Thirty-five years ago today, a younger version of me put on a wedding dress and rode a horse-drawn buggy to marry a younger version of Todd on the summer meadows of the Jubilee Ranch. We had no idea how our lives, relationship, and future family would unfold. Last year, I didn’t think we’d make it to 35.

But, here we are.

The last ten years have been formative. For what? I don’t know and it’s okay. Younger Me would have wanted to KNOW; would have had a PLAN; would have wanted it all to MEAN something.

Between our wedding day and 35th anniversary, we’ve put a lot of mud on the tires. I guess this seems similar to balloons on a bumper. It differs, though. Mud is real. Balloons are temporary hopes and dreams susceptible to popping. Mud can stain. Mud can wash away. Mud says, “You’ve been places, Kiddo.”

Just this past weekend, we got mud on the tires, traveling over 800 miles and crossing the Might Mac twice. As D. Avery can attest, there are a whole lot of trees between the Keweenaw Peninsula and the bridge to downstate Michigan. A whole lot of interesting water bodies, too, thus me saying throughout the fifteen-plus hours in the truck, “I’d paddle that.” We were not kayaking. Instead, we loaded up the Mause, a shotgun, and two boxes of shells (someone was hopeful).

We went pheasant hunting at Tails-a-Waggin’ Acres outside Marion, Michigan.

When I learned about the Veteran Pheasant Hunt that Chuck and Joan Connell offer, I wanted to enlist Todd but it was too big of a crowd for him. Chuck graciously offered a hunt the weekend before the big event. He let us bring our green hunting dog, Mauser Mannlicher (Mause). It seemed like it might be too big an undertaking, too far, and too much to ask of a young German Short-haired Pointer. But we were all willing to try. We left Friday after classes and returned Sunday in time for me to prep for classes.

Thirty-six years ago, Todd and I were dating. A typical date? You got it — pheasant hunting. Followed by pheasant plucking, pheasant marinating, and roasted pheasant meals. We ate so much pheasant during that time, I’ve not had it since! It took three decades for me to salivate at the thought of hunting game birds once again.

I had no idea what to expect. My job was to monitor Todd for pain, cognition resets and needed breaks. He can hike for miles but if he falls, he can’t get up on his own. I made sure we didn’t travel as fast and hard as he wanted. I told him I longed to enjoy a couple of nice hotel rooms. Pet-friendly, of course. Mause is not a fan of sleeping elsewhere. She shares that in common with Todd. They endured restlessly and I will have to catch up on missed sleep. The trip was worth the effort.

Todd and Mause were in sync in their happy place. I was the attending chronicler.

Although Chuck released three pheasants, Mause and Todd did not flush or shoot any. They hunted diligently and did not shy away from the brambles, alders, and deep grass. Todd had thorns in his socks and Mause found plenty of signs. Cool fact: German Short-haired Pointers do not get stickers in their coats and they have self-cleaning oils in their fur.

At one point, she carried a pheasant feather in her mouth. She learned what birdie she was searching for and her little tail buzzed. She ran circles and discovered the joys of a dog watering trough.

After we returned, Todd and Mause went out again. It took a lot out of him to hunt like that but it gave him back something he has missed, too. That night, as we watched the sun set over Lake Huron from our balcony room near the Mackinac Bridge, I asked Todd what brought him joy from the day. He said, “Watching Mause hunt.” I agreed but added that I enjoyed watching him, too. If ever we needed a healing excursion, this was The One.

Mause can show you her joy at the end of the hunt.

Thirty-five years and a lot of mud later, I’m not living the life I expected. Yet, it is my life and I rise with each new day I get to greet and search for stories. When we pay attention to the mud, we realize it has meaning, after all. I once read an article that claimed happiness was found in living a meaningful life. I can’t make sense of all that has happened to us, nor can I give back to Todd all he’s lost because of his service. I know he’d say he’d do it again even if he knew the consequences. I didn’t serve but I can dignify his service. I can find meaningful moments in the mud.

Dare I say, I’m happy? (Wipes mud from brow. Grins. Taps out a story.)

September 19, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about mud on the tires. The tires can be from any conveyance or serve as an analogy. How did they get muddy and why? What impact does mud on the tires have on the story (plot) or characters (motivation)? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 24, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
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