As the New York Outdoor News publications refocused its blogs, one of the things they wanted to do was to try and offer more how-to and where-to with hunting and fishing. They asked that we give tips about our outdoor experiences. Here’s a tip I learned the hard way: Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.
Last April I wrote a blog about a good friend of mine and the title of the story was “Live Life to its Fullest.” It was another important tip because we just don’t know how much time we have left on this Earth. Life is fragile.
My friend was Don Starkey of Lockport. He was one of my hunting buddies and we shared deer hunting experiences ever since high school. My dad was one of his mentors. We also shared a waterfowl blind or two.
Last April when I wrote the blog, it was after Don had just learned he had pancreatic cancer. It hit our group of friends pretty hard, all graduating from the Starpoint Central Class of 1974. We had just lost a good friend and classmate the year before. We weren’t ready for another.
Don had a rollercoaster ride for the past year – good and bad. At one point he told me that he wanted to go on a bear hunt, something he always wanted to do, and we reached out to some friends who worked with someone on Northern Ontario bear hunts each fall. Due to some complications with the cancer, we postponed the trip for a summer. We thought we could go on the hunt in 2015.
In the meantime, I had several comments on the blog about the whole “living life to its fullest” and treating every day like it’s your last. I submitted it as an entry in the New York State Outdoor Writers Association’s Excellent in Craft Award for online submissions. When I was notified that I had won a prize in the contest, I didn’t know which submission would be acknowledged. I would find out on May 9 at the Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton. On May 2, Don Starkey lost his battle with cancer. The day before I left for the conference, I was attending Don’s funeral in Lockport. We were never able to go on our bear hunt together.
The week before, I tried to stop down and see Don with some friends from that same graduating class. Our schedules couldn’t work out so we decided we would try and get together on the weekend – at his suggestion. He sounded great. His voice seemed to have some old enthusiasm in it. It was not meant to be, though. He never made the weekend. We lost another good man.
At the outdoor writers' banquet, it was announced that I had taken a third place in the online publications category with the story “Live Life to its Fullest.” It was a bit ironic and sad that my friend passed on the week of the award and I couldn’t share it with him upon my return.
This past Saturday, May 16, we had to relive all of that again when another classmate – Capt. Dave Elliott of Sanborn, a charter captain and a taxidermist – was the central figure in a fund raiser at a local fire hall. He was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 anaplastic carcinoma and the medical bills were mounting. Family and friends all pitched in to help another good man when he was down. Yes, he graduated from that same Class of ’74 and many of the same people who were at Don’s funeral were at the fund raiser. Life is too short. Enjoy it while you can. Don’t put off good intentions and make sure you tell family and friends how you feel while they are still with us. The amazing thing is that Dave was one of the friends who helped out with that Ontario bear camp that I had mentioned earlier in this story. It’s certainly a small world, getting smaller all the time.
It will be a lonely woods this fall in Steuben County come November, but Don would want us to continue sharing these outdoor experiences with family and friends. If he has any pull in the happy hunting grounds, he might even push us a deer or two past our favorite hemlock. Better yet, I just might hunt alongside his favorite tree – a tree he stood by for over 40 years. We will keep you posted on how it goes.