Outdoors has always had a strong calling for me.
A. VERY. STRONG. CALLING.
From the first day I was allowed by my parents to walk down to the river near our home to fish, to the day it was OK for me to go and roam around on the hills and cliffs behind our home, my preference of where to spend my time, as much as possible, has been roaming and exploring in the outdoors.
While growing up as a young lad in rural, south central, Wisconsin, I did not have many of the distractions, (or, attractions), that youngsters of today have.
My brother and sisters and I did have a television, a black & white television, that is, to watch in our home, and we did spend a good amount of time, after arriving home from grade school, watching such shows as Howdy Dooty, and the westerns shows that were on, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, The Cisco Kid and Tom Mix. Other shows we watched included Ozzie and Harriet, Name That Tune, and The Ed Sullivan Show.
But, we didn’t have a home computer, Satellite or Cable TV, I-Pod, MP3 Player, DVD Player, Walkman, Cell Phone or Malls to occupy any of our non-school hours.
Consequently, my attention was drawn reading, and, to the outdoors.
During my summer weekdays as a youth, I was permitted to take my fishing pole, a box of worms I had dug, and walk down to the Pine River, located about a half mile southwest of our home, to spend the morning trying to catch the elusive Rainbow and German Brown trout that lurked in the holes that pocketed the river there.
This weekday adventure was a real ritual, where I would put a couple of bottles of soda, usually orange or R C Coca-Cola, maybe a sandwich, a candy bar or two, and once in awhile, a cigar or two from my father’s cigar boxes, in a knapsack, then grab my fly rod, belt bait box, my ball cap, and take off for the river to spend the morning.
My little brother would occasionally go along on those daily fishing adventures, but when he came along, I would never bring along any cigars, as I really didn’t want to let my folks possibly find out that their oldest son was smoking cigars at his young age.
Saturday and Sunday mornings, were reserved for my brother and sisters and I to help our parents with food preparation for the afternoon or evening meal serving hours at our Supper Club. Thus, usually there was no fishing for me on those days.
Having fished up and down the Pine for a long time, I came to know where the trout holes were. and the best time of the morning to try to lure them into biting on one of my worm-laden hooks, or on a special fly I floated down over the holes.
Most of the time, though on those daily adventures, I didn’t catch many trout. What I did catch were lots of suckers, chubs and carp, of which there were great numbers of each in that water.
After catching one of those types of ‘rough’ fish, I would throw them as far as I could back into the brush, away from the water, congratulating myself that I had river the river of yet another one of there kind.
Those daily experiences along the river, were some of the most pleasant of all of my memories about living in those years. I remember so vividly, sitting on the bank or on a limb I had dragged to the river’s edge, listening and watching the water ripple past, waiting for the feel of a tug on my line, that a fish was interested in my bait.
Opening a bottle of soda, holding it in one hand, and the fly rod in the other, feeling so at home there, so at peace, so one with nature, with the trees, the earth, the water, the wind and the sun.
Eventually, as the morning passed and noon approached, I would pick up my gear, turn and walk up to a place of crossing, where I would make my way carefully across a tree down over the river, and then walk back to my home.
It was dinner time, and another ritual was nearing. The Braves.
After dinner, I would walk over into the bar room of the Supper Club, walk behind the bar, and lift up the small brown radio from its hiding spot, and set it on the bar, near the front windows, and turn the button to turn it on.
Then I would reach into one of the drink coolers and take out a couple of bottles of orange soda, set them on the bar, and walk around to set on a stool and listen.
It was Milwaukee Braves baseball time.
And every afternoon, I was there, listening to the Braves, with Earl Gillespie and Blane Walsh announcing the play-by-play and color.
Those were the hay days for the Braves while they were in Milwaukee, when they had such greats as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, and pitchers Warren Spaun and Lew Burdette. Many were the times when I listened as Mathews, the ‘Santa Barbara Bomber’, Aaron and Adcock would slam back-to-back home runs off the opposing pitchers, and the Braves would win another one.
As I grew older during my boy-hood years, my summer daily fishing adventures decreased dramatically, when my father enrolled my brother and I in Little League Baseball in a town 15 miles to our south.
The more I played it, the more I came to enjoy little league baseball. After my brother finished our morning games, we would walk across the street to the A&W Root Beer Stand, and Ira, the owner, would draw us a big glass of root beer, in a large, frosted mug.
Because we were such good customers, Ira would often give my brother and I a free glass of root beer, while we were waiting for one of our parents to pick us up.
Although I have discussed my love for the out-of-doors during many of the middle years of my childhood, this outside attraction actually came to life even earlier, when I was in the second grade, just after we had moved to our home in south central Wisconsin, from southern Michigan.
After we had settled in in our home next to the supper club, in a very rural area of our county, my parents enrolled us kids in the local school, which was something very different than where we previously attended classes.
Our new school (an older structure, but new to us), was a large, square building located on the edge of a tamarack swamp, about a mile north of our little hamlet where our home was located.
In fact, our school was one of those famous, rural American schools known as a “One Room School.”
