KEVIN TATE: Winter nights bring time for reflection, reconnection

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The wood crackled in the fire and the flames danced, red at the edges, white at the core as the dry logs burned down. The occasional sputter and pop threw sparks from among the coals and, riding on the smoke, they wafted upward in the heat, then were whipped away on a cold winter’s breeze.
A campfire blazing as night falls on one of the last days of the year is always a special scene. It’s a place and a chance to think about what the past year held before diving into whatever lies ahead. What does lie ahead remains a potential – inexact, undefined – but what lies behind is on the books for good. Robert Ruark once opined the best part of the outdoors can be found here.
“The Old Man used to say that the best part of hunting and fishing was the thinking about going and the talking about it after you got back,” Ruark wrote in a story named “X+Y to the Second Power = Bluefish,” a column collected in the book “The Old Man and the Boy.”
“You just had to have the actual middle as a basis of conversation and to put some meat in the pot. ‘Everybody,’ he said, ‘should be allowed to brag some about what he did good that day, and to cover up shameless on what he did wrong.’”
At some point in our lives, if we’re lucky, we figure out how to forgive ourselves for what we’ve done wrong, and how to cherish the blessings of what we didn’t.
Fireside outdoors on a cool evening, when all the leaves have long since quit the trees and the new buds stand a lifetime away, it’s a good time to remember the highlights of the months gone by. Fishing with little people of the short-attention-span generation, watching one catch his first bass, hiking and hunting with friends, quiet times spent in deer stands alone, less quiet times spent there with youngsters in tow. The smell of sunscreen, freshly cut grass, chlorine mixed with salt air at the beach, the squeal of excited kids as they jump into the water at the seashore, the total silence of a September afternoon in the Rockies, contemplative time on the highways in between, all of these memories leave their mark, hopefully for the better.
The logs in the fire come from trees that grew over many summers, collecting clean air and sunshine, yielding wood and branches and acorns in their turn. Piled high and set alight now, they return years of stored energy in a span of hours, giving back what they’d once received. We can only hope to do as much in our time here ourselves.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.