Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Sometimes the best way to learn about someone’s true character, is to see how they handle life’s hard knocks.
Do they get shoved down and stay down? Or do they go about the work of recreating themselves, when everything they have known all their lives is suddenly lost to them?
Mike Abbott, long-time resident of Fargo, fits into the second category hands down.
After living the last 40 years of his life as a large-and-in-charge, oilfield derrick hand, health problems have forced him to spend much of the last four years as a shut-in.
“My diabetes just finally got the best of me and I had to quit work in 2008,” he said.
Despite a brush with death that kept him hospitalized off and on for three years between 2008 and 2011 and a final prognosis that would almost totally ground him to the house, Abbott has effectively recharged his focus and has become a successful artist.
Abbott spent much of his life in the rough and tumble world of the oil field. For years, the large man with the booming voice and thick curly head of hair guided drill bits into position with his mammoth, capable hands.
“I had just started at Triad drilling the year before because I remember the blizzard of 1972. I got snowed into the rig for eight nights and seven days south and east of Slapout,” Abbott said.
Abbott, an avid outdoorsman, didn’t let that little blizzard bother him. He set about working on that drilling rig throughout those days, just like he has adjusted to his new life a little more than 40 years later.
Gone from his life now is the growling hydraulics of a blowout preventer, or the hiss of a diverted kick of drilling mud and shale gas.
Visits from nurses, who regulate his insulin; daily doses of a blood thinner and a water pill that controls fluid that causes his legs to swell, are his tasks these days.
“I remember, to the day, when I realized I had a problem,” he said. “It was 2002 and I used to have this place where I would sit on this cliff and watch the deer come out of the wood line there. Just the day before, I had done it and I always had great ability to see them. That day though, I could tell something was moving in the wood line, but could not see what it was. I went to the doctor the next day.”
For Abbott, an educated man, with an associates degree in surveying engineering, knew instantly what was probably the matter.
“I knew, it was probably diabetes because it runs in my family,” he said.
Since 2008, and after several years working with physicians to get him stabilized, Abbott chose to refocus his energy on something that he had loved since he was 10-years-old – art.
“I always loved working with oil paints,” he said. “I tried acrylic a few times and they dried too fast for me to really blend the colors the way I wanted to.”
In the last year, Abbott has painted nearly 10 oil originals, all scooped up by family and friends, who can’t seem to wait till he gets them done.
“ Well, there are hardly any of his paintings here, because everyone gets them all,” said Abbott’s wife Sandy Abbott.
Abbott paints wildlife scenes as well as many nature scenes.
In an especially detailed painting Abbott did for a relative, an elk peers suspiciously off the canvas, with muted golds and browns peculiar to a western Oklahoma fall day.
Abbott likes winterscapes too, and has done a painting, one he painted earlier in the year, of a whitetail amongst snow covered barren trees.
If one peers long enough at his work, one can see where color and light come together and build Abbott’s perspective. An untrained artist, one can readily see where he has developed his work and where he is truly comfortable. Yet he is still teaching himself, he said.
“There is a guy here, Jeff Sutton, who I told that I wanted to take art lessons,” Abbott said.”He told me it was better not to because I have a style and he said if I got trained, they would take my style away from me.”
As Abbott develops his eye, he also tries his hand at other artistic endeavors, including the old art of fly tying.
That is no small feat, since diabetes is well know to cause neuropathy, which can debilitate someone’s ability for hand-eye coordination.
Across his lap, at any given time, might be a swarm of tiny flies and nymphs that he discovers on the banks of local bodies of water, such as the Fort Supply Lake. He copies the insects, creating the perfect bait for local fly fisherman
Recently, Abbott had a company out of Alaska call him as ask him to create an order of thousands of flies.
“Well, I couldn’t be making money like that, so I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Besides, Abbott prefers to give away his flies and bait insects that he creates. He is always looking, with an eye toward finding the perfect material to make that next fishing lure. But he warns people who have horses to beware if he is around.
“If you come out and your horse’s tails have disappeared, you can bet I have been there,” he said, laughing.
Abbott spends his days now, learning about the science of the world and finds himself fascinated by subjects of the earth below him as well as the sky above.
He says it is important, with diabetes, to challenge the mind and stay as actively involved in life as you can.
He will “not go gentle into that good night,” as poet Dylan Thomas suggested in his villanelle of the same title.
But instead, Abbott says he will expand and exercise his mind and in much the same way he lived his life in the scouring Oklahoma wind, will “Rage, rage against the dying light.”