The origin of the term is shrouded in obscurity, variously ascribed to Native American Indian tribes of the Great Plains or to 19th century authors writing about them: the “Happy Hunting Grounds,” a term used for the afterlife, describing a verdant place where game is plentiful and the souls of the departed spend an eternity hunting and feasting.
It was Monday morning, May 25, the first full day of the Annual Convention and Exhibition, and this term – the Happy Hunting Grounds – which I first learned as a boy reading the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, flashed into my consciousness as I read a text message from my wife, Susan.
I was up early that morning, out of my room, and headed to the front doors of the Hilton in Salt Lake City. Unlike most Mondays at ACE, however, I wasn’t off to my first meeting. Instead, I was heading to the airport, heading home to Oklahoma City. Lily, my younger daughter, was graduating high school that evening, and I was off to celebrate her and her accomplishments.
ACE had begun well. The Advisory Council and the Executive Committee had conducted meetings on Friday and Saturday. The House of Delegates was in session on Sunday morning. The business and governance of the Association were well in hand.
The next generation of petroleum geoscientists had proven their mettle in the Imperial Barrel Award competition with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette taking top honors with San Diego State University in second place and Pennsylvania State University in third.
The opening session was inspiring as General Chair Michael Vanden Berg welcomed the attendees to Utah, a must-visit destination for geologists, and President Charles Sternbach asked everyone to reflect on an AAPG event that changed their lives, echoing AAPG legend Wallace Pratt’s words, “Anything is possible. Everything is possible.”
We honored Sidney Powers medalist Mike Forrest and Michel T. Halbouty Leadership awardee Hans Krause. We recognized the scientific and service accomplishments of many AAPG members. And the energy in the exhibition hall was high.
I was feeling good as I headed to the airport that morning, confident that our attendees were going to have a superior experience, and that I could shift gears to family matters for 24 hours.
Joy and Sorrow in Equal Measures
The text message from Susan upon landing at Denver International Airport shook me up. She was at the veterinarian with Sadie, our 12-year-old Great Pyrenees dog, who had not eaten in two days and had awakened that morning unable to walk. At 110 pounds, that was a problem, but thankfully Susan and Anna, our eldest, muscled her into the car and off to the vet.
As the afternoon progressed and we finalized the preparations for Lily’s graduation and party – wanting to make this day about her and her achievement – Sadie’s prognosis dimmed. She wasn’t in pain, but she was seriously ill. She wasn’t going to make it.
My rueful response to a colleague’s question about how my quick trip home went was that it included all the elements of a country music song: joy and sorrow in equal measures.
Family and friends gathered in our house to eat and celebrate. The graduation ceremony hit all the right notes. The loud cheers and sign-waving by parents, grandparents, siblings and friends as Lily received her diploma caused just enough embarrassment to let her know how much she’s loved and admired.
Just before midnight, after everyone had gone to bed, I drove alone to the veterinary hospital. They took me back to Sadie’s kennel, where crouching by her side, I fed her some food, held her water bowl, and stroked her head as I said goodbye.
The alarm went off at 3:30 am and I was up, heading back to the airport, back to Salt Lake City and the rest of ACE. As I was in the air, Susan, Lily and James, our youngest, were with Sadie, with her to the end, as her heart stopped beating and she breathed her last.
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight,” writes Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran. “Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”
Joy and sorrow. Endings and new beginnings.
As ACE drew to a close, everyone – from our organizing committee to our staff – took great pride in delivering an excellent event for everyone who attended. There is joy in success, and perhaps a bit of sorrow that after all that effort, it’s over so soon.
Endings and new beginnings: This month we recognize outgoing President Charles Sternbach, Vice President – Sections Dan Schwartz and Treasurer Marty Hewitt as their terms on the Executive Committee conclude. We also welcome Denise Cox as president, Mike Party as president-elect, Jeff Aldrich as vice president – sections, and Richard Ball as treasurer.
Endings and new beginnings: A new chapter opens for Lily as she heads to the University of Oklahoma this autumn, ready and eager to make her mark on the world. I am so very proud of her.
Endings and new beginnings: I still find myself looking for her in her favorite corners, listening for her snoring, expecting to see her waiting for me at the door as I arrive home from work. Godspeed, Sadie, best girl, as you enter the Happy Hunting Grounds.
Maybe, just maybe, there you’ll finally catch that squirrel.