A Letter to Mom
My friends, Pat and Amber Casey, are bad asses. It's as simple as that.
Not only are they incredibly successful hunters and anglers in Michigan, they also spend two weeks every year chasing elk in the Montana backcountry together. For those of you that have pursued large game out West you know the physical, mental and emotional toll it takes. The highs, the lows, the exhilaration and the frustration. Tears of happiness and tears of disappointment. Little to no sleep, miles up and down steep terrain with heavy packs, food meant only for survival and not a shower in sight. Now, imagine going through all that with your spouse or significant other...knowing you have a 24-hour car ride home together at the end of it all. Yeah. Exactly.
I was talking with Amber at a recent Backcountry Hunters and Anglers event and I asked her about their last season, which I know was a frustrating one, and what keeps her getting back on the horse so to speak. What keeps her strapping on a pack that weighs nearly half of what she does? What keeps her lacing up the boots and putting on the miles? What keeps her motivated? Where does she pull from to keep going?
One of her answers was her upbringing and the influence of her parents, her mom in particular. After hearing a bit of her story, I asked Amber if she had ever told her mom what an influence she had been? I encouraged her to write her mom a letter and tell her. To my surprise, she actually took my advice. She shared that letter with me before she sent it. To say I was moved would sell it short.
So while I realize this isn’t a traditional hunting or fishing story and that not everyone has had the blessing of a hunting and angling heritage passed down to them through their family like I have, we each have had folks in our lives that have made us what we are today. That have instilled us with their passion, wisdom, curiosity and grit. Those qualities are at the heart of being a hunter. Those qualities make us keep going. Those qualities should be treasured.
Knowing this letter was deeply personal but incredibly powerful, I asked Amber if I could share it on this BLOG - others needed to hear this message. She reluctantly conceded and with her permission, here it is.
Putting my thoughts, feelings, stories and admissions on paper has proven difficult, but I want you to know what has stuck with me over the years and how you helped me become the person I am today - good, bad and ugly. There were so many more memories that came rushing back as I worked on this - the hundreds of hours you spent watching me break out horses, the naps we took in the yard after a long trail ride, the thousands of bales of hay we put up, you cranking up the radio and singing in the kitchen, the summer camping trips, fishing for perch or bluegill and riding horses through high mountain meadows with you in Montana. However, this is a letter, not a book. We have those memories tucked away and that’s all that matters. For the record, tears welled up and streamed down my face more than once as I wrote this and reflected on what we’ve gone through together. All tears of joy though - I promise. Tears are also shed more times than I care to admit at the thought of you not being in my life. I honestly don’t know what I would do without you.
Your stubbornness, your drive, your grit and wearing your heart on your sleeve...for some reason growing up I despised those exact traits I saw in myself. I always wanted to be easier going, not so strong willed and be able to hide my emotions. I figured it’d make life easier and I’d be more likable. That is far from the truth. Now, looking back and not just seeing, but realizing the type of woman you were - and still are - I can’t help but thank you for making me that stubborn, driven, gritty and emotional woman that I am today.
Anytime I smell a freshly cut alfalfa field or catch a glimpse of a horse in a pasture, my mind drifts back. Back to when life was simple, and our only worries were saddling up and wondering where the ride would take us that evening. Back to when my only concern on the weekends was making sure you could haul my horse and I to a local show. Back to when we would ride the gravel roads, sometimes in complete silence, hearing nothing but the “clip-clop” of hooves with the occasional chatter of a squirrel, smelling leather that’s been marinating in horse sweat under the blistering mid-summer sun, and watching you between the ears of my horse knowing your heart was happy.
