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Outdoors North: A rainy day driving down that old country road

As I drove down the winding county road, the dark skies above were threatening rain.

Within a few miles, I had turned on the windshield wipers to splash away gently falling raindrops.

There were reports this might turn to thunderstorms, but I didn’t mind. I was determined to out to the woods, come hell or high water.

My brother, who was sitting next to me in the vehicle, didn’t share my sentiment.

He was all for the idea of trying to catch a few trout here in the waning hours of the day but was less inclined to do so in a downpour, much less a thunderstorm.

He’s a handful of years younger than I am. Over our lives together, we have each borne the encumbrances of our places in the family lineage – he the younger brother and me the oldest child – and spending most of our lives apart.

My folks split up when I was 13 and my brother was 9. My mom moved to Canada with three of her four children. I was old enough in the eyes of the law to decide to stay behind in Michigan with my dad.

And so, I did.

Now, nearly a half-century later, we can still see cracks in the pavement that lead back to those summery days of the early 1970s when dreams, nightmares and reality collided with the force of tornadic winds.

Having spent the late afternoon mowing the lawn at my place, we were now trying to sneak in a couple hours of fishing. As we headed down the rain-slicked roadway, we spent the time talking, catching up.

The rain had stopped falling.

I told him about a big brook trout I knew about that has been hiding in a hole along the edge of a stream for at least the past three years. I told him I would give him the first casts toward hooking this river monster.

But when we reached the riverbank, we saw that the water level was high, swollen by heavy rainfall the night and day before.

The current was much stronger than it usually is. We both made casts toward the hole, but neither of us was able to coax the trout out of its hiding place to bite.

We kept moving on farther down a dirt road, looking for smaller creeks to fish where the water level was likely to be lower.

After a few miles, we got out of the vehicle and sloshed through mud puddles that covered an informal angler’s muddy trail through the woods toward the river.

The water was high here too, but the fish were more inclined to bite.

Jimmy hooked into a nice trout that strained his line and made the drag on his reel cough and squeal a bit.

Within a few seconds, he had landed the fish.

By the time we had moved to a couple more places, I had two fish in my creel and my brother the one.

We had less than two hours to fish as the nighttime descended on the scene. The temperature dropped as the day’s shadows lengthened, but that didn’t deter clouds of mosquitoes and other biting insects from finding us fishing along the creek.

Whether it’s mind over matter, or an actual tolerance built up over the years or something else, being bitten by deer flies, mosquitoes and other insects doesn’t bother me much, except for in extreme conditions.

I rarely wear mosquito repellent. Unfortunately, my brother doesn’t have the same tolerance for biting insects. He had put some bug spray on before we left the house, but it now was failing him.

“I should have brought it with me,” he said.

“I thought you put it on before,” I replied.

“I did, but I didn’t know they were going to eat it like it was candy,” he said.

Eventually, word must have circulated through the bug world that there was a soft target of warm blood on the river. The mosquitoes found Jimmy and were tormenting him as he tried to tie fishing knots or untangle his line.

I could feel and hear his frustration growing as I stood downstream a hole or two away. It reminded me of when I used to fish with my dad. He also struggled with the bugs and inopportune timing of line, reel and rod foul-ups.

But the bugs weren’t going to keep Jimmy from fishing.

When we decided to quit, I was downstream a good bit. I hollered up to him and asked whether he was still fishing. He said he was done.

I asked whether he wanted to find his way down to me to keep fishing, but I found out later the increasingly loud songs of hundreds of male spring peeper frogs around us had drowned out my voice.

During the evening, we did get into several minutes of rather intense feeding by the trout, which allowed us to end up with a total of eight keeper trout, just two fish short of the daily limit.

Not bad at all. We had certainly caught enough for a meal.

It was dark enough to use the headlights when we headed for home down a two-track dirt road. Occasionally, we came upon large puddles that covered whole sections of the road.

We continued our conversation.

I asked him why he had stopped playing his acoustic guitar, how long he and his live-in girlfriend had been together now and how his plans were shaping up to retire in a few years and move back to America.

It seems like not only with brothers, but anyone you love and care about, there’s always room for misunderstandings to occur.

Over the years, me and Jimmy have had our share, but they haven’t been able to consume us or leave divides between us too wide to cross.

As Jimmy’s older brother, I’d like to see him pay a little bit more attention to the ticking of life’s big clock and move faster toward doing the things he’s always wanted to accomplish before time runs out.

I want him to find an enduring sense of happiness, accomplishment and satisfaction for who he is and the things he has done or will do. I don’t want setbacks or barriers to stop him. I don’t want him to get bogged down in the details or the mud and the weeds.

I love him and I want the best for him.

We turned off the road to the right and rolled on through the dark woods, over a country bridge. This new road wound through relatively wet woodlands