There’s an old saying about whoever dies with the most toys wins.
On that basis, our old neighbor, Howard Lawson, was a winner, even if the ravages of aging and Parkinson’s disease gradually stole his ability to use and enjoy those toys.
Last week, friends, family and neighbors gathered to say a final farewell to Howard, who died on May 20.
Howard lived a long life and was an educator, coach, referee and scout leader, as well as a faithful and active member of his church, but he was an enthusiastic outdoors person and he had the toys to prove it.
I never had the full inventory, but here’s a start at what he had. Fishing rods, of course, with fly rods, spinning rods, heavy-duty salmon and steelhead rods. Of course, he had the usual selection of guns, both shotguns and rifles.
But then, we get into the big stuff. He had a four-wheeler, and he loved tooling around on mountain roads on his ATV. In winter he’d put a snowplow on his ATV and clear snow, often with his yellow Lab, Mac, riding behind him.
Then he had boats. He had a big boat, small enough for area lakes, but still big enough to tow to Alaska for salmon fishing. Then he had a smaller powerboat, and two canoes and a kayak.
And then there were the trailers. For years his get-away home was his 5th-wheel trailer. He also had a pickup camper, and a smaller, old travel trailer that was his elk camp for years. In later years, he customized one of those big cargo haulers to haul to elk camp. With all that experience, he could jockey trailers into anything, no matter how small or crooked a path.
During our 30 years as neighbors I often had the chance to go with him on outings.
One year, with his son, Greg, we left Butte after Thanksgiving dinner to head for the Horse Prairie area where he liked to chase elk. It was something like thirty below that first night and I thought we’d freeze. We didn’t get any elk that weekend, but the season was extended that year because of the mild autumn, and he went back, alone, a few days later, confident that he knew where the elk were going to be and he was right. He came home with a nice cow elk.
Howard loved to ski and the year he hit age 65 we went to Discovery to celebrate his getting the senior rate. It was kind of a foggy morning and on his first run down the mountain, he ran into the fog, lost his sense of vertical, and took a fall. He broke a collarbone and that ended what was to be his year of cheap skiing as a senior citizen.
About 15 years ago, a friend in Helena drew a Smith River permit and invited me to join the party. I just needed to come up with a boat and a boat partner. I knew Howard had done the trip a year or so before so I invited him—along with that 19-foot Old Town canoe. On one stretch, we went through a “rock garden” that got a bit exciting, shooting between a couple big rocks and then taking a two-foot drop. After getting through that I commented about that drop. He just smiled, with that impish grin of his, and said, “I knew that was coming.”
Parkinson’s cheated Howard out of a lot of outings, but he still made it to elk camp until a few years ago. On one of the last times he was able to hunt he was on a ridge and a bunch of elk filed past him. He tried to jack a shell into the rifle’s chamber but it jammed. Later, he found a single pine needle as the culprit that cheated him out of one last elk.
He didn’t get an elk, but he had a good story.
Howard once shared another story of an elk hunt, years ago, with Max, his best friend and partner for many years on hunting and fishing outings.
He and Max were hunting elk in the mountains near Jackson, Montana. It was bitterly cold and they were camping in tents. At the end of a day’s hunt they realized they were just a few miles from Jackson and they decided to go in and have a drink at Jackson Hot Springs. They had a drink, maybe two. Then they went for a swim in the pool, and then decided to have dinner. After all that, they decided to stay for the night. When they got back to Butte they told Delmay and Barbara, Max’s wife, about the night in Jackson. Howard chuckled at the memory, “Delmay chewed us out for our night of luxury in Jackson while they were worried about us freezing in our tent camp.”
Farewell, neighbor. We’ll see you again in an elk camp somewhere.