Oh, come on. You didnít really think I could just quit that easy?

It took me 20 years to quit cigarettes, five to quit regular Coke and I still havenít quit fishing, but thatís probably because, as they say, "You have to want to."

So here we are, on the cusp of a New Year. And it comes with sadness as well as joy.

My friend Fielding Lewis passed away last week. It will always haunt me that, a couple weeks earlier, an acquaintance advised me I needed to go see Fielding, and see him soon. The trip-wires and snags of this life got my feet tangled, and before I knew it, Fielding was gone. Worst yet, I came down with the flu Christmas Day and was bedridden by the time his services were held Saturday. I hope my old friend forgives me.

Learn your lesson from me: Donít dally. Donít procrastinate. Put everything else aside and donít regret it.

Iíd known him since he was editor of The Franklin Post, the weekly newspaper that operated here until the mid-1980s. I knew him better when he was on the West St. Mary Parish Port Commission and always went out of my way to speak with him when we were in the same room at the same time, and he reciprocated.

Fieldingís Tales of a Louisiana Duck Hunter might sound like exclusively a hunterís book, but I found out when I finally picked it up that itís also a local residentís book. Though Fielding was the outdoorsmanís outdoor writer, his recollections of Franklin and the surrounding area Ė in town and in the vast wilderness surrounding him that he mourned the passing of over the decades Ė are nothing less than wonderful.

Often, Fielding and I would sit over a table at the Forest and heíd tell me about his days afield and on the water. He told me of his sightings of the fabled ivory-billed woodpecker, and he told me of good dogs heíd known and some reprobate hunters with no scruples heíd encountered.

Thereís a tether, of sorts, between outdoorsmen: A mutual understanding that runs deep, like undergrown rivers, and flies high like the great flocks of waterfowl that would block out the sun in days past. We know each other among the masses, even among the would-be sportsmen who fish or hunt for the murky reasons. Certainly, a boatload of trout and a limit of ducks is reward for a day spent with rod or gun; but for men like Fielding and I, the true reward is to beÖout there. Far and away.

Iíll always think now of Fielding when I read this quote by author Harry Middleonís uncle Albert McClain: "This house is where I take my natural rest, but my home is out there, beyond the back door."

In all, he was a man of character, to my estimation, and wit, and an author of considerable merit. If I can one day stand among the cache of writers Franklin and the surrounding community has ushered forth, Iíll be proud to stand beside the likes of Fielding Lewis.

Ė

I was, you may have guessed, in need of a brief sabbatical. My enthusiasm, I believed, was contagious. But I see now that the old adage "lead, follow or get the hell out of the way" is not so apt as they would have us believe.

As it turns out, I have learned that I can no longer be egged-on by those who will not put their own necks on the guillotine. Iím sorry if that sounds a little rough, those of you whose necks I am referring to, but truth of the matter is, mine is no longer a sacrificial lamb. Far as those who bear the brunt of my chastising know, Iím making all of you up, lying about your emails and discussions with me, and therefore carrying out an agenda that is mine and mine alone. Youíre like my imaginary friends. The voices telling me to do all these crazy things. No more.

Donít misunderstand. Itís still my duty to fight for truth, justice and the American way. And I hope to work behind-the-scenes for the betterment of our community. When I see an ill, Iíll address it, and pat backs when appropriate.

But acting as your henchmanÖthose days are over.

Salute. Love you all madly. Iím not quitting. But as the Old Indian used to say, "You canít help those that wonít help themslves."