The early years
Most of the earliest memories that I have are of places and times when my parents were doing something out-of-doors. My dad was a hunter and fisherman, and my mom would go along on his trips until there were too many of us kids for her to do so. There were fishing trips to Copper Harbor for trout, and trips to the fishing camp in Canada that a friend of my dad’s ran. I can remember waking up in the back seat of the car as we were waiting in line to use the ferry that ran between Michigan’s two peninsulas before the Mackinac Bridge was built, on the way to a hunting camp for deer season. The memories are faded now, but they are still there.
I have a picture that my mom took when I was around three years old of myself in the middle of a canoe, with my dad’s friend John Stevens in the front, and my dad paddling in the back as they returned from a scouting trip. So you can see that I got an early introduction to the great outdoors. People ask me how long I have been canoeing, and I tell them “All my life”.
Before I was even 5 years old, I was fishing along with my parents when they went fishing for panfish. My mom was quite the fisherperson herself, as long as it was with a cane pole and bobber, her favorite way of fishing. She was also a very good archer, while she never hunted with a bow and arrow, she was as good or a better shot than my dad was with a bow. Even back then, I caught fish, maybe it only seems like it now, but I remember keeping my dad quite busy taking fish off the line and re-baiting my hook.
The year that I turned 5, my parents bought a house in the country and we moved from the city to the sticks. The house wasn’t that far outside the city limits, but you would never have known if you were dropped in there. There was one house right next door, but other than that one, the closest houses were a quarter of a mile or more in either direction. There was nothing behind us except woods and fields for a mile until you came to the next road. Across the street was even more wild, a large gravel company owned a very large piece of land and only worked it for a couple of years. There were hills, streams, ponds, even a couple small lakes tucked away here and there on both sides of the road. My parents would often go for walks in the woods behind our house, and of course, bring me along with them.
About the same time, one of my uncles bought a cottage on a small lake less than five miles from my parent’s house. Also, my dad’s friend John Stevens bought a house a little more than a mile north of us. There weren’t many other kids in the neighborhood to play with, since there weren’t any houses around us. When my brother and I were old enough, we would ride our bikes to John’s house, he and his wife, Pat, had kids our age, so we went there to play. When we were old enough, we would ride to my uncle’s cottage and spend the days swimming and fishing with my cousin Will.
Those were great summers! There were many times that my brother and I would leave the house right after breakfast, and be late coming home for dinner. We spent our days wandering around in the woods, catching frogs, turtles, and salamanders near the ponds and lakes, swimming, and exploring the world around us.
Both my parents were also readers, and they instilled that in us kids too. We had books about animals, birds, reptiles, and insects that we read, and we tried to find all of the creatures that we read about when we were exploring. Dad also gave me a couple of books by the late Jack O’Connor and told me to read them. My dad was a huge fan, and I became one too. For those of you who don’t hunt, the name may not mean anything to you, but Jack O’Connor was a writer for Outdoor Life in its heyday. Unlike most outdoor writers, Jack was a former college English professor, so he could actually write well. He was a true sportsman in every sense of the word.
His books played a huge part in influencing who I am today. They are worth reading even if you never hunt, because they are about more than hunting and guns, they are about the outdoors and ecology, and written long before ecology became popular. My dad “assigned” then to me to prepare me for my days as a hunter that were yet to come.
I don’t recall which came first, my first hunting trip, or being given my first real rod and reel. I was way too young to be using a gun, but my dad would bring me along on some of his small game hunts from time to time. I got to play the part of the dog. I would follow behind my dad and fetch what he or his friends shot. But I was learning, learning to keep quiet for one thing. Learning how to walk quietly, where each type of game was likely to be found, and their habits. I was learning to pay attention to every little detail, every scent, every sound, every motion. It was training my senses and my mind in a way that some one who doesn’t hunt probably doesn’t understand. There were greater life lessons too, like what it meant to be a sportsman, and a man. I learned from dad and his friends, listening to their conversations on the way to and from the hunting grounds, and during the breaks during the hunt.
It was about the same time that I received my first rod and reel, a Shakespeare fly rod and closed face spinning reel combo. With it I was able to go along with my dad on his serious fishing trips, I wasn’t limited to the family outings fishing for panfish anymore. We still did that, but I also learned to fish for bass, pike, and trout.