Mar 10, 2014

Home

Recently a friend told me about his elderly father, who's battling the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He said that although his dad lived in the same area his entire life, he had trouble lately finding his way home. 

It's hard for me to imagine how scary that must be. My heart goes out to those afflicted by this horrible disease, and for them and their loved ones, I hope that God gives them a cure or at least His peace during the battle.

When I was a kid, I lived in the same house for 17 years. Every now and then, I had this recurring nightmare that we moved and, hard as I tried, I just couldn’t find my way back home. It was terrifying.

Then I joined the Army, an institution that believes that home is wherever they decide to send you. It’s amazing that on long deployments, an old tent with an unworkable zipper, a pieced-together cardboard floor and a broken cot can actually become “home.”   

During my more than 21 years on active duty, we moved 13 times, and each time we did our best to follow the Army’s mantra and make our humble abode a home.

Some of you are wondering what any of this has to do about hunting and fishing. After all, this is an outdoor magazine. If you’ve read my column in the past, you know that I don't write articles that lead to you catching more fish or harvesting more game. I’m just not that good. I also have been spending far too much time working and not enough time experiencing the outdoors to come up with good kill and catch stories. Shame on me. Spending too much time working and not enough time outdoors is not in keeping with the Badger Sportsman way, and I should be lashed on the six o' clock news for it.

What I do attempt to do is get you to think about or look at something a little differently than you may have looked at it in the past. 

I'm asking you to think about where your home is. Not your house — your home. I believe there's a difference, and although we may not realize this when we are young and having bad dreams about moving, we will realize it eventually. 

I spend the Lion’s share of my time working in Washington, on Capitol Hill as the chief of staff for a U.S. senator. When the Senate is in session, I fly to Washington on Monday and return to Wisconsin on Friday. Usually by Wednesday morning, I begin to long for the place, or places, I call home. 

Sure, I miss my wife and daughters and can’t wait to see them. I love them more than anything. But I'm not generally longing to be at my house in Greenville, Wis. Don't get me wrong — our house is where we love and laugh and grow and make awesome memories. Someone once said that the most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your house. I believe this to be 100%, totally, without a doubt, unequivocally true.

The place in Greenville where I generally eat and sleep and pay taxes is my house — but it isn't necessarily my home. When work gets tough and the "other side" doesn't want to play well, I long for one of three places. Other than thinking about my wife and kids, I catch myself daydreaming about ice fishing walleyes on Lake Winnebago, turkey hunting on my buddies’ ranch near Augusta, Ga., or hanging out in Neshkoro, Wis., where I am part owner of an 84-acre piece of ground where I hunt, fish, camp, play and mostly regenerate my spirit.

 

I will be heading to Georgia this spring for a four-day turkey hunt, and I will most certainly spend a fair amount of time fishing walleyes on Lake Winnebago.  

But Neshkoro is where I mostly want to be. Although this property used to be a working farm with multiple outbuildings, the only two structures that remain are the barn and an old 19- by 14-foot chicken coop that we spent a year rebuilding. Most would call it a small cabin — we just call it the “Coop.” 

The Coop has become the place to gather with family and friends. I go there to restore my soul, to think, to love and to commune with God's little creatures. I also go to experience the abundance of flora and fauna and the billions of stars overhead that I don't see in the Fox Valley. 

Sometimes I go to the Coop to just "be." 

The Coop is not my house — it's a refurbished chicken coop, for God's sake. But it is my home in a spiritual sense, and at least some part of me will always be there. 

If you think I'm heartless or crazy, ask yourself this question: Have you ever heard anyone tell his loved ones that upon passing, he’d like his ashes to be spread in the backyard, under the front porch, sprinkled at the base of the artificial tree in their living room, or dispersed in the Japanese koi fish pond?

The folks I know want to be spread in their favorite woods, lake, river or other haunt they "lived" in during their earthly lives. 

When you're at work, where do you long to be? If the answer is the abode where your family resides and you pay taxes, get the hell out of work as fast as you can and go there. If the answer is a lake, mountain, stream, woods, shady glen or other place you fish, hunt, ski, hike or participate in other outdoor events, then go there quickly and go there often. 

I know where my house is, and I love being there with my wife and kids. But during whatever time I have left on earth, my home is where my mind and spirit long to be — and that, my friend, is always in the outdoors. 

Until God calls me back to His home, I will continue to rejuvenate mind, body and soul at one of my earthly homes.

I hope you do too.