SOMETIMES IN ONE’S life, there are times when you need to find a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. I experienced one of those times last week, when a good friend who was only 68 years old was taken to a higher and better place.

Born and raised in north Wisconsin, Larry spent a lot of time kicking around in my bailiwick. His family owned and still does own a cabin and property in the Siphon Springs country.

Like I did as a child, he hunted all kinds of wild game to put food on the table. He was a good fisherman. In his younger days he spent a good deal of time running traplines. 

If you were to go to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and look up the definition of nice guy, you would find two words: Larry McCaughn. If you looked up good man, you would find the same two-word definition. The same would be true for good father and good husband.

Now, I am fairly confident that during his lifetime he probably felt like kicking his dog at one time or another. He probably cussed someone who did something to make him angry. He might even have had an argument with his wife, but, and I say this truthfully and from the heart, never once in my lifetime of knowing him did I ever see him angry or say anything in anger.

He had a large circle of good friends and family, and I was privileged to be a part of that group. I was lucky enough to stop at his home on his last day, got to say goodbye to him and give him one last pat on the shoulder. After that, I had to go find my place of peace, a place where I could sit under a huge white pine while I tried to sort things out and figure out “Why?”

That pine tree is atop a knoll overlooking what has long been one of my favorite places on earth. When I was a child, those who knew the knoll called it Indian Point. It was a favored duck blind spot. Many of us sat that point after the first weekend of hunting when all the local hunters considered any blind first come, first served.

The point is a place I have gone to many times before; sometimes, when I was trying — as I did when I went there last week — to sort out the question of “Why?” Sometimes, I just went there because it is a perfect spot to look up and down the length of the lake while it is covered with wild rice in season and host to any number of species of wild ducks and geese.

It is a vantage point from which I have often watched otters cavorting, beavers towing large branches to a lodge farther down the lake, swarms of blackbirds descending upon a feast of ripe wild rice kernels and kingfishers slamming into the water to nab a minnow for dinner.

I have sat on the point during spring, when sometimes there were hundreds of ducks, geese and in recent years, even swans, pausing on their northward migration. I have fished around the point and the bays it projects from, sometimes catching a stray northern pike. I have even reached the point going through the backcountry while “crust-country” skiing in late winter, just to sit there and admire the lake under a white blanket.

The point and the lake it looks over is a good place to simply sit and contemplate, sometimes about happy things and sometimes, things that put sadness in my heart. I sat there last week one day, my back against the great white pine, feeling the sorrow of losing a good friend.

I have many memories of my friend. Two of them put a smile on my face as I sat against that pine, even as I wished he could be there sitting beside me.

One of those memories is from about a year-and-a-half ago. Larry came into the sport shop where I worked to buy a fishing license. Larry drove a black pickup truck; I drive a black pickup truck. This was about a year after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but before it had shown much sign of its ugly effects on him.

After the license was issued, we sat there swapping stories of years gone by, of bucks shot at, some killed, some missed. We caught about 10,000 trout. We remembered dozens of old logging roads where we had gotten pickup trucks stuck with miles of walking to go, to find a friend willing to try and tow us out.

When Larry left, he drove a black pickup truck home. He drove my black pickup truck home. An hour later, he brought mine back to exchange it for his. We laughed ’til our sides hurt then and when we were able to talk for the last time a few weeks ago, we were still laughing.

The other favorite humorous memory I have is from our trout fishing trip together this spring. I was in charge of loading my Old Town with all the necessary accoutrements. Before we left his house, I mentally went through the list: Old Town, check; life jackets, check; small trout tackle box, check; fishing rods, check; everything, check.

When we arrived at our chosen lake and unloaded 30 miles later, I found one thing that I had forgotten to check. Oars. What to do? It was either spend an hour driving home and then back with oars or drive 4 miles to the next town where there was a sport shop and marine dealer, at least one of which, surely, would have a canoe paddle which for our purposes would have worked as well as oars.

Guess what? Neither had so much as a single paddle. They had oars, but at $50 for one oar I said “No, thank you.” Back at the landing, necessity became the mother of invention. A small, dead oak lay on the ground, dry and bark-less. Wedging it between two close-growing trees, I snapped it in half and presto, two 6-foot long canoe paddles.

We fished for several hours and made our custom paddles work. We also caught five trout between us. On the way home, I swore Larry to silence about my mental lapse and true to his word, he didn’t tell anyone. When we talked of it for the final time, we were still laughing.

I know for sure that up above, Larry continues to laugh. 

As I sat under my pine tree, I was laughing too.