Catching up: Busy days and friendship through the years….


It’s been a few weeks—nearly a month—since my last post, and I must confess that I really have no good reason to have avoided writing something in that span of time. Suffice it to say, however, that it has been a busy month with appointments, grandsons’ basketball games, getting the Thanksgiving together and the Christmas lights up and working. (Still can’t figure out those light timers!)

A splendid sunrise over the first snowstorm in late November
A splendid sunrise over the first snowstorm in late November

On top of that, we’ve had weather to contend with. About a week ago, we were hit by one of those early snowfalls that dumped nearly a half a foot of snow in most of northern Illinois.

Of course it would come in at the exact moment that my son and I were setting out for a five-hour drive to southern Illinois for our annual pheasant hunt with my good friend and his son.

Driving was slow-going for the first few hours, but the farther south we got, the snow dwindled, replaced by rain. By the time we got to my friend’s house, it was just cold, damp, and clear of any snow. We had a great couple of days there (we always do!) and the return trip home wasn’t bad at all.

About that friend…

Steve and I became long-lasting friends a long time ago, in late-summer 1973, when we both happened to be walking in the door of a small, rural school in south central Illinois at the same time, to begin our first days of teaching careers. Although we had never met before, there seemed to be a sort of instant bonding, since we were both in the same boat and were strangers in new and unfamiliar territory.

Steve was from way down in southern Illinois, a product of Southern Illinois University; I was from the western suburbs of Chicago and a recent graduate of Kent State out in Ohio. To say that it was good to meet someone in the same situation as I right off the bat, would be an understatement. And from that first “walking-in-the-door” meet up, we both tended to do things together, as we wound our way through those first hours, days, weeks, and months as teachers and coaches.

I soon discovered that Steve was an avid hunter and fisherman, two things I had never really done much of, other than a few forays out into the woods with my dad when I was too young to tote a gun. But I was soon invited to join Steve and a few other teachers for opening day of dove season.

That experience is one of those that gets etched in one’s memory! The recently harvested corn fields were drenched in golden sunshine, and the friendly chat among our little group did something that erased all the doubt I’d had about taking a job so far from familiar things. Perhaps for the first time, I really felt included (although I wasn’t a very good shot!), and the day turned out to be much, much more than killing birds. To this day, I cherish that late-afternoon we tramped through those shorn fields, waiting for the doves to come in, getting to know those other guys, and sharing things about my life with them.

My friend Steve
My friend Steve

Being single, Steve and I were pretty free to march to our own drummers. He and I would hunt and fish many times in the years that followed, and summers would find us playing fast pitch softball for a country tavern out in the boonies.

When I finally got married a couple of years later, things obviously changed–except for the friendship! That has remained. When an opportunity to move north came about a couple of years after I married, Carolyn and I took a chance on it, especially since she was from there. Although I spent most of my career there as a result, I really never forgot my beginnings down there in the small town or that very first dove hunt.

Since then, every November’s been a regular routine to travel on down for a day of pheasant hunting with my good friend Steve. We sometimes kid each other about what would have happened had we not been nervously walking into the school, at the same time, all those years ago. I suppose it was just one of those timely strokes of good fortune that we did.

Novel Writing Progress and Update #2

Microsoft Word's "Word Count Toolbar"
Microsoft Word’s “Word Count Toolbar” (Photo credit: Travelin’ Librarian)

I feel like a stranger to my very own blog, not having been here in recent days! But I’m glad to report that I’m nearly half way finished with my novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), just completing my 24,000 word count this morning. What’s even more positive about the whole thing–besides simply piling up a ton of words–is that the story is actually moving along and a lot of fun to write!

The working title is The BetIt is obviously fiction, but I’m able to draw upon some real-life experiences from my younger and “foolisher” days, and that certainly makes it all that much more solid and organized. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for so many years, and this NaNoWriMo has been the perfect avenue for me to actually get it done. I’m pretty much right on schedule to have the 50,000 words completed by the end of the month. As I mentioned in my last update, though, time is going to get a bit tight with my pheasant hunting weekend ahead and Thanksgiving next week. So, in the meantime, I’m trying to exceed a daily output of 2,000 words.

nanowrimo, day 16 goal
nanowrimo, day 16 goal (Photo credit: paloetic)


Stay tuned for the next progress report on The Bet….CortlandWriter

Changing Seasons: Autumn Favorites…

The seasons are changing – do you look forward to this time of year? What’s your favorite season?


It seems as though I’m asked this question a lot (about four times a year), and I tend to shape my answer with plaudits toward the season that is about to make the scene at that time. Right now, it’s autumn, and I really wouldn’t have a problem rating this time of year as my very favorite. There are several reasons:


Autumn (Photo credit: blmiers2)


First, the comfortable temperatures help put a lot of distance between now and the scorching heat of July and most of August. Now, there’s nothing like putting a sweatshirt on, even though the weather is still pleasant enough to keep the shorts in style. Not quite ready for a regular routine of jeans until the snow flies, but sweatpants on a cold and rainy day (such as today) are always good!


Second, there is that feeling of things winding down for the year, following a summer full of fun and energy. Like the harvest, things are being taken down, one part at a time, and carefully “put away” for another year: The lake cottage is closed up; the pontoon boat is winterized and resting at the marina; our new landscaping is complete and taking advantage of the last few weeks of a temperate climate; the annual pheasant hunting weekend my son and I enjoy with a very good friend in southern Illinois is on the not-too-distant horizon; and there is the realization that Thanksgiving and our annual “gathering” here is not too far off.


