Dirty Little Secret

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but … but … but I like getting special attention because I’m a journalist.

I like finding myself on a first-name basis with celebrities and decision-makers. I like the stories I get to tell about some of my experiences.

For example, six or seven years ago I took one of my professional detours, accepting the position of executive director for a nonprofit organization. About 20 minutes after I arrived on the first day, the sheriff’s deputy showed up and served me with papers. I was being summoned into court. Not an auspicious beginning to a new job.

Several months earlier, I had done a ride-along with the local Game, Fish and Parks officer on the opening day of pheasant season.

I have a decided penchant for ride-alongs of any sort. I’ve done ride-alongs with law enforcement officers on Saturday nights, and watched them break up fights and deal with domestic disturbances. I’ve done ride-alongs with weather watchers, and found myself down-on-my-knees grateful not to have experienced more than a little hail. I’ve done ride-alongs when fishing licenses were checked on the Oahe reservoir, and ended up with the most painful sunburn of my life despite using sunblock.

Ride-alongs not only help me appreciate the demands of others’ jobs, but also give me more information than I could ever obtain with an interview. Sit in a car with a law enforcement officer at 3:30 a.m., after she has just had to break up a fight behind a bar that involved a broken beer bottle, and you will know that officer’s character. You will know why men and women choose that profession, because at that moment the officer will speak to you with a blatant honesty not tempered by the need to be politically-correct.

Truthfully, I did the ride-along on the opening day of pheasant season that year out of desperation. I was tired of writing the standard opening-day story for the paper, but I couldn’t come up with a new angle. I was hoping the ride-along would give me something a little different – and it did.

When the officer was checking hunting licenses, I recognized one of the hunters as a member of the South Dakota National Guard who had returned from Iraq a few months earlier. We started talking, and he shared with me how healing it was to walk the fields with his dog after the trauma of carrying a weapon for self-defense. That story felt like a special gift to me.

However, that was not the experience which led to the court summons. That event happened later in the day. The conservation officer and I were parked on a bit of a bluff, using binoculars and a spotting scope to watch hunters in the area. The driver of one pickup was acting suspiciously. He was driving slowly along a road that bordered a game production area.

I wondered aloud why he didn’t park his truck so he could do some hunting. The officer didn’t give me a direct answer. He just told me to keep an eye on the truck. I did, and before long I saw the guy take a shot from the truck. For those who don’t know, that’s a no-no without a disabled hunter permit. The driver was known to the conservation officer, who also knew he didn’t have the required permit.

As soon as he took the shot, we left our perch and before long the guy was being ticketed. For those who don’t know, had the guy entered a guilty plea, he would have paid a small fine, but lost something more precious to him at that moment – his hunting license. Those kinds of offenses result in a mandatory revocation. So, he decided to fight it. He entered a not guilty plea. A trial date was set, and I was served with papers. The trial date was repeatedly moved back all the way through hunting season, and then he entered a guilty plea.

It’s funny now, but when I was served with papers on the first day of a new job, it wasn’t nearly as amusing.

Lately, I’ve been savoring the opportunities provided by my job because I’m been spoiled by the staff at the Black Hills Playhouse. On the first day I went out for an interview with the executive director, Linda not only answered my questions, but also showed me around and let me talk to all kinds of folks. It was an enchanting experience. I floated back to the office.

I’ve enjoyed every visit since, and have been delighted to discover that rubbing shoulders with theater folks has rekindled my creativity. Last weekend, I went out to do some plein air painting for the first time in years. That, too, provided me with a great story in addition to a new painting.

I was struggling with the green areas – the grass and trees – when I suddenly felt someone watching me. That’s not unusual when painting on location. Folks always want to see what I’m doing. I’ve learned to be civil, to let my brain functioning switch from right to left in order to put words together in some semblance of a coherent fashion. On that occasion, I turned around, ready to greet whomever happened to be there, and saw a deer standing about 10 or 12 feet away from me.

She cocked her head a little and wagged her tail a couple times and then took off. I felt like I was in a Disney movie. Had she said something, I would have known I was in a Disney movie. Since she didn’t, I just savor the memory of that moment, and understand again what God felt when he finished his great creative endeavor.

“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:31, NAB)

Very good, indeed. And I got to share in it simply because I happen to be in a job that gives me incredible opportunities.

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