By Chad Love
When you’re drowning and you cry out for someone to help, some folks will throw you a lifeline while others will throw you a brick, and one of life’s most universal truths is that at certain points along the path of our lives, all of us will get both tossed our way, either by people or circumstance.
Over the years I’ve had plenty of bricks thrown at me (metaphorically speaking of course…) and yes, the pain of those wounds lingered for a bit, but it’s the lifelines that stick with you, well…for life.
How many of you count bird hunting, and the changing of the season from the anticipation of summer to the action of fall, as one of your lifelines? I suspect most of you. Why? Because we’re never just chasing birds when we hunt. We’re always pursuing something else, too. Answers to lingering questions. A renewal and recalibration of the spirit. Peace. Solace. Calm. Meaning. That one moment of sublime beauty and purpose when it all comes together. Whatever the reasons that compel us into the field this time of year, we need them. They save us.
I am no different. I can’t say that any one person or one moment threw me the lifeline of bird hunting; of fall days spent first alone — then alone with a dog — trying to leave the fears and insecurities of teenage life behind as I searched for feathers and solace and answers in the overgrown fencerows and shaggy, doomed, soon-to-be-sub-divided fields of my youth. Perhaps it wasn’t even thrown to me but was there all along, and I simply needed to grasp it. Some lifelines aren’t recognized as such until they need to be.
I shot few birds, found fewer answers, and I never quite ditched the fear and insecurity, but I didn’t care. The more I did it, the more I realized that it was the act and process of hunting itself — and the season that kickstarted it — that had become balm for the soul of this troubled suburban single-parent kid, more so than any therapy or medication. And each year I longed for its return, marked it, needed it.
Fall has always been that way for me — that lifeline that comes back to save me and keep my head above the often-turbulent waves of life, year after life-scarred year.
We all walk through fire, all of us, and I am no different. I am not the same person in the waning of this year that I was in the waxing. People I thought wouldn’t leave, left. Things I thought wouldn’t end, ended. Assumptions I held as correct, weren’t. The confidence I had in many things, gone.
But I emerged on the other side, as we all do, a bit wiser, a bit more wistful, and — if I’m honest — a bit sadder, as life itself always tends to make us as we accumulate more of it.
And now the lifeline of fall is once more here, just in the nick of time like it always is, and I feel young again as it wraps me in the enveloping cloak of not only promise and possibility and adventure, but also solace and healing.
My bird hunting world has grown since those days of kicking up fencerow coveys in the looming shadow of progress. I’ve hunted many places behind many dogs, and I’ve experienced things across the uplands I never dreamed I would. But in many ways I’ve never stopped being that scared, insecure kid clutching a shotgun, walking aimlessly through the grass, full of questions and doubt and trying to find my place in life. Do any of us ever stop, really?
And therein lies the wonderful, restless, wandering duality of fall: It always brings the questions that drive you forward. But you can’t embrace those questions too tightly. Self-reflection is fine, essential, even. But too much of it turns you into a black hole.
Instead, do as we all do this glorious, wonderful time of year — go seek the answers as we have always done, out there, in the uplands.
Fall is here, and it’s about damn time. So grab on tight to your lifeline and go chase a horizon somewhere out there in quail country.
Chad Love is the editor of the Quail Forever Journal.
This story originally appeared in the 2022 Fall Issue of the Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Quail Forever member today!