A star fell from the sky recently. It wasn't the brightest or best known
star in the sky, so most people didn't even know it was gone. However,
some of us looked to that star for guidance much like old-time sailors
used the North Star to guide them to their destination. That star was
my grandfather and last surviving grandparent. Clinton Rogers passed
from this earth on August 3rd, 2001.
This isn't an obituary or recount of my grandfather's life. You didn't know
him and weren't affected by his life or his accomplishments. However,
this is one way I can explain how important the little things can be in the
life of a person who looks to you for guidance the way I looked to my
grandfather when I was young.
Most of my memories involve little things. When my mother called with
the sad news, I didn't think of the family gatherings or picnics we shared
in the past. Those weren't the things that shaped my life, even if they were
important to others in my family. I spent the day remembering other things
that impacted my life in different ways.
He was a faithful man; faithful to his wife, his God and his family. He wasn't
ashamed to let people see him pray in public, but he didn't make a big show
of his faith either. However, it was the little things in his life, and the little things
he shared with others that I remembered that day after I heard the news of
My mind skipped back to a cold November day in the late 60's when we
sat on a windswept slope in the Montana mountains. We shared a can of
Sterno to heat our cold hands and talked about hunting ethics and conservation
as we waited for a deer to pass on the trail below us. We discussed why hunters
selectively harvest bucks when doing so will improve the health and vitality of
the deer herd. It was legal to harvest does, but waiting for a buck was the
better conservation practice. It was the first serious conservation discussion
I had shared with my grandfather.
When a deer finally wandered into the meadow we were watching, it didn't
have antlers. He didn't ask me to let her pass. In fact, he didn't say a word.
He just sat there and watched me make the decision for myself. I lowered
my rifle and let a legal deer walk out of sight. I made the decision, but he
passed on the ethic.
Mentally I drifted to the bank of a Montana stream. We were watching
brookies rise to flies and talking about why the fish were all so small. That
was the first time I heard about the effects of overpopulation and stunted fish.
He explained the need to remove the excess fish in that population so the
others could grow, but he tempered the discussion with reasons some fish
should be released in other streams for the benefit of those fisheries. I
learned the importance of balance that day.
My mind skipped back to an earlier date and an orange November sunrise.
Autumn sunrises in Montana are firmly etched into my mind; especially that
sunrise on the morning of my first pheasant hunt. I didn't hit a single bird,
but that didn't influence the outcome of the noon meal. However, being
invited to join the adults in an autumn tradition influenced my life. I had
passed from the ranks of the "too young" to the "old enough." I was
trusted to safely carry a firearm and participate in an adult activity.
Next my mind drifted to a deluxe Herters fly tying kit I received on my
12th birthday. It was too expensive for my parents to afford by themselves,
so my grandfather chipped in the lion's share because he thought it was
important to me. Who would have guessed how much impact a simple
fly tying kit would have on my life? To him it was a little thing; but that
little thing changed the life of a young boy.
My first good camera was handed down from that man to me when I was 16.
He had just purchased a better one and decided I could put the old one to
good use. That started something that my parents marvel at even now.
Would you have guessed that a simple act of handing down a used
camera would have led to the thousands of photos I've had published
since then? I'm sure he never even dreamed what the outcome of his
simple act of generosity would be.
Sliding deeper into my past I can see my grandfather holding me while
I learned how to swim in an irrigation canal near his farm. That canal
was an important part of his life. It watered his crops, held ducks for
autumn hunting, sheltered pheasants in the grass of its banks and provided
a swimming hole on hot days. It was many things to my grandfather,
but it was where I learned to swim. A little thing, maybe, but something
he shared with me when I was young and a skill that saved my life when
I was older and had to swim out of a submerged pickup that had been
caught in a flood.
Skipping back even further into the past, I can see my grandfather running
to the edge of a lake near his home. It was his duty, no, privilege to coach
me as I landed my first northern pike. It took a lot of coaching and a lot
of cranking on the handle of an old Zebco reel to land that fish. The eyes
of a ten-year-old see a six pound pike as a monster; maybe even the biggest
fish ever. The eyes of a grandfather confirmed that thought. One of us was
more excited about that fish than the other; but I'm not sure who that person was.
More recently, I remember driving sixty miles from my Montana home to pick
up a less vigorous man and take him ice fishing. Too many heart attacks had
slowed the man down, but they hadn't quenched the fire in his heart for
outdoor activities. We talked about elk he had hunted in his youth and
dozens of fishing and hunting trips we shared together as I was growing up.
When the cold wind finally ended the day, he had tears in his eyes. Too
many memories. He watched me grow from a boy to a man, and now it
was my turn to do the driving and drill the holes in the ice. We had a
common bond, a common ethic and a shared love for the outdoors.
That was the last time I was able to fish with my grandfather. I moved to
South Dakota a few months later and his declining health limited our later
meetings to conversations in a less strenuous environment. The fire for
outdoor activities still burned in his heart, but his body was unwilling to
support his dreams.
Mr. Rogers, the neighborhood won't be the same without you. However,
your spiritual direction, your passion for the outdoors, your conservation
ethic and your outlook on life are alive and well in your children and
grandchildren. Sometimes the "little things" are the most important things in life.