Throughout my school years I tended to be an uncomfortable student. I would seek any reason to break the monotony of sitting through one more presentation of facts and theories. Even in the early grades, I would become overjoyed at the opportunity to break the monotony when my teacher would ask me to run a message to the office. While I like to read, and although I sure can appreciate a good lecture from an inspired teacher, I am a doer who best learns by developing muscle memory and experiencing the result of applications. It may not be the most thorough or efficient way to learn but it is what suits me. In many endeavors I am self-taught or I picked up skills alongside a master who was doing rather than telling. The following story is about the grandfather I never had but from whom, as a kid, I would dream of learning early life lessons from. It is also inspired by three, non-related men who, at different times in my youth, took an interest and invested in me.
A lad learns his readin' and writin' skills
Through books and attendin' various schools
And while I'm surely grateful for that
It ain't where I learned my life rules
When I was just a young pup
Grandad took me out ridin' on horseback
We rode those lonely trails all day
Immersin' in the beauty of the Yak
As the sun began to give up its light
'Longside a lake amongst the tamarack
Grandad looked around sayin', "This'll do.
Get down. Strip off that buckskin's tack"
I learned some valuable lessons that night.
That mare had carried me a long day
Rule one was serve your horse first
And she'll care for you come what may
Next Grandad told me to gather some limbs
There were scattered branches on the ground
I grabbed just a few while he started a fire
And said, "We'll need more. Look around"
Hours later when I woke with a chill
I would reach the stack of extra wood
And toss some on the embers
Not havin’ t’leave' my bedroll was good
Once the fire was burnin' strong
And Grandad had caught a few fish
He showed me to gather heaps of pine needles
Piled under my bedroll they'd soft-squish
That lake trout with wild onions
Plus the biscuits Cookie had made
Made us a tasty meal for sure
Over which we all gratefully prayed
Our horses were watered and picketed
The cookin' gear all cleaned up
Grandad and his pals set to storyin'
Each of them serenely starin' in his cup
I started to stoke up the fire
Figured I'd light up the whole canyon
Grandad gently stopped me sayin'
"Done cookin'. Now this fire's merely a companion"
He said life was simple and forthright
And a campfire was a good example
A man's gotta know why he builds it
Then on that desire choose to not trample
“There are three kinds of fires we need
We built it for cookin' at first
But that purpose has been met
Now it just needs to be nursed”
"Let it die down some now, Son
So it can just flicker among friends
A companion fire lends an ambiance
To reminiscin' and oratin' it lends"
"Later tonight or early mornin'
When the dew and its chill settles in
We'll be wantin' the fire's third use
For its warmth we'll stoke 'er up once agin' "
Grandad had asked two friends along
They'd ridden quietly with us all day
I believe that's where I began to learn
To speak only when I have something to say
Those three allies had adventures between 'em
They'd been collectin' miles for years
As that fire gently crackled and ebbed
They began storyin' as respected peers
Something about cracklin' flames
Loosens folks some to jawin'
'Fact is a campfire disarms inhibitions
While ice ‘tween men it's thawin'
I knew enough to listen and learn
Though I was barely in my teens
Somehow I sensed that wisdom was flowin'
Thankful for Grandad's shared genes
To this day when I am blessed
To set in the company of old men
And they kick their boots up on a log
I recall that lesson and go to listenin' once again
When a man is runnin' his mouth
No learnin' to him is provided
But if he'll just stop to hear a bit
The exchange is no longer one-sided
Grandad saddled up last fall
Trottin' out for his last ride
I expect he has fires to stoke
In those camps on the other side
I can just see him up there
Boots up on a log by a campfire
Tin cup wrapped by his gloved hands
Jawin' with old cowhands he'd admire
He's Gruntin', smilin' and noddin' some
He's dangsure listenin' and hearin' too
Takin' in wisdom and passin' it out
Carryin' on, doin' what Grandads do
By, Rik Goodell
© 2021, all right reserved
I am sincerely grateful to Mr. Larry Fanning (artist, deceased) who created this painting. I use it here without specific permission as I've not found a source from which to request it.