp, but it’s mine by invitation and gracious hosting only. But in my mind it will always be “mine”, not in the possessive, but in the notion of it. My place to go to hunt grouse, to cook breakfast for my friends on slow-start October mornings, to stare at the stars and feel the northern cold curl around my neck as the dog does her business one last time before turning in for the night. So many little sensory memories. When the dog’s gone, it will be her place for eternity too.

A student asked me once, where is your sanctuary? If you could pick one place, where would it be? Without hesitation that camp was the first thing on my mind. 

I count on that place and those people. The moment I point the truck south at the end of a camp weekend my mind is fixed on the next iteration. When I lived closer, that was damn near every weekend. A six week cycle of driving, hunting, quick grocery runs, and laundry. Muddy trucks, tired skinny dogs, work that could wait, and memories in new cuts and old ones. Now, I live 15 hours away and the trip is a once a year event. One weekend to cram it all in. The anticipation, the planning, the skinny pedal getting overworked on the way there and then reluctantly depressed on the way home. 

I had a moment this weekend over the lukewarm milk in my cereal. Enough. I’d just like a win. Maybe even a truck I can count on, a refrigerator that works to keep cold what little we were able to scrounge from the grocery as panic set across the land, and if I’m lucky, work that has a happy ending once in a while where I don’t feel like every e-mail that lands in my inbox is another potential kick in the teeth.

Thankfully, my wife was there to talk me off the ledge as I contemplated hurling the mixture of Life and warm milk in front of me at the now extinct refrigerator. It will be OK.

And then the grouse camp group chat. “She took all she could and collapsed fully. Not fixable.” My stomach dropped, for my friend and his camp, the place that molded him into one of the best hunters and anglers I know. “Holy shit, I’m sorry”, the only thing I could get out along with similar sentiments coming from the other two camp regulars. 

He could complain, woah is me, on and on and on… instead he comes back with the ultimate Bill Belichick, “Sucks, but is what it is.” And the conversation shifts, “Grouse camp from a wall tent this year?” Resounding yes. More good news, the liquor cabinet was spared (priorities people) and then the jokes are rolling. “Save the oven so Jerry can burn the bacon in the new place.” “Make sure to include a remote, soundproof bedroom for the snorer.” “You think insurance will swing for the commercial grade commode?” And then the offline text above… “not hunting is not an option.” It will be OK. 

Resilience has been on my mind a lot lately. I don’t just think on it, I ruminate on it. Stare off over my coffee, or beer, or bourbon as the sentiment runs laps in my brain, zoning out on long drives where I stop to rewind the podcast or music in the background because I missed entire segments. When I say lately, I mean months, lately. September to present, lately. Constant running narrative, “Do I have it?” “Maybe I’m not.” “Other people handle these things just fine, what’s your problem?” “Build a bridge, Mike, and get the hell over it.” Internal dialogues can be the worst.

And now, everyone is talking about resilience. A global pandemic will do that. I still think on it, too. I worry about my family and friends with underlying conditions, I worry about the economy, what this means for all of us in six months to a year.

But, I also watch as the world puts effort into connection in other ways. Instagram challenges (I’m now up to 50 push-ups a day), text conversations about life, goals, and ideas where no previous relationship existed besides the expected scroll past double tap ‘heart’. The increased time at home, the opportunity to invest in relationships, and the ability to watch that investment grow leaps and bounds in real time, skyrocketing upward, the inverse of the economic markets, like a big middle finger to the doom and gloom. There are certainly moments, like the warm cereal, where the tank is near empty and it seems resilience is an ephemeral idea. But then, there are moments when big things happen and perspective makes all the difference.

Lean in to those moments. Lean in to the investment. Embrace the Suck (give this a read from Allen Crater while you’re at it). Think on it. (Rob Kinney throws some heat on this very topic) Take a minute and think on what you have to be grateful for. Think on what you can do to help. We’re all in this together. (another worthy read by Chad Love) And we are collectively more resilient than we can fathom. 

It will be OK. 

Will it be easy? No. 

Will it be different on the other side? Yes. 

There will be beginnings, and endings, and continuings. 

“Tent and fire if we have to, not hunting is not an option.”

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