I hope this note finds you well.
Around the holidays I think a good deal about my old friends. In our lives, we often have only a handful of close friends, and I have been unusually lucky from that standpoint.
After moving to Benton, I became part a close-knit group of friends, and we still meet for lunch every day. In the last two years, Bucky Ellis and Tucker Steinmetz have passed away.
Tucker and I were canoeing\fishing buddies and for years we spent many weekends floating the whitewater streams of north Arkansas. One fall day in the late 1990s, Tucker and I were discussing a weekend canoeing/fishing trip on the Buffalo River. Bucky, who to my knowledge had never been in a canoe, joined in; it was clear he wanted to accompany us on our little adventure.
We decided that we would float from Baker’s Landing down to Gilbert. This calm section of river hosts a number of long deep holes, good for fishing. We would put in mid-afternoon on Saturday, fish till dark, and float out the next morning.
Many of you might know that Mr. Ellis was a bit of a patrician and a curmudgeon; the idea of him in a canoe was smile-worthy. But he was obviously enthused with the idea of going on an overnight float trip.
For weeks, he planned his ensembles; one for each day. He considered going to the Orvis fishing shop and buying a fly-fishing setup. We discouraged that, and in the end, he bought a brand new ultra-light rod and reel with a variety of lures.
When the big weekend arrived, we had enough gear and supplies to last a month. We loaded the canoes on my van and headed out. It was a perfect fall day. We arranged for a canoe service near Gilbert to shuttle the van and were on the water by mid-afternoon. Tucker and I had done this routine for years, but everything was new for Mr. Ellis. He was the first to catch a fish and was quite proud.
At sunset we found a suitable sandbar and settled in for the evening. Tucker and I put up the tents; Bucky continued to fish. We had three small steaks for supper and then spent several hours sitting around the campfire, talking and staring into the fire.
The next morning there was a dense fog with a heavy frost. When I got out of my tent and looked around, Bucky was already fishing.
We fixed breakfast, loaded our boats, and headed out for a morning of fishing.
The next spring, as the rains began, Bucky came to lunch one day and said, “When are we going on another fishing trip?” I think he had a good time.
This season, as you give thanks for all you have, plan a trip with your family or your friends. It doesn’t have to be a big trip, just plan one, because you, your friends, and family won’t be here forever.
Have a good journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/writer/marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 45 years. He recently released Country Doctors of Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His other books, The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at amazon.com.