Tag Archives: childhood

WE’RE VIKINGS, SUCKA

We dig Spring.

As a matter of fact this year we did a whole bunch of celebrating and out-of-door reveling the day before Spring arrived just so we’d be out of its way when it crawled out from the barn, the bushes, the flattened flowerbeds and walnut trees in the back yard in the cold light of dawn to stretch and yawn and give the kids a high-five when they get on the bus.

Our celebrating started with the annual phone call from my dad, the kids’ papa, informing them that the suckers are running…we’d better get to the creek. Into their boots faster than superheroes into tights, each kid ran to the barn to claim their weapon of choice: a salmon net, a smaller bass net, and a smaller still trout net. My youngest put to words what they all are thinking – let’s go get ’em.

They traipsed and tromped and terrorized as many slack pools and eddies they could reach from 3/4 boot-deep water, chasing those lake-run redhorse, managing to corner a small dumb male or egg-loaded and slow hen every now and again. The ruckus was just shy of enough to wake the dead. Which is a good thing since the 1/2 mile-or-so section of Sucker Brook they were pillaging, the same 1/2 mile-or-so section that I grew up pillaging and my dad the same, runs smack through the heart of Woodlawn Cemetery’s 77 acres. To this day, no residents have lodged any noise complaints.

Having had their fill of plundering, we headed to my wife’s parents, the kids’ Grammy and Grampy, to throw some fly line at the spring-fed pumphouse pond next to the first tee on the family’s golf course. The pond once held rainbows and browns, stocked years earlier, that ran opposite ends of this aquatic block like Crips and Bloods. Big gangsta trouts. 6 pounds easy. Some guy would be trying to tee-off and I’d hook up and the fish would leap and buck and run, my reel screaming, and the guy’s three buddies hollering holy shit! right in the middle of his back swing. Shank-ity shank shank. Enjoy your round, I’d holler and wave as they’d head the search party toward the rough.

The kids have no idea the pond holds no fish anymore, which is awesome because:
1) they stood like defiant little Vikings on the shore doing their damndest to get the line through a stiff headwind out onto the water where they were certain a fish the size of a Russian sub was going to inhale their fly and run for the 18th green, and
2) if one of those old gangsta trouts was to actually take their fly, I’d probably be swimming for the rod anyhow.
So, I had them practice first with no flies to get the feel of things and to keep them from impaling themselves, each other or me with #8 wooly buggers. It didn’t take long for their casts to find some semblance of a rhythm and the line started cooperating. They laughed at the headwinds, as Vikings are want to do. I tied on their flies and they went on their futile way, jaws set in a grimace-grin, to hunt for Red October.

But the wild rumpus was not complete without meeting their cousins for a trip to the sand pit out back of the golf course. A half-dozen kids leaping, over and over and over again from high crumbling ledges onto loose sand slopes, riding a minor avalanche 40 or so feet to the bottom, stopping only to empty their boots or shake handfuls of sand from their underwear.

Then we were on the hunt for sheds in the Locust groves that grow between the sand pit and the woods of Boughton Park. Following well run deer trails, they found old buck rubs and scrapes and droppings, any sheds by this time most-likely carried off by coyotes or rendered down by mice. Just before we left, tired and sandy and red-cheeked, ready to answer the call of hot-dogs and curly fries, we found a bleach-white fox skull, still holding its teeth. On the ride home, Cam asked first: dad, can I take it to school tomorrow?
Is a frog’s butt water-tight? I replied.
Nothing but laughs from the back seat. Spring is here.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water

AS THE YEAR ROLLS ON TO A CLOSE

I’m slow to type this morning. Sitting at my desk in the front room, looking out the window at passing traffic on Main Street. Sun. A strong cup of coffee. Bootprints in the snow where the kids wait for the bus by the maple out front.

My daughter stops in. Whatcha doing dad?
Writing, Bird. Working on a blog post.
Oh.

She reads the first two lines, since that’s all I’d written at that point. Gives me a quick hug and heads back to join her brothers in a Wii tennis battle.

I suddenly saw the not-so-distant future. At 9, she’s just about at the point where she could sit and read the blog, if she was so inclined. Crazy…my kids being old enough to read their Old-Man’s ramblings. I know they’re the reason this blog exists, but they’re all-too-quickly becoming part of my audience in addition to being my stories’ central characters. I can just hear them: I remember that! or I can’t believe you posted that video. or How come all you have are pictures of small fish?

There are moments as a parent when the gravity of being a parent makes you say damn. When you start to feel like you’re a bit further down the adulthood-road than you want to admit. When you realize that life is too short to not take a chance on following your passion because that’s what you want your kids to do. This was one of those moments. But it’s also been one of those years.

