April 11, 2023

A Superlative Life

Can we learn something from Nash Buckingham and his superlative view of the world?

One of my treasured relationships in life was with George Bird Evans. I didn’t know him as well as I wanted to, but I knew him well enough to revere the fact he had been a close friend to Nash Buckingham, one of the all-time great Southern outdoor writers.

George wrote the foreword to the Winchester Press release of “The Best of Nash Buckingham,” noting:

To Nash, all shots were hits, all dogs were perfect and even his companions were heroic. To the ordinary mortal who sees faults in his dogs and to whom there are unproductive hunting days, Nash’s personal Camelot may appear a shade unbelievable. But perhaps this state of perfection came from Nash’s way of looking at life in superlatives.

And that is the choice we must also have.

I have a dear friend who calls me almost daily. I’ve known her for 48 years and I suppose she knows me about as well as anyone. She also knows my somewhat melancholy tendency to view the monochromatic winter landscape of my ex-patriot existence in North Dakota and my hope for a spring thaw that doesn’t seem near.

Winter can be long here.

She faces hardship in her life that would be depressing to most but chooses a different path. You can hear it in her voice. She has that gift of viewing life in superlatives. She is dancing when most would be simply depressed. In our conversations, she won’t let me finish a sentence that contains the words “should have.” I initially found this moderately irritating until I came to realize the truth of it.

“You can’t unring a bell,” as another friend says.

I suppose this is a way of saying we should all be grateful for what we have and the gifts we have been given, which of course we should, but Nash’s way of viewing life in superlatives is still compelling to me.

I will likely never own the “best” of anything except maybe my dogs. Anyone who has shared a life with a dog knows they have the best dog in the world. And they are all right.

But what if we flip the script? What if we tell ourselves that we have the best spouse in the world? The best house? The best friends? Because if you look closely, most of us do. And if we don’t, what if it is simply the way we chose to view it?

Can we learn something from Nash and his superlative view of the world?

And the view is everything.

During the 1987 National Championship for Bird Dogs at the Ames Plantation in West Tennessee, I had the opportunity to meet another outdoor writer I had long admired. At the time, I had every book Gene Hill had ever written. I had the habit of reading one or two of his short stories at bedtime.

I recognized him among the gallery at the morning breakaway before the dogs were released on the course. I reined my horse over beside him and stuck my hand out in introduction. I said, “Mr. Hill, I have all of your books and I can’t tell you how many times you have put me to sleep at night.”

Gene looked at me with a sly grin and said, “Well, I think I put all of my readers to sleep.”

So maybe we can’t take this superlative thing too far. But still…

Gene and I spent the next few hours riding horseback on one of the most bucolic pieces of ground in the Southeast watching the best bird dogs in the United States compete for the title of National Champion. During this time, I learned that Gene shared a very similar worldview to Nash. He spent the better part of the morning telling me about his Labrador “Tippy,” which he proclaimed as “The Best in the World.”

I have written in the past about my Gordon Setter “Maggie.” Somehow, I have been lucky enough to share 11 years with her hunting the length and breadth of the nation together. She is absolutely the best hunting dog I have ever personally shared life with.

Is she the best in the world? I have attended enough national championships for both pointing dogs and retrievers to actually believe that. I have seen 17 national champions crowned and watched the performance that got them there.

Every evening when I kiss the top of her head goodnight, I tell her she is the World’s Best Bird Dog.

And in my world, that makes it so.

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