The structure had a large classroom (with a small library area set off on one side), where one teacher taught ALL 8 grades. There was also a large other room, which was a play room, for us to play dodge ball and other games when it rained, and then there was a small kitchen, where a hired cook prepared our meals (18 of them) for the students and the teacher.
Our drinking and cooking water for the school came from a well outside the front door of the school, and was drawn from the well by using a well hand pump.
The building was located on about 6 acres total, with two wood outhouses located behind the building, about a hundred feet from each other. Between the outhouses, was located our burn pile, where we would burn the trash daily in a burn barrel, which was located next to the back fence, beyond where the swamp lands began.
During the late fall, on a particularly windy day, it was not uncommon for the little trash fire to spread to the nearby swamp grass, and then spread rapidly to a large area of swamp. During those swamp fires, the bigger boys in school, would start a bucket brigade from the well pump to the back fence, trying to put out the fire before it burned the entire area to the rear of the school.
When the hand water pump was worked very fast for several minutes, while fighting such a swamp fire, the normally clean water would quickly turn rusty brown, and could not be used for drinking water until the next day, when the rust level would be way down again.
To the one side of the school were 4 level acres of grassy field, where our softball diamond was located, and where, during nice weather, the kids usually played work-up softball.
All around the school grounds, was a barbed wire fence, meant to keep nearby dairy cattle out and we kids, in.
I was not happy about having to go to this new school, after leaving my friends in my former school in Riverside, Michigan, north of Benton Harbor, and was rather a bit out-of-synch with life during that change process.
After we moved to our new home, and we two older kids, my older sister Barb, and I, started school in the one-room school, it was in late winter. On a school-day morning, if it wasn’t too cold, we would bundle up and walk through the frozen, snow-covered swamp the mile to the school house, or if it was cold, one of our parents would drive us there on a round-about gravel road, and then come and get us after school was out.
Being trapped in that new school I really didn’t like, I was anxious to be gone from there, in any way I could, in mind and spirit, and in person.
When spring arrived, and the snows melted and the grass grew green and tall, my inner spirit became restless.
Finally, one nice warm day, when our noon hour started, I went outside after eating, and walked across the gravel road, wiggled through the fence and climbed up the woodsy hill and sat on top of the 50′ sandstone cliff facing our school.
Man, it was wonderful! Sunny, warm, peaceful and not school! I laid back and just watched the fluffy white clouds move by, as time seemed to stop altogether.
Suddenly, there was the loud clanging of the school bell across the road, announcing that the noon hour had ended and it was time for all the students to come in to start the afternoon class session.
I just sat there and watched the clouds, and the other kids as they made their way back into the school. After about five minutes, the teacher came out looked around, finally saw me sitting up on top of the sandstone cliff, and shouted for me to come down and back into the school. I waved back, and said OK.
Reluctantly, I climbed down from the cliff and hill, and went into the building. Very. reluctantly.
But now, I knew how to bring relief to my troubled spirit, how to get away from this place, this new school I didn’t want to be at, even if to feel relief for only a little while.
The next day at noon, away I went again, back to the same beautiful place. Sitting high up on the cliff, in the warm sunshine, watching the clouds float by, feeling the spring wind move through the pine trees, floating their fragrant scent through the air all around me.
And then, clang – clang – clang, and it was over. Followed by another yell from the teacher.
Damn! This sucked!
After this same scenario was played out during the remaining three days of the week, Friday afternoon, the teacher made it very clear to me that he did not want to see me sitting up on that cliff during noon hour any more.
Henh – henh- henh, …….OOOOOOOOOO-K.
The following Monday during early the noon hour, found me playing playing out in right field during ‘work-up’ on the softball field. Deep in right field.
When the next batter hit the next pitch deep into left field, and all other eyes focused on the action there, I quietly and quickly slipped over the right field fence and into the tall weeds and brush growing there, and headed swiftly towards the hills, across the gravel road from that patch of brush.
This time, I didn’t stop on the first hill, to sit and just enjoy being there. I kept walking and climbing, and was soon a good half mile from the school yard, and from the ringing bell that I could only faintly hear, announcing the end of noon hour.
Well, it all made perfect sense to me then, after all, my teacher had told me NOT to be sitting up on that sandstone cliff across from the school anymore,….and, well, I wasn’t.
I went on to spend the rest of the afternoon then exploring the hills where I had ‘escaped’ to, and eventually made my way out to the highway, and caught a ride back to my little hamlet where my home was.
When I walked into the house, apparently, the teacher had stopped to talk with my father on his way home from school that afternoon, as my father said, “Come one, let’s go for a little walk; we’re going to have a little talk, you and I.”
Well, on that little walk, my father made it abundantly clear that my days of running away from school were over. End of discussion. OK, him I will listen to.
That was the last time I ran away from school, for any reason. However, it was only the beginning of my life-long adventure with the out-of-doors, and my love for it.
Not only did I come to love my summer morning fishing experiences, but as I grew older, and was allowed to carry a .22 rifle and other firearms in the woods by myself, at every opportunity, I came to explore and come to know so much of the hills and valleys and rivers near my home.
Eventually, I came to spend more time ‘out there’ than at home.
Out there, became my home.