One of the countless oft-repeated lines from William Shakespeare is “parting is such sweet sorrow.”
It may seem strange to select a quotation from the English language’s greatest writer, especially when the material comes from one of his romantic plays (“Romeo and Juliet”), and link it to an outdoor column.
Yet for almost 40 years that has been the essence of this column, a romance in the form of an ongoing love affair. During that period, I have been blessed to share my passion for hunting, fishing and the natural world with others. From the point when the late Buddy McCarter, The Herald’s sports editor for many years, approached me about covering the outdoors until today, my byline has appeared regularly in the pages of this newspaper.
For a time it was weekly. Then for more than a decade, three times a week before returning to a weekly format, eventually settling into the biweekly pattern of recent years. There were even laughable promotions describing me as “Wild Thing.”
My tenure has seen interaction with perhaps a dozen sports editors, and I’m reasonably certain my words have appeared in these pages longer than anyone currently serving as a staff member or stringer. Alas, as a proverb tracing back to the medieval writer Geoffrey Chaucer correctly suggests, “all good things must come to an end.”
A few weeks back, editor Cliff Harrington called with news I had been half expecting (or fearing) for some time. He graciously explained The Herald was moving in new directions and my time as a contributor would conclude in mid-February. I listened with understanding but a consuming sense of loss, asking only that I have an opportunity to bid loyal readers a fond farewell. Harrington kindly granted this request. So this is goodbye.
My adieu comes with considerable sadness, but behind that lies almost four decades of gladness, more than 2,000 columns, a host of friendships engendered by my scribblings, and opportunities to serve local sportsmen in a myriad of ways. I take quiet pride in the fact I’ve never missed a deadline, consistently supported the worthy efforts of conservation organizations and paid richly deserved tribute to local sportsmen.
Clearly, I got things right from time to time because, through the decades, my peers honored me with awards recognizing excellence in craft.
An unexpected but enduring joy of this column has been folks coming up to me in public places (just yesterday, for example, in the local post office) and saying something to the effect of “Aren’t you the guy who writes about the outdoors in the newspaper?” I would smilingly acknowledge as much, always with a bit of niggling doubt that possibly I had written something the individual found offensive because I never shied away from controversial subjects. Invariably though such serendipitous meetings led to interesting conversations, and sometimes they produced leads on possible stories as well.
This column has produced lasting friendships, given me ample opportunity to relive special moments in my life and in the lives of many others, and found me with a catch in my throat and unaccustomed moisture in my eyes as I paid tribute to departed sportsmen.
It also has been life-changing inasmuch as it enabled me to take the first footsteps toward the realization of a dream dating back to high school. When I was a freshman, an English teacher wrote on an essay of mine: “This is the kind of material, in more sophisticated form, which newspapers and outdoor magazines buy.”
The seed he planted took a long time to sprout and flourish, but with this column as a foundation, I gradually built up my credentials as an outdoor writer. In time, I enjoyed the good fortune of contributing to almost all the major regional and national outdoor magazines, writing or editing more than 40 books on the outdoors, and traveling to places a boy growing up deeply in love with the outdoors in the bosom of North Carolina’s Great Smokies could never have imagined.
I’ve been blessed to serve as president of state, Southeastern and national outdoor writers’ groups, meet and mingle with icons of sport, and hold masthead positions for major magazines.
All of these opportunities have been blessings, not to mention my livelihood since I retired from Winthrop two decades ago. The beginnings were with this publication.
It’s been a good run, and I feel blessed. My love affair with the good earth will go on unchanged, and I’ll find other ways to share it. I’m in the phone book, still old-fashioned enough to use a landline, and have a website, so those of you whom I’ve been privileged to call readers can still get in touch.
Beyond that, here’s wishing you tight lines, singing reels, straight shots, and fine times. Hail and farewell.