30, 2009

By Roger Emile Stouff

I got to thinking after Wednesday’s pity-party column about the things that make me happy.

As it happens, I’m reading Gene Hill’s A Hunter’s Fireside Book, where in Gene writes, "Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot little puppies."

Gene, a columnist for some of the greatest outdoors magazines of the past, reminded me that there’s a lot to be happy about.

As a catharsis, of sort, the novel I’ve been working on for longer than I care to admit deals with just that. When my cousin from California was here last weekend and we sat on the patio with the dog discussing writing, he asked me what my novel was about.

"Well," I said. "It’s three guys, who were childhood friends, but then…"

He stopped me. "No, not the plot. What’s it about. What are you saying."

The query stumped me. I had no idea I wanted to say anything at all, just tell a story. That’s what I do, tell stories. Like my father did, and his father before him. I come from a long line of story tellers, you see, and it just seems to be "what I do."

So I chewed on it for a time and as I stumbled over a few sentences, the light bulb went on in the darkness.

"It’s about everything I think is wrong with the world today," I told him. "That’s it. It’s about all the things that are wrong, and how much I miss the things that were right. That’s it exactly."

But if I look around, there’s still remnants of that world left. They’ve been stashed in shadows, trampled by progress. If you look closely enough, though, they’re still there, waiting to be found, caches of yesteryear.

I mentioned about the cardinal. I had never seen such a thing. Bogie and I were outside, before work one morning. Suzie has bird feeders in the back by the patio which are often frequented by doves, cardinals and other feathered minions. All of a sudden, I see this yellow cardinal land on the feeder. Now, maybe I just missed it before, but in all my years I never saw a yellow cardinal before. Hereabouts, male cardinals are bright red, the females more subdued. It was beautiful, a golden-yellow with the black mask, and red beak.

Investigation proved this was the female Northern Cardinal. I was delighted. From the frozen north, a visitor I had never met. Who could be sad after such a chance acquaintance? I saw it one or two more times, but not lately. That’s fine.

For a man who doesn’t despise the indoors but is far happier outside, I find there are little miracles all around me, inside and out.

Here’s a few.

When the bayou goes down under the push of the north wind in winter, the suddenly landlocked clams make me happy. Oh, they’ll survive, the water’ll come back soon enough and they can breathe for a long time that way. I like the way their shapes jut from the gray-brown mud and the little puddles they make around themselves.

I like that the clams are often surrounded by bird prints, and now and then I see raccoon tracks in the mud and long, slithering trails that must have been snakes.

Oreo’s with the chocolate centers make me happy, add a glass of cold milk and I’m in complete nirvana.

Maps make me happy, but you knew that.

The shotgun my cousin brought me makes me happy. Trading him for a custom made by yours truly fly rod in "presentation" grade, meaning "top notch." Certainly I couldn’t have done better, a Winchester 101 of 1966 vintage. You know how I love old things, and a fine double gun in .20 gauge just a couple years younger than me makes me happy. Coming from family, it makes me happier. We’ll have days afield, just like my cuz did, and that makes me happy.

The way Bogie tucks his behind under his body and dances around in pure, unconditional joy when I come home makes me happy. You can’t buy that for any amount of money.

Gumbo makes me happy. Oh, the glory of gumbo! The world’s perfect food. Well, maybe not, but it should be. A dark roux, almost black, full of red onions, green onions, red bell peppers (you can keep the green ones far as I’m concerned) , okra, sausage and either chicken or seafood. File, hot sauce, rice. That right there, ladies and germs, is reason to go on living!

Trees make me happy. I do not hug them. I hug my girl, and that makes me happiest yet. Greenpeace people must not have girlfriends, so that must be why they hug trees. I recommend girlfriends for hugging, trees are for marveling over their majesty, quiet contemplation and ancient wisdom.

I think trees talk, you just have to slow down enough to listen. Tolkien taught me that. We live so dadblamed fast nowadays – a condition which does not make me happy – that we have exceeded the speed at which we can hear the natural world speaking. Even the audible is unheard, like the words in the rolling giggle of running water or the rustling leaves in a west wind high above. I think if we’d all just slow down and listen, we’d all be happy.

Good movies make me happy. These are few and far between these days. But a good movie has the power to amuse, sadden, elate or otherwise conjure many emotions from the watcher. This is an art, and it makes me happy even if the movie is sad.

Patches sleeping on my lap – a condition for which I’ve been far too restless lately, poor girl – makes me happy when I’m subdued enough to enjoy it.

A golden field of slumping Johnson grass makes me bittersweet-happy, reminds me of the autumns and winters of my youth when the cold didn’t bother me so much as it does now, and I knew there were quail out there waiting to be found, back before we clean-farming’d them out of habitat and out of our lives. A near-Christmas field without the sound of a cheerful Bob-white! Bob-white! is lonely as a funeral parlor.

Sometimes, it makes me happy to wallow in memories of things that in the present make me sad. There is a special talent in this capacity, you should admire it.

My fly rods, without question, make me happy. So do my reels. And my flies. And my lines. And…well, you get the idea.

Cypress lumber makes me happy.

Peanut butter makes me happy.

This column and you kind folks who wade through all this dribble make me happy.

A morning, on green-black water in the back of an ancestral cove studded with cypress like old soldiers holding each other up by outstretched arms…a mist over the surface, just high enough that the bow of the boat cuts it like a bludgeon but not so high as I can’t see…the whisper of spirits out there, voices speaking languages I can’t intellectually understand but instinctively do…there’s a world that makes me happy, to be sure.

You have a great weekend, hear?