Fred Smith, Retiring Guide

Letting Go

Editorial by A.E. Smith (from the Tipton Times)

I’ve never been good at “letting go.” Releasing my hold on people, places, and things seems to be the story of all my lives. If there were a category for hoarders who hold onto things like this, I’d probably be on that reality show. Can you imagine a son or daughter conducting such an intervention? “Dad, you collect too many loves… you collect too many places… you collect too many joys!” As it is now, my only acceptable and obvious hoarding instincts are housplants and trinkets on the dashboard of Ole’ Blue. Daughter number two, on her last visit home, said,”Dad some day I’m gonna come home and I won’t be able to find you in this jungle,” referring to the menagerie of plant friends around my chair.

Now the dashboard of Ole’ Blue may be a little different. It is my museum, my source of thought and my external memory board. There’s a shoe (one shoe) that Joey wore home from the hospital when he was born; it still dangles from the mirror. The heat from eighteen summers has morphed it into a frayed ruin. There’s a flask of snake bite medicine, several fossil balls, an ancient piece of antique barbed wire, a bobble head dog that’s been broken for ten years, and an assortment of cool pieces of wood, feathers and rocks. My wristwatch still rests in the same place I removed it many years ago. I took it off because my muse said she never wore one. I don’t remember the rationale, doesn’t matter, I’ll never wear another one. Time is so limiting…it tethers the soul.

Is there anything there I need? Not really (maybe the snake bite medicine), but I believe that sometimes the tactile ability to touch the past is a good thing. Letting go of these things would serve no purpose other than to prevent the volume of flying objects launched by chuckholes in the pasture. Still, when we look at the debris of life we should know when and where to move on. Those that can’t get rid of “things” end up on the TV show “Hoarders.” Those that can’t shed emotions and feelings end up on the Dr. Phil show.

We just let our last child go… off to college and his own life. With that comes the realization that there’s a big world out there with lots to do. I’ve known this for some time and have been aiming for the day when we might take a different road for the last quarter of this life. It is so liberating to contemplate. But after decades of living I need to shed a few things… lighten the load so as to savor new possibilities. The different pace might allow more vistas and mindful experiences. And it is all a precursor to retirement in a few short years.

Ringneck Ranch

Probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make is to retire from guiding at Ringneck Ranch. Yes, it is now in print and official, I am finished with my work there. The past 18 years of guiding bird hunters, training my dogs and working for the Houghtons has been incredible. I knew this time was coming and I suppose I didn’t want to admit it, but it is time. My fellow longtime guides Dan, Don, Virgil and all those guys in between made calling it “work” silly… it was fun.

The greatest joy of working at Ringneck were the people I’ve been blessed to hunt and work with. Some of my greatest memories were with customers who became like brothers over the years. Lenny and The New Yorkers, the Dlabals, the Walkers, the Texans – Jack, Keith, Keric and the rest, Jimmy Clark, Old Roy Smith- his son and grandson,  the Inola, Oklahoma boys, and the Scofus group. I know I can never name all of these wonderful people in this short space, but they know who they are. And I am sincerely grateful and blessed to have walked the field with each of them. The camaraderie was awesome and the friendships will be remembered for many years to come.

Another joy of this job was my dogs. I always said that when my dogs were done so was I. Without exception they each lived long, happy lives chasing birds and now they’re gone. Max, Golly, Moon-doggie, Skeeter and Lulu… what a crew, what beautiful dedicated creatures they were. They worked harder, ran faster, climbed more creeks, and swam more ponds all in the pure joy of living their God-given talents. They were my pack and they are all dead now; I miss them terribly. There is a saying in hunting circles that every man will have on good, memorable hunting dog in his lifetime; I had five at once. They have given memories and stories of incredible feats for years and years to come. I am no guide without them in front of me. So it’s time to move on.

Lastly, I want to give thanks to Keith Houghton, my friend. This is a man with a big, bear-sized heart and a sincere desire to give his customers the very best experience possible. He gave me a chance eighteen years ago, and the dogs and I gave him 110 percent in return. I’ve wavered on this topic for a couple years because I didn’t want to let him down. Hopefully he’ll go easy on me knowing how difficult it is to walk away. And if by chance I ever “get off the couch” maybe he’ll let me in on a bowl of Phyllis’ incredible potato souop or just a good cigar and scotch around the firepit. Is there such a thing as Guide Emeritus status? Thanks, buddy!

I’m letting go… gonna walk another field for awhile.

Fred Smith

Fred Smith, Ringenck Ranch Professional Hunting Guide

Fred Smith, Ringenck Ranch Professional Hunting Guide
Fred Smith, Ringenck Ranch Professional Hunting Guide
Photos courtesy of Mary Martell.
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