Senses of Being

Lessons learned from hunting and fishing with my father

Jim and his father after a fishing trip, 1981.

My father passed away two years ago at the age of 83. During the last year of his life, I remember sharing a meal with him at a local restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. Due to his medical condition, food was as much an enemy as it was a friend. He did his best to manage a bland diet… but at this particular restaurant, he ordered chicken fingers.

As he ate them, I remember seeing a glow that had been missing from my father’s being for some time. He raved about how good they tasted. Later that night, he talked again about how much he loved the taste of those chicken fingers. I was concerned and perplexed. I wondered about his mental state and the silliness of it all.

Since his passing, I’ve learned a thing or two about nearing the end of life. There is nothing more enticing than stimulation of the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and of course, taste. As we age, those senses may be severely diminished or disappear completely. Stimulating any one of them can bring an inebriation of joy and sense of being in the midst of suffering.

The gift of presence

I’ve never really spent much time thinking about why hunting and fishing are so much a part of my life. Some things simply — are.

You see, the reason I hunt and fish is because of my father. He started me early. Whether setting out duck decoys during the blustery pre-dawn hours, sitting in a deer stand waiting and praying for a deer to step out before I froze my very last toe, or hauling in another giant catfish on the Red River in Canada, my father was always there, next to me.

Together, we smelled the aroma of cattail bog as with each step, we pried our boots from the unrelenting grips of knee-deep mud. Together, we felt the cold, drape and saturate our bodies as the hours passed sitting sixteen feet high in a towering red pine. And together we laughed as, once again, the old man kicked my butt in our annual catfishing contest.

Fishing runs in the family… Jim’s sons, Josh and Nick, proud of their catch.

Since my father’s passing, I have gained a new perspective and even more appreciation for why I hunt and fish. Now I know . . . nothing else can stimulate and reward my senses like hunting and fishing. I have a new appreciation for these five senses of such complete diversity that come together and morph for a single purpose — simply being.

I hunt and fish because of these things: sight, smell, sound, touch and of course, taste. It took a meal of chicken fingers to finally recognize what it was I’ve known all along.

This past November, I sat in a tree for eight days and my father never left my side. He whispered when to move and when not to. He told me when to draw my bow. And, he winked at me as I released the arrow that found its mark.

Jim Hjelmgren is the Chief of Law Enforcement for Alaska Refuges.

In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service