The Old Man - The Land
It was dawn first light. The Old Man sleepily opened the door and made his way to the nearest porch column. First light was still very dark, thought the Old Man. He had many times pondered on the first moments of dawn; those initial seconds when one realizes that the blackness is a bit grayer; that slash in time when whispered silence becomes filled with unrestrained bird songs, guaranteeing a man that full light is not far away. The loyalty of the morning light was worth study, the Old Man figured, as was the patience learned while waiting for it. But, it was a lesson that could only be learned by those who arose early enough to witness the dawn.
First light must be a gift to hunters, fishermen, and farmers, the Old Man reckoned. The sadness was in the fact that this kinship was realized by only a few. It was a kinship borne stronger than any bloodline and more fundamental than the Motherís womb. Their bonds were in the land. The land was their common strength, and yet these kindred spirits were groping wildly in all directions, like orphaned puppies searching for the source of their Motherís milk. The blindness of modern man saddened the Old Man, and as an owl called from somewhere behind his house, he returned to the house where he prepared a proper pot of coffee and a plate of biscuits. He ate in his den; the place he had spent the last sleepless night.
He picked up the wrinkled letter from the end table and began to read it again. The first direct light from the sun found a window to his left and the black dog as his feet changed positions before finding sleep again.
. . .ďI pray Sam Kenton that you are not dead. It would be painfully ironic that after all these years I take the time to write and you would have not maintained the common courtesy to stay living long enough to read it. Anyway, Iím in a bit of a fix and donít expect to be around much longer. I say, how ruddy long has it been? Forty-five years, I think. Too bloody long old friend. Itís been too long.
I can remember you stepping fresh off the boat, hailing residence from some foreign country called Tennessee. This Tennessee, I might add, was filthy with raccoon and rabbit and quail. At least that was what you suggested, complete with your disgusting Southern accent. I remember the camp boys holding their sides in laughter at your stories. If my memory serves me, our first camp fire heard dialogue similar to this,
...ĒIím telliní you Peter that the hills in Tennessee are just plum loaded with furry creatures like coon and rabbits and such. Bob-whites as big as your boot and over east-ways a feller might get him a bear or hog. But the thing is, Peter, that we ainít got lions in Tennessee and moreín anything... I want to hunt me a lion.Ē
I remember your sayings with fondness, for in all my life, I never once met any man like you. I pray thanks for the friendship of our fathers. The war that brought them together bore a friendship that lasted at least two generations and their arrangement for you to work a year with the Safari Company in payment for your lion was maybe the best business deal my father ever made.
We were a unique pair, you and I. I feel certain that I was the youngest professional to be licensed at that time, and you... well, Iím quite sure that you were the finest white American tracker to ever be hired. You were bloody wonderful after we impressed upon you what animals went with what tracks. Ah, but we were so young, And the land! We had it all then, the excitement and the spirit. I did not take it for granted, not one day. I loved every trip, good or bad, every rainy day and ten mile stalk, every insect ridden camp, every idiot who thought he was a hunter, every broken axle or flat tire, every enemy, every friend, every single animal. What a simply wonderful life Iíve had.
After sixty-five years, Iíve come to the following conclusions. I hope you have the time to listen, because it has taken some drastic changes in this land and its people for me to completely understand.
The land that you remember is no more and Iím thankful that your memories of Africa are of the land you left in 1937. I pray that your Tennessee and its wildlife are healthy. My country and its animals are not.
I think, perhaps, that people are of two basic kinds, dependent upon the successes and failures of our many generations of forefathers. These struggles were of basic survival, namely to eat and stay warm. One group of people, the majority, are ancestors of those forefathers who when learning something from the land told their children ďDo as I do and you will be successful, like me.Ē
The other groupís teachers were different, in that after learning about a gift from the land they would say, ďThe land responds this way if you take a certain action.Ē
These early teachers have passed along much more than their secrets of survival; more importantly, basic quests for happiness. Two kinds of people have subsequently emerged; those who learn from men and gain happiness from the admiration of other men, and those who learn from the land and find happiness in their growing understanding of life.
I am sorry to report, that those who are far removed from the land, thusly surmising that food is produced in the wombs of men and cloths from the hair of street dogs, are in the vast majority. This majority, whom I pity mercifully, peddle the wealth of this land as souvenirs for a higher position among the elite. They in turn continue to teach that the success of man if found I his status among the other pitiful souls who thank that food and clothes and warmth and transportation are products of their own prostitution. Those who have learned from these men, with no knowledge of wild things, can only find security in those brief, fickled victories over other men. The land has taught me these things; the same land which produced these men, along with the hyenas.
Learning from the land leads to contentment.
Learning from man leads to confusion. My landís people are confused, the vast majority only recently have left the bush for the confusion of ďsuccessfulĒ man. I pray for them and my grandchildren their delivery back to the land, that they may find that their fathers, who found happiness in the perfection of a simple spear, were no less fulfilled in their quest for successful living. And, having learned, will once again take pleasure in the warmth of a fire.
I pray the land and its wildlife will survive this learning period. I fear it may not.
I wish you, my old friend contentment with your years. Iím thankful for our memories and those times we learned together.
May God bless you and your
Tennessee - - -
The Old Man stared at the suspended dust particles floating evenly in the sunlight from the window. His vision of Peter Hamilton was clear, like a fresh memory of yesterday. It was peculiar, he thought, that after forty-five years he could remember so well.
He was a stockily built man with massive shoulders and arms, but more than anything, the Old Man remembered the white teeth in that smile. It was a smile that immediately broke tension and let everyone know that the situation was in good hands. Peter was a confidence builder. He could change anxiety into calm, no matter how dangerous the situation. The Old Man remembered a hundred stalks they made together after assorted game. He recollected their private glances, communicating without words. He remembered the clients they worked so hard for, who never knew of their silent conversations. Some of these clients were knowledgeable men, becoming friends in the end. His clearest vision of Peter; however, was at the campfire, after the clients had retired, staring silently into the light.
The Old Man dropped the pages to his lap and from the envelope pulled the final page: Dear Mr. Kenton:
I am sorry to inform you that my grandfather, Peter Hamilton, died on June 28th at 7 a.m. He had suffered a series of heart attacks over the last month, and while he was extremely sick, remained in excellent spirits until his death.
He had spoken of you many times and ask that I forward his letter at the time of his death.
At my grandfatherís suggestion, I would like to ask that if it would not cause too terrible a inconvenience, I could visit your state. I have never had the privilege of seeing America.
The Old Man slowly made his way to the coffee pot, and then to the mantle over the fireplace where he picked up the already-addressed envelope. He continued out the front door, making his way slowly to the mailbox, some 300 yards down the gravel driveway. The dog, somehow detecting the Old Manís mood, walked slowly at heel.
It was difficult to write to a man you had not had the privilege of knowing. The Old Man turned over in his mind the words he had written Alex Hamilton, and wished he was better at writing letters.
To learn of your grandfatherís death causes me great pain. It is always difficult to lose people or places of value. I have found that when valuables are lost, there follows a strong desire to make better those things they represented. There is a powerful feeling in my heart. Iím sure you understand. I reckon Peter knew a lot about death, cause he knew a world about living.
When it comes to you paying us a visit, just pack up whenever you get the notion and come on. My home is yours. I have a grandson named John. I think you and John will hit it off fine and we have rabbits and quail and deer and geese and turkey and, well, you just come and see. Weíve learned some things over here, but weíve got a powerful ways to go.
As he walked, the Old Man noticed that the grass was dry. There was no dew this morning. The Old Man was sure that it would rain.