My aim was to compose a tremendous, poetic retrospective of 2010. But the small, quiet realization (reminder, really) that my kids are quickly growing up changed my aim to something much simpler. Looking out the window this morning–Christmas music from the other room, the occasional ping and clang from the pipes and radiators upstairs, the smell of the Douglass fir with its lights and ornaments–my thoughts drift through a sort of mental inventory of this past year. Fishing trips and full hunting seasons. Settling into a new house. Kids and sports (and more sports). Much more time spent with family. The start of this blog and the very cool folks I’ve met through it.

In the end, I just want to keep in mind how blessed a dude I am. To appreciate it each day. Here’s to a tremendous 2011. Merry Christmas everyone…and Happy New Year.

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MORNING BROWNS WITH DAD, Installment 6, Thesis

* The 6th installment in a series of sections from my Masters thesis, which was (in large part) about fishing.

[20]

Villager Restaurant. 5:30 a.m.
Laminated breakfast menus. Short lived eggs, toast, sausage—coffee-to-go, toothpicks by the register.

We head to the bait shop for sawbellies, a wriggling handful of bump & tick in our aluminum bait bucket. Slight lapping of water against marina-moored boats, footsteps echo quietly on the dock.

Wind & engine, water & shoreline, we nose a white V out onto Canandaigua Lake. Bare Hill a hunched silhouette above black trees under the dawn sky.

5, 10, 15 minutes. The boat slows to an idle, settling into the dark water toward the south end. Ears ringing from sudden silence. I stir my hand into the flipping mass of minnows, lift a chubby sawbelly, its head in my palm, tail wagging from between my thumb & forefinger, mouth gaping a small o. My tackle box holds a snelled double hook & black bait-threading needle.

I cast my line.
Bait & bobber end-over-end then plop onto the surface.

We sit quietly, sipping our coffee. The sawbelly swims random circles three feet below a barely tipping bobber. Shore is now slightly visible. Trees, rocks, cottages through mist clinging to the water’s surface. A loon’s cry drifts across the lake. Another answers, closer.

The bobber disappears for a moment, then follows the bait & fish, trickling, bouncing the surface for thirty yards, forty, fifty, then stops. I wait. The fish flexes its jaw, exhales the stunned bait for a moment, circles to swallow it head first. The idle bobber springs to life again.

The line sings its tense song. Sunrise has cleared Bare Hill.
I reel. Dad waits with net in hand.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water, Poetry

TOUGH LOVE & HAYBALES

It’s been said that parents need to let their children make mistakes. Protecting them 100% of the time, while most likely keeping them clear of emergency room trips, dirt under their fingernails and having to move out before the age of 35, does nothing to teach them about real life. Kids learn valuable lessons from mistakes. In my case, I learned a lot.

Matthew! Don’t touch the woodstove! says mom.
He’ll only do it once,
replies dad.

Matthew! Don’t climb so high in that tree! says mom.
Hell, he’s got a good 12 feet before it gets real tricky, replies dad.

For most situations, that’s how it went…mom’s yin to dad’s yang, mom’s kiddie pool to dad’s deep end. As far as learning lessons was concerned, that balance worked. But when it came to hunting and fishing, there was no mother hen. It was all tough love. And tough love has a balance all its own–follow directions or face the consequences. There are rules in the field…a natural and necessary order to things. Dad did his best to introduce me to them, but once I had reached the limit of my teenage ability to comprehend the rules and how things worked (translated: once my attention-span reached its limit), he left the rest up to nature to teach me. Getting some archery practice in at my parent’s house the other evening, dad reminded me of that balance.

Careful, he said with a grin. There’s no camper back there anymore. They’ve got an RV now.

The landscape of my parent’s backyard has changed quite a bit since I was little. There’s a lot more flowering, pretty stuff growing now that my sister and I and our friends (and a dog) aren’t terrorizing the small parcel. Now they’ve got more flowerbeds and gardens full of Latin-named horticulture than NASCAR’s got sponsors.

Since I first learned how to shoot a bow, backyard target practice has changed a quite a bit as well. For the better part of ten years, dad and I shot at an 80-pound haybale with a paper plate stuck under the baling wire. Then a fancy new 3D buck with big antlers and replaceable mid-section took its place, lurking beneath the lilac bushes, surprising our yellow lab every time she ran into the yard to pee. Now we punch holes in one of those dense-packed shooting blocks.

But the biggest difference is not necessarily landscaping or targets. It’s a matter of scale. Ten yards is still ten yards. So is 15. But where those distances felt like I was a mile away when I was 14, they now feel close enough that I should be jumping on the target like Rambo with a knife in my teeth. Of course, the one thing that never changed was the fact that we lived in the city. Neighbors on every side. Needless to say, dad went out of his way to make sure we stayed friendly with the folks who lived behind us, since their garden, yard, garage and pop-up camper were the backdrop to our target.

I can only imagine my dad watching my first bow-shot with pride and terror. Pulling back the bowstring with every ounce of ass I had, squinting to aim, swaying like a Friday-night townie, and finally unleashing an arrow on that haybale from an impressive seven paces.

