This winter I’ve read more Jim Harrison poems than normal—perhaps I’ve absorbed a bit of his crusty spirit. His appreciation of the little Gods that flutter above us, old dogs, overgrown paths, rivers, mortality, and open spaces.

The world---has never been the exclusive domain of perfect things.

Life can be cruel, unfair and ridiculous.

I have been bitten by Brown Recluse spiders two times and I have the scars to prove it. I mention it only because it influenced my opinion of spiders in a negative way. Spiders do what spiders do—they creep, make cool webs and bite things.

Through much of my life I’ve been quick to stomp or bash all manner of arachnids that crossed my path. One day I felt a pang of enlightenment when I spotted a spider crawling across my living room.  I picked it up and took it to my front porch where I released it tenderly back into the wild. Perhaps, I was trying to make peace with a bad memory. My kids were delighted that I had made this small gesture of mercy.  

They giggled at my new-found empathy. I felt empowered with positive karma—right up until the moment a hungry little sparrow swooped down from the sky and ate the spider. I had to laugh as the spider’s creepy life ended in such a twisted way. The spider and I had it all for a moment… mercy, forgiveness, freedom and joy.      

During an interview last week, a friend asked me, “I wonder what our old buddy Al is up to?”   

Sadly, we found his name on an accident report from the State Police the next day.

I was shocked to read that Albert Martin III, one of my old sports and newsroom buddies had passed away from injuries he sustained in a car accident.

The tragic news brought back so many memories. We used to edit each other’s stories, gripe about politics, and share our thoughts on life over endless cups of coffee. His expertise in auto racing was always appreciated when I was an inexperienced sports editor back in the late 90s. I will always recall his wit, life knowledge and advice in the often messed up mercenary world of newspapers.

He was at his essence a guy that loved his little farm in Reva, freelance writing, auto racing, photography, old dogs, music, and visits from grandkids. I will always remember the boyish glint in his eyes whenever he saw a beautiful lady around town.  He was far from perfect, even by his own account, but that gave him perspective, character and a special kind of wisdom.

I will miss the "Old Rooster" as I liked to call him. He used to refer to me as the buzz-cut “Hooligan” from that military reform school.

As I've learned too many times the last decade, always seize the opportunity to spend time with your friends and family. You never know when life will throw you the last pitch.

When people leave this world, we often say all the nice things we should have told them when they were with us. As the poet Jim Harrison wrote, “Death steals everything except our stories.”  

I will raise a cup of black coffee in Al’s honor. A cup of the strong, bottom of the pot, bitter, jaded newsroom stuff. The kind of coffee that makes you pace, curse your paycheck, plot, and finally get through the inverted pyramid of one more special section story.  

Here’s to your farm, the sound of birds, the rumble of race cars and clucking chickens.

Here’s to old bylines and opening a newspaper each morning.  

Here’s to the craft of community journalism in all its subtle glory.

Here’s to the writers and photographers who put in the long hours.

Here’s to all the stories that mothers save, politicians complain about and sports fans love.

Here’s to great songs, beautiful ladies and one more lap around the dirt track.    

Al used to say, “People have tried to manage us all our lives, haven’t they?”          

Then with a chuckle he would always add, “I guess they will never learn brother.”

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