English: Autumn is one of the four temperate s...
English: Autumn is one of the four temperate seasons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Third, I could go on and on about the Technicolor that is a wonderful part of the daily pageant of life here in northern Illinois. Alas, the brilliance of the colors that are splashed about, when the sun is shining its autumn gold and the shadows are just so, will not last very long. They’re only here but for a brief time, and I now tend to make every effort during these October weeks to appreciate all of the awesome beauty of it all. 

Perhaps it’s due to my being older and wiser (?) knowing that we’re not going to be here forever—a thought that seemed most ridiculous for such a long time.


I’ve learned that reality is a strong awakening to our own mortality. And we can let it bother us—even scare us—but there’s comfort in autumn’s beauty all around, and I’ll take it all in for as long as I can. Yes, autumn is truly a time for settling in, winding down, and appreciating the beauty that abounds….CortlandWriter



Tradition, Pheasants, Cold Beer…

Every November, the weekend before Thanksgiving, my son and I take off for southern Illinois for two days of pheasant hunting, laughing, and drinking a few cold beers (not all at the same time, mind you!) The occasion is the annual “reunion” with my best friend with whom we spend the time at his log cabin in the wilds near Sparta. 

My son will pick me up very early Saturday morning, and we’ll hop onto I-88 for a short trip west to I-39 where we’ll travel south to join I-55 in Bloomington/Normal to take us deeper into south central Illinois. A few hours later, we’ll arrive at my friend’s remote cabin, and all will be good once more! It won’t be long before the first of many cold brews is fished out of the well-stocked, well-iced cooler. If it’s one of those wonderfully comfortable warm, temperate southern Illinois’ November afternoons, we’ll not have a worry in the world. His dogs, down a ways in their pens, will offer a bark or two in greeting, hoping that it’s time for their romps around the fields out back. 

We will hunt pheasants at Wayne Fitzgerald State Recreation Area on Sunday morning, but in the meantime Saturday will be a day of swapping new stories and re-telling old and familiar ones we’ve heard a million times through the years and simply catching each other up with all that’s been going on in our lives since last we met. And as the day wears on, we will begin to make plans for Sunday’s hunt over near Rend Lake. Despite the impending early-hour “wake up” the next morning, we’ll still spend some hours Saturday night going to one of our “traditional” restaurant/bars for dinner and, of course, enjoy one or two more beverages before calling it quits for the night.

Now I want to make it very clear that I hunt once a year with my son and my friend (and not very well, usually!) but it’s a tradition that is permanently inscribed on my autumn calendar. The old adage that it’s not so much the outcome of the hunt which is important, but the hunt itself surely holds up in this little annual activity we share. My friend, let it be said, hunts and fishes and does things outdoors many, many times during the week. He is a deadly shot and a wise scout when pursuing the prey. His dogs are well trained and a pleasure to watch work as they pad and nose about in thickets and underbrush and along hedgerows that seem to extend for endless miles. 

Up by 5 a.m. Sunday, we dress and scold ourselves for being way too “convivial” the night before, and gather up or shotguns and ammo and head out to the truck. The dogs are loaded up into their travel boxes which are filled with a straw bedding. Usually, we’ll make a quick stop for coffee at the convenience store and then continue the 45-minute drive over to Wayne Fitzgerald State Park. The first order of business will be to visit the “check-in” station and secure our official tags and assigned hunting area. Next, we’ll get back in the truck and make the short drive over to the Lodge where they serve a terrific “Hunters’ Special” breakfast. This cholesterol fest is quite good: eggs, hash browns, bacon, biscuits, gravy, toast, and orange juice. A few more cups of coffee makes it all the better, so we’re well fueled for the morning’s walk in the fields. Afterwards, we drive back for the “meeting” with all of the other hunters as we’ll be instructed by the DNR guy of all the rules and regs that will be in effect for the hunt. We’ve heard them so many times that we can recite them right along with him!

Once we’ve met and been dismissed out to our assigned areas, we wait for 9 o’clock and then set off to attempt to get our limit (2 pheasants apiece). The first 30 minutes always sounds like a war zone. The released birds from the night before have stayed in the underbrush and corn pretty close to the road; they haven’t run yet. Many hunters with luck and good shooting skills on their side, often obtain their limit very early into the hunt. Others, such as us, usually have to expend way too much effort and energy walking the fields and fence rows to come close to “limiting out.” 

We know that the enjoyment of the day is all about just being there, and shooting a few birds is really a bonus. Weary and forcing the arthritic knees to forge on as best they can, I think good thoughts of the post-race beverages and food that we’ll enjoy. Many of the adventures that have transpired after many of these hunts are  legendary–and best left for another post.

How this tradition came to be is a story in and of itself and will be the topic of my next post as well. The friendship that developed between the two of us is well worth writing about. It will take us back to August of 1973, oh, so many years ago. Yet the memories are as clear today as if they had just taken place. It will include watching our sons grow up and be an important part of this tradition. My son, a graduate of Southern Illinois University and employee with the City of Naperville; my friend’s son, a high school graduate and proud Marine who saw action in Faluja, Iraq. It will be about how we watched them grow and share in the tradition themselves.  

I look forward to reliving many of them in the next post. With those good thoughts of friendship and traditions and sons we love, I travel on down this road on a sunny and windy November Friday afternoon…MLA