Lost in thought during a recent fish-less fishing trip, I slipped and fell face-first into a dark pool of gloomy thoughts. I slogged, mentally oblivious, down a woodland trail for a few moments until roused by stepping on a stick hidden in the thick green carpet of undergrowth. My panicked brain thought the darting movement was a snake but I promptly realized my mistake just before sprinting over a nearby cliff.
After my pulse had diminished to that of the same approximate heart rate of a hummingbird, I sat down on a rock to collect my scattered wits and resume working on somber and disconsolate thoughts. Sitting there, I found myself mentally compiling a list of those things I hate in the outdoors. Rattlesnake-looking sticks were at the top.
Now three days later, my adrenaline glands have finally gone back to sleep and reexamination of the record reveals that the thing I hate the most about outdoor sports is tardiness.
This loathing is based upon the fact that I am a member of that naive group who believes that if you promise to arrive at my house for a fishing trip at 5 a.m., you will actually be present at that hour if not a few minutes before. Unfortunately, none of my motley assortment of friends and cohorts seems to share this allegiance to punctuality.
As a comparatively timely person, I find it incredibly annoying to be sitting in the driveway waiting for my buddies to arrive. By five minutes after the hour, my nerve endings are fizzling like a warm soft drink and the steering wheel contains deep dents where my fingers are repeatedly gripping and relaxing in an effort to dissipate the frustration that doubles with each increasingly louder tick of the second hand.
Of course, some friends are better on this point than others. As a group, they range from one buddy who is actually pretty much on time to one friend who is often unable to keep deadlines that are measured in days of the week. For him, I always extract a promise to arrive at our meeting place for the upcoming weekend trip no later than 3 a.m. Wednesday. With his solemn assurances that he will not be late under any circumstances, I rest easy knowing that the odds are fairly good he will arrive a few moments before we actually leave on Friday morning.
I frequently volunteer to drive on our outings. This is because I find it psychologically soothing to sit in the driveway and honk the horn in the wee hours of the morning when they are not ready. My friends are frequently so surprised by the noise that they often roll over and actually check the time before hitting the snooze button.
Of course, during my parenting years, I should have learned more patience. Once upon a time when my wife and I were a young married couple, we would actually arrive early for everything, frequently greeting workers as they were wrapping up the final construction of the building where the event was being held. Fifteen years later we are so commonly late for appointments that the orthodontist once sent us a cheery death threat. However, being late for a school event, medical appointments, wedding or a funeral is one thing but getting a belated start to the lake is an entirely different matter, one that should be criminalized if possible.
We must admit, however, that a halo can quickly slip and become a noose. While I stand here on moral high ground and pontificate, good hygiene and journalistic fairness demands that I perform a public soul cleansing by admitting that I too was recently late for an important outdoors engagement. In keeping with my personal philosophy of, "If you go, go all the way," I was not merely tardy but seriously, maliciously, immorally late for a long-scheduled 4 a.m. turkey hunt
I awoke promptly at 3:50 a.m. that morning and jumped smartly from bed. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I quickly realized that it would probably take a shade more than 10 minutes to get dressed, pack my gear and drive 120 miles on winding country roads in the dark to a place I had never been before. To make matters even worse, the hunt took place on a National Wildlife Refuge, meaning my partner would not even be allowed to participate unless I was also physically present.
When we finally spoke over the phone three days later, he was very understanding. He tried to disguise his forgiveness under a thin veneer of rage but I could tell that he really didn’t mean all those things.
Besides, as a registered nurse, he knows that a 12-gauge pump shotgun will not fit where he suggested I store it until next season.