Jack Daniel Nights

Whenever heading north into Quebec to go fishing, it is necessary to stop at the duty-free store and buy a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Duty-free bottles are bigger and they cost less.  The bigger size is required to ensure sufficient quantities for use as mouthwash, followed by toasts to the morning, toasts to the fish before getting in the boat, toasts to the fish after returning to the truck, toasts to arriving safely back at the cabin, and then evening entertainment.  (My apologies to anyone in recovery.  I don’t usually drink all day.)

I’m not sure of the reasons, which probably lie in the mists of sportsmen lore, but Jack Daniels is the official drink of hunters and fishermen who are on safari, or in a motel, or playing bass tournament video games.  If you’re going to live in the outdoors without bathing, Jack is the drink for you.  It’s a combination of antiseptic, intoxicant, and communion juice.  In the evenings, we’d sit in the cabin, looking over a lake etched with reflections of trees and sky, sipping Jack from cups left on the shelf and used by countless prior men.  Mine had a picture of a hippopotamus with bright red lips swinging through a cloud of pink hearts, and the caption, “Wanna Swing?”

Wondering what the cup meant became a returning conundrum through the week, like a Zen koan, as I drank whisky and thought about things.  Did somebody really buy his wife a coffee cup depicting a female hippo?  Are there groups of swingers for people over a certain size that sell cups as a fundraiser?  I’m still not sure.  But those introspective moments spent talking, thinking, and drinking are as important as the time spent searching for fish.  I’m in the North American wilds, without a TV, computer, iPod, or phone.  I brought a Kindle, but I’m not there to read books.  I’m there to spend time with myself and a friend, to see what I have when I’ve only got me and a fishing companion of thirty years.

The initial response to an almost complete lack of distractions can be disconcerting.  There’s you and your thoughts; nothing else beckons for attention.  Sometimes there is a fear of boredom, because, apparently, you think you’re boring.  Sometimes the week ahead can look exhausting, since you’re going to have to entertain yourself, because not being entertained sounds boring.  Then the notion occurs that enduring six days with yourself is only fun if you’re a fun guy, and not some incompetent loser, as your thinking sometimes goes if you’re bored.  Spending time with yourself can be scary.  You never know what might erupt like an implanted alien baby.

Once you settle in, and adjust to the silence, different moods start to surface.  They tend to be feelings you’ve ignored in favor of distractions, but now have open access to consciousness.  It’s amazing what floats around in our brains, stuff you only half-notice, good and bad, because you don’t take the time to check in.

I recognized, for example, how good I felt about finally having a healthy relationship with a woman in my life.  Many years, my trip into the woods was an escape from conflicts at home, but not any more.  There’s a sense of peace; I’m not avoiding anything.  Isolation, I discovered, is much more enjoyable when you don’t dread the return.

On the other hand, I also found myself feeling sad, and a little angry.  There was a critical voice, complaining about my lack of achievements, my lack of wealth, my failures.  It’s a voice I’ve heard many times before, and have learned to largely ignore, but sitting in the woods made it audible again, even believable.

I also know the truth, and reminded myself accordingly.  I’ve never been motivated by money and have a hard time respecting those who are.  I find enjoyment in people.  I find enjoyment in learning.  I find enjoyment in music.  And I have a life rich in all three.

As I thought about things more, I realized my heart attack aggravated more than my body.  Along with turning sixty, my heart attack reminded me of my increasing mortality.  I no longer feel like I have all the time in the world, which rubs in a new way on those issues of success and goals and the limits imposed by past choices.

Without doubt, there is less time than there was twenty years ago.  At the same time, in another twenty years I’ll only be eighty.  Real old age doesn’t start till then.  If I can make this next twenty as productive, meaningful, and fun as the last, I’ll arrive at eighty a happy old man.

I can’t think of a better goal.  I probably won’t be wealthy and famous, because I don’t think either one is directly related to happiness, and I’d rather be happy.  There’s too many miserable people who possess money and fame.

Twenty more years of sipping Jack Daniels for a week next to a pristine Canadian lake would certainly contribute to the happiness factor.  I thought that, too, while sitting in our cabin and contemplating the twilight.  Who knows?  Maybe geriatrics will become an outfitter’s niche, specializing in people who can no longer climb in boats or be trusted to find their way out of the woods.  But I’ve learned what I enjoy, and I’ll do my best to fill my life with those things.  I can be happy with that.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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