That’s a good shot, son. Says dad walking toward the bale.
Shouldn’t it stick in the hay? I ask, blinking the blurriness out of my eye.
Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen. If that were a deer, you’d have bruised him good though.

My arrow had stayed this side of our property line. And that was enough. As the days went on I got stronger and more confident though, managing to get all my arrows in the paper plate. Sticking too. But dad held me to my seven yard range. I had to get good there before I could move back. By my second bow season, I was granted ten yards and eventually allowed to shoot on my own, without dad’s supervision. I was on my honor to stick to the routine.

I knew I was wrong when I took the extra five steps back to the corner of the deck. 15 yards. I knew I was wrong at full-draw when I couldn’t decide between the florescent green ten-yard pin in my sights and the florescent orange pin below it that I would later learn is for 20 yards. I knew I was wrong when I stood, swaying and aiming and thinking holy crap that’s a long way away. And it didn’t take but a fraction of a second to know I was wrong when the arrow skipped off the top of the haybale, sailed through the lilac bushes and buried itself with a dull thud in the side of our neighbor’s not popped-up, pop-up camper. When I say buried, I mean I couldn’t get two fingers on the arrow to even try to pull it out.

You know the scene in Caddyshack where the priest gets struck by lightning after cursing God for missing the put, and Bill Murray looks around to make sure no one sees him ditch the priest and his golf clubs? That about sums up my reaction.

I remember when our neighbor, Mr. B, knocked on the backdoor, probably four days later. He had finally discovered the arrow after having one hell of a time trying to get his camper to actually pop up. He and dad talked for a minute before I was called to the door.

I think this belongs to you, said Mr. B. handing me a broken aluminum arrow.
I’m sorry Mr. B was all I could get out and I backed my way out of the scene in search of a suitable rock to hide under.

I don’t remember if dad actually made me pay to repair the camper with my paper route profits. In the end, don’t know if I had to pay anything, other than losing the privilege of shooting without his supervision…which, when I think about it, was a tougher consequence to own. Interestingly, I’d still rather shoot with my dad in the backyard, than fly solo at the range…even if the risk behind the target is now an RV.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

GEAR

Ahhh, mid-summer. The prelude to fall…my favorite time of year.

Cicadas have begun to echo their rattling song in the lush heavy-ness of a quickly approaching August. The day’s heat is trading its oppressive edge for a longer shadow. All the busy-ness that’s accumulated since the winter is passing in one great, final exhale right about now, and a modest measure of free-time is quietly making its way back, like the unconditional love of a good hunting dog.

While this free-time lets me get back to some much-needed fishing, it’s also when I’m able to get my bow out, stand twenty paces from a 3D target and wake up the shooting muscles that have been asleep since last season. The kids love when my free-time returns, when all my hunting gear starts appearing again from the barn. They know dad’s going to be taking them along for the ride. Aleida’s about the right age for her first bow. Cam’s not far off.

It could be that I just celebrated my 20th high school reunion this past weekend. It could be that we hosted a surprise party for my dad’s 60th birthday this past weekend too – I’ll get back to these. But when I pulled my bow out of its case at the range last night, it struck me just how much my dad has handed down to me, specifically as an outdoorsman.

There’s the obvious: All three bows I’ve hunted with, including the Mathews I shoot now, were dads previously. My first shotgun, a bolt-action 12 gauge Mossberg, was his as a kid, and I hunted with it until its retirement a couple seasons ago (there’s a story for another post). There are brand-new boots that just didn’t fit him right, hunting jackets, Pendleton shirts, my first tree-stand, fishing lures, rods and reels, knives, flashlights, a thermos or two. The list goes on.

Handing down the tools of the trade, so to speak, was his way of making sure I had what I needed for a good start, and would get me out in the woods with him at least once. Where I took it from there would depend on my own moxie. I’ve always valued these gifts because they were his and because I know how much he loves the outdoors. But the gear is only part of the inheritance. The stories and lessons, friendship and time together…those are the real deal. That’s a hand-me-down that’ll still be there when all the gear has worn out.

As I said, my 20th just went into the record books, as did my dad’s birthday. Sunday afternoon a handful of my friends made their reunion-exhausted way, with spouses and kids, over to our place for one last cookout. We turned the kids loose on the pool, sodas and chips and simply relaxed in the sun. Watching the kids and how they interacted with each other was like watching little versions of us. They weren’t perfect, but if there was an issue, they managed to figure everything out and get back to getting along.

The next day, my dad’s shin-dig brought out a bunch of his old buds from school…folks who have known me since I came home from the hospital some 38 years ago, brand-spankin’ new and carrying my dad’s first name. At one point, the boys were telling one of my dad’s friends, an avid outdoorsman, stories about catching bass and getting to shoot a .22 for the first time. Excited and proud as all get-out, you’d have thought just discovered Disneyland in their backyard. My dad’s friend looked up, winked at me and said, wonder where they get that from.

Exactly.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water