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Facing the lion

My latest “lions” have been cancer (low grade “B” cell lymphoma), supposedly now in remission, and my second double fusion surgery in less than two years. This is my seventh surgery of one kind or another in the last seven years — this from a guy who never set foot in a hospital until he was almost 58 years old.

I wear my nylon “flak jacket,” as I call it, all my waking hours and once a day I hobble 100 to 200 yards up the sidewalk and back with the aid of crutches. I’d use my walking staff but I am scared I might fall down and have to endure the nightmare of another spinal surgery. I’m supposed to do this three times a day but to hell with it — it hurts too much to do it three times.

Among post-surgery instructions are orders to obstain from “tobacco products” for six months. I am smoking my first cigar in a month as I write this. Nicotine is supposed to inhibit healing, but I am thinking that one H. Upmann won’t make much of a difference. In any case, I have a two-week Saskatchewan fishing trip coming up in June, and if you think I’m not going to smoke cigars on the boat … well, so much for that.

So with all this healing business going on, imagine my delight to receive a phone call from my long time boyhood friend John Thorp, born on the same day as me, and who lives six miles from me in Bozeman.

“It’s supposed to rain,” he says “But if it doesn’t, do you want to shoot a few gophers this afternoon?”

“I’d love to — it’s just that I can’t be climbing up into the box of your pickup.”

“That’s OK. We’ll just drive around and stay in the cab.”

It is a short drive to the west side of Bozeman to land where we have shot gophers before. John opens the gate to a pasture and just as he closes the gate we see a ground squirrel near some irrigation pipes to the right front of John’s pickup.

“Can you take him?”

“Yeah, I’ve got him.”

I open the door partway, swing my legs out of the cab, rest the .22 Ruger 10-22 over my left forearm and whack the gopher. John applauds.

“First time I have shot a rifle since you took me deer hunting last November. You are one of the few who takes care of me, John.”

Over the next couple hours I shoot a few more gophers and one rock chuck, then I leave the shooting to John. He is using a Marlin semi-auto with a Vortex variable scope.

“A friend gave it to me before he died of cancer. I bought the scope for a couple hundred bucks and had a guy from Glendive mount it. He sighted it in too.”

The fellow did a good job of sighting because John hits most of his shots.

“I’m getting used to the trigger,” he says. “How’s the back?”

“Actually, it’s killing me, but I’ll survive. I don’t know how surgeons can do their work. … I couldn’t do it even if I was smart enough and dedicated enough, which I am not. It takes a special kind of person.”

“Yeah, John replies, “Like someone who can write a column every week for 40 years.”

I have to laugh at that.

“I could never do that,” John continues. “I remember when you were renting a place out on Durston Road. You sat down at your typewriter and wrote a column while I was watching!”

“Durston Road … that had to be 1986 … I don’t remember you watching me write, but I still have that old IBM … bought it in 1982.”

John and I didn’t solve most of the world’s problems, but we did rid a half section of land of some gophers, and as best friends maybe we stopped a few charging lions.

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown

native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974