These snow geese descend on Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
No New Year's resolutions for this outdoor writer
On a cold Friday afternoon some 30 years ago, I hitched a ride down the Calumet Cut with my wife’s uncle, Harry Lee Wiggins, to him and my father-in-law’s trapping camp for the weekend. Harry had a small shrimp boat called the Sea Biscuit that was big enough to haul gear, groceries and yes, my small family, too.
This was pretty much our weekend routine back then. I’m grateful today for Mrs. Flores putting up with me. It’s hard on a spouse, especially with toddlers, trying to make sure they have everything they need for a few days, miles away from home.
By contrast, I was out playing in the marsh much of the time. When I wasn’t duck hunting, I’d walk canal banks, jumping rabbits. I’d also go out and shoot a few nutria to help out my father-in-law during trapping season. Those were glorious days to be in the prime of your life taking on the challenges of all things in nature.
This particular weekend also happened to be New Year’s, so I’d get an extra hunting day. The only problem was one of those cracking northers blew in overnight with a sideways rain and a temperature that eventually dropped into the 20s. It was miserable, to say the least, and no one got up Saturday morning to hunt ducks.
When 11 o’clock rolled around, I was starting to go stir crazy. Everyone was sitting around half asleep on the couch, chairs and floor not wanting to go outside in the frigid cold. The wind was blowing so hard you practically had white caps in the bayou.
Harry Lee was feeling antsy like me, because that’s when he said, “Who wants to go duck hunting?”
He told us all the front was passing and the ducks would be flying to feed in the middle of the day. I was the only one who volunteered.
The camp was located in Leopard Bayou, just off Wax Lake, and there is a little piece of marsh in the middle of the lake they call Goat Island. Harry Lee had been shooting nutria on the island when he discovered two little ponds divided by a narrow strip of marsh with a couple of muskrat hills. The ponds were covered with duck feathers where they’d been eating and preening.
Harry Lee knew ducks and suggested I sit on those hills and use the natural cover to conceal me. No sooner had the sound of the Lycoming engine of his airboat drifted away, ducks were flying into the ponds. Big ducks – with green heads. And in no time, I limited.
I had braved the elements and felt strong and glorious. This is what manhood feels like.
Now, to change things up, one year ago on Jan. 8, at the age of 60, I suffered a heart attack. The temperature started out in the 20s that morning, and once again, I was in the marsh. This time, I wasn’t shooting waterfowl. Instead, I was banding snow geese with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries with the intentions of writing about it.
When the rocket net fired, all of the volunteers raced to the net site about 150 yards away. I was wearing my insulated chest waders, several base layers of clothing and my heavy waterfowl hunting coat, plus carrying two cameras.
About half way, I stopped running. I had tightness and pain in my chest, found it hard to breathe and felt both nauseous and dizzy. I knew something was bad wrong, but I was on a mission to capture a story. Pride wouldn’t let me quit, so I pressed on without saying anything to the others half my age and finished the job.
At one moment, I mentally said to myself, “I’m going to die right here on Cameron Prairie in front of all these young people.”
The next three hours would be some of the hardest my wife ever endured during our 33 years of marriage. I called her and said I was driving home. My logic was I was over an hour from the nearest hospital in Lake Charles, and I didn’t want to wait for an ambulance.
What doctors found was I came down suddenly with Atrial Fibrillation. The A-fib caused a blood clot to strike my heart, causing minor damage. I never smoked, seldom drank, had the blood pressure of a teenager and heart rate of an athlete. I also worked out regularly and mostly ate right. If I have a vice, it is I do love sweets.
One of my biologist friends with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said, “If you would have put John Flores in the same sentence as heart attack, I’d never believed it.”
The bottom line: 2017 was a tough year for me. I was in the hospital three times, went through two heart procedures and been on and off more medicines than I care to say.
Right around November, my heart specialist, after looking at yet another EKG, said, “I like this. I’m happy. This is what we were waiting for. Sometimes it takes time to heal.”
I’m writing this because there are no New Year’s resolutions for me. I realized in 2017 a couple things: I’m no longer in my prime, so I need to quit acting like I did 30 years ago. The second thing is there is no promise of tomorrow.
None of this means I’m heading out to pasture. On the contrary, in 2018, I’m just not going to try to be first up the hill anymore. From now on, as long as I get there, I’ll be good with that.
I’m also going to continue to chase the best outdoor stories I can find again. I’m going to take my grandsons fishing. I’m going to try and mentor some younger lads, if I can convince them to put away their iPhones for a while. But, mostly, I’m going to endeavor to live life and try to enjoy every moment. I hope you will, too, in 2018.