Seeing more clearly at 60

Bradley’s father, Arthur Spencer

Lately life has been offering me so many opportunities to learn how to be present and embrace the great variety that it offers. I have been blessed to have found my true soul mate with whom to share my time here on earth. I have been blessed with 49 years of learning to hunt, fish and forage and learn life’s lessons through the teachings of the outdoors. The challenges that life hands me to process are sometimes quite humbling; whether it’s a trophy buck that eludes me for three years straight, the one big rainbow trout that no matter what fly I cast refuses to inspire a strike, or sometimes just the growth that comes from what seems like life falling apart. It is wise to analyze them each for a time, try to figure out what lesson we are supposed to be learning from them, and then ultimately, let go. Whether it’s a snow squall that sneaks over the Adirondacks and viciously tosses my small duckboat around like a weighted cork in a typhoon or a sudden illness that causes our lives to be permanently altered, we learn that we must let go. 

I have learned in the last few years that life – both indoors and out – is a grand mélange of sweet and sour, joy and sadness, serenity and confusion. Like the winter that will inevitably affect our world in just a few more months, we can prepare ourselves for it to the extent that we know what it typically brings—slippery roads, snowy days and frigid cold—but we cannot control how or when nature or life delivers us a deafening blow. 

I had a vision when I was a young man, 13 years of age, of skiing down a mountainside in a snowstorm. The snow was that kind that silences everything and allows you to only see what you need to. I would ski through the trees, singing Michael Murphy’s ballad “Wildfire.” The sleepy little steel mill town of Beaver, Pennsylvania, did not nurture me the way that I needed, and I dreamed of a life in Vermont. A life outdoors: hunting, fishing, skiing and sharing my life with a woman that I dreamed about frequently. 

We were both 13 years old in my dream and we played hide and seek in the woods for hours, we fished together, watched amazing sunsets and lived on a farm with lots of pets. I would grow up to be a writer and devote my time to sharing my love for life through my writings. 

As I grew into adolescence and became warped by hormonal surges, I forgot about the girl of my dreams and plunged headlong into the ego-laden world of world cup skiing, acting and eventually the world of finance. The only linear geometry to this path was my need to soothe my outsized ego and quench my addiction to adrenalin. In today’s world, we see kids take a similar path; they will do anything with a GoPro strapped to their head for a few seconds of digital glory. Now, at the ripe age of 59, I finally understand why. We are seeking the meaning of life. And to perform a daring outlandish feat is to have proven that life exists by cheating death. 

As I move toward my 60th rotation around the sun, I am beginning to see things more clearly and realize that my body, which no longer allows me to do double back flips on skis, is telling me to slow down and see what life is really about. 

If I look around me, even in the middle of a terrible challenge, I see miracles happening everywhere. A cardinal visits me on the exact day one year after my father’s passing. I discover my first bobolink fledgling in a field. The smell of fresh cut hay fills my nostrils and reminds me that I live on a farm. I stand in a stream in the mountains casting my fly rod for the colorful brook trout. For a lunch with friends I share pickled fiddleheads and ramps as we picnic on the shoreline of the stream, sunlight filtering through the trees like the pillars of Solomon’s Temple. 

And beside me, the girl I dreamt about when I was thirteen, turns to me and smiles. Yes, life has been quite challenging lately. And right beside those things we think are awful…are miracles…in every moment we are aware. I am blessed. 

For my 60th birthday, in January, I will go skiing.

Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.