I have forgotten, misplaced or otherwise lost many things in my life, but the one that bothers me the most is my loss of certainty.
I’m no longer certain that the weather will change in my favor, that my strength and endurance will prove adequate, that my risk-reward calculation doesn’t have a misplaced decimal. In short, I’m no longer sure that things will turn out the way I want.
It’s not a loss of confidence; I’m still plenty confident in my own abilities. But trial and painful error have taught me that my own ability sometimes just isn’t enough. The chinook I hooked on the Umpqua River while fishing for smallmouth bass with four-pound test line was not in any danger, no matter how good a fisherman I thought I was.
This loss, this lesson, has its benefits, the most important of which is a longer life. Uncertain of my balance, I will decide not to walk the narrow edge of a vertical rimrock. Unsure of my footing, I’ll choose not to wade that last step into deeper water.
Not quite wisdom, I suppose, just a decision not to depend so completely on the luck of the foolish.
In the world of wildlife, certainty exists only in the very young, which is why springtime is such a great season to be a predator. Youngsters of every species forget to look skyward, walk without hesitation into meadows, focus too completely on their meal.
A four-year-old buck deer will wait for several minutes without movement, watching for threats before emerging from the shadows. He’ll take a bite of forage, then raise his head quickly to look around as he chews, simultaneously testing the wind for scents and listening carefully.
The only certainty in the buck’s life is constant danger, and his acceptance of that fact might, just might, help him live to the age of five.
On the human side of things, the loss of certainty leads to a corresponding loss of contrast — in colors. All the issues I used to believe were simple, seen in stark blacks and whites, are now mostly gray to me. Nothing is all right or all wrong. Few, if any organizations or people are all good or all bad.
For many years I considered the Sierra Club the epitome of evil organizations. Many of the chapters were virulently anti-hunting and they worked hard to portray hunters as amoral slobs. In the past few decades, however, Sierra Club members have reached out to hunters, in recognition that only through united action can we hope to influence politicians and resource managers in a positive way. The Club’s overture won over many of us hunters and they have continued to be a leader in social activism on behalf of land and wildlife, though there are still plenty of anti-hunting Sierra Clubbers.
Conversely, I grew up thinking the National Rifle Association was essentially perfect. They were our sole protection against the terrible, anti-gun hordes. I still believe in the importance of their primary mission, and that without their efforts our 2nd Amendment rights would already have been severely curtailed.
But I’ve also become more aware of NRA methods, which include misleading hunters, close relationships with dishonest politicians and sacrifice of wild lands on the altar of gun ownership rights. I believe compromise is possible, but the concept of a slippery slope is hard to overcome.
I’ve come to believe that my loss of certainty is a good thing. The realization that nothing and no one is all bad is comforting. I’d just like to be certain my knee will not buckle as I jump from one rock to the next.
Pat Wray writes about the outdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org