In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused. —Ernest Hemingway
Although I never viewed the hard-drinking, obsessively macho Papa as a role model for my personal life, the man had a way with words. As an outdoor writer, I always agreed with this quote; I came to appreciate it even more after ALS entered my life.
Nowadays when I go where I have to go and do what I have to do, it’s in a wheelchair. I use a lightweight, foldable, Brazilian-made chair that easily stows in a car or plane for travel. You won’t see me use the phrase “confined to a wheelchair” because it expresses the exact opposite of what I feel. My chair—my battlewagon—gives me the freedom to get out in the woods.
If my wheelchair could talk, it would entertain you with tales of slogging through the mud in South Carolina’s Low Country, bouncing around in the bed of a pickup while we looked for pronghorns and mule deer in eastern Wyoming, carefully negotiating a rough trail to our ground blind on a bear hunt in the Rockies of Idaho, shivering during a wintry stakeout for whitetails on Montana’s prairie, and enduring flat tires in Argentina’s La Pampa province—while pointing to scars that back up the stories.
I always feel uneasy about leaving my chair in the hands of airline baggage handlers. It often comes back with the brakes knocked out of alignment. On the return flight from a hog hunt in
last year, my chair emerged with a broken foot support. The reps for Pluna
airlines were very helpful, however, and I received a reimbursement just four
days after replacing the part.
The rigors of hunting and travel have definitely detracted from my chariot’s cosmetics, but I like it that way. I wouldn’t be nearly as proud of a shiny, unblemished wheelchair that had never left the safety of my home.