I don’t think you understood why I gravitated to hunting and fishing, but I’m here to tell you it will NEVER measure up to the thousands of hours we spent in the saddle next to each other. Never. Hunting and fishing reach a different part of me than riding and thank you for understanding and being so supportive of my crazy adventures. You know what feeds my soul and keeps me sane. Even though I find peace on the river or in the woods with a bow in hand, it will never compare to our springtime rides through apple orchards…. Apple blossoms are my favorite and there’s a small one-week window every spring around the end of April when they’re fully bloomed before they fall to the ground. Anytime I was on my way home from school or work, my eyes would be glued to the apple orchards hoping they were at their peak. If they were, I couldn’t wait to get home, pull on my boots, rush you down to the barn, saddle up and make our way to the orchards. Riding up and down those rows next to you, the trees filled with bright pink and white blossoms against the deep blue sky and vibrant green leaves is still one of my favorite views. To this day when the blossoms are at their peak I long for those rides.
Times have changed since then, along with our relationship. If you would have asked me 15 years ago if we would ever be as close as we are now, my answer would have been “Hell. No.” Yes, we found common ground in riding horses, but I was still young and immature. I thought I knew what was best for me. I was a pain in the ass. I think we both were. However, I was disrespectful, ungrateful and took you for granted. I want to apologize for every horse show when I copped a serious attitude and never let you help me. I would take all of that back if I could. Even though my piercing looks made you think I wanted you to disappear, deep down you were my rock at every show and I would have REALLY had a nervous breakdown if you weren’t there. I guarantee we were the loudest in the barn when we would butt heads and argue, but that’s what made it so memorable. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. We’ve both settled down a little over the years, but are you still a pain in the ass? Oh my God yes. But have you met me? I think we’re each other’s match when it comes to that.
You knocked me down a few pegs when my spitfire personality really surfaced and lifted me up when I needed it most. I know you felt every emotion I was going through - anger, heartbreak, or pure joy. You helped me through the relationships that didn’t last but more importantly, my broken engagement. I know you didn’t come out and say I was “young and dumb”, but I was. We both know that. Instead of knocking me down when I was already at rock bottom, you lifted me up. You and dad took me back in. Got me back on my feet (not without a price though). You may think I took that time period for granted, but I honestly didn’t. I just never told you how I really felt. You did so much more than let me back in your home at the age of 22, which was quite embarrassing for me. It was pushing me to saddle up and go for a horse ride when you knew I was almost at my breaking point. It was sitting down and bullshitting over a beer or two after a long day at work or a tough day mentally.
It was keeping me sane while I was rebuilding my life. Without you to help me pick up the pieces and put them back together, I don’t even want to think about where I could potentially be today. I bring up the lowest point in my life because that’s when our relationship shifted, and I realized I really needed you - and I still do.
The long talks we had over the years is something I truly believe shaped me into who I am today. You were supportive, yes. But you didn’t coddle me. You knew when to kick my ass and not let me dwell on everything bad that’s happened in my life. You taught me to hold my head high and not take shit from anybody. You taught me to never settle and know my worth. You taught me to be ME and never be ashamed about it. You taught me to never half ass anything. You didn't give me anything - monetarily speaking - and I can’t thank you (and dad) enough for that. I got my first job at 16 and paid for all my vehicles, gas, maintenance, then my way through college. Doing that made me appreciate everything I have today because I know I worked my ass off for it. Nothing was handed to me on a silver platter. What you gave me during those years is so much more than money can buy.
You were the one who had to deal with me the most over the years (fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it) and because of that, you’ve become my person. The person I call when I’m on the verge of a breakdown. The person I call when I wound a deer. The person I call when I recover a deer. The person I call when I need to double check I’m pressure canning correctly so I don’t blow up the kitchen. The person I call when I have a pointless story to tell. The person I call when I need to vent about anything in my life. You’re the person I come to even if I know I’m not going to like your response or answer. I can only hope that, in some small way, I’m able to give you some of that back. Be your rock. Your shoulder. As we grow older - whatever happens from now on - good or bad - I’m here.
Know that every time I’m on the river soaking in my surroundings hoping the next cast attracts a trout or busting my ass in Montana chasing bugles but secretly wanting to sit and admire the mountain views - that’s all you. My passion, my confidence, my grit, my stubbornness, my sense of adventure and my rollercoaster of emotions all come from you. All I can say is thank you for all of that, and so much more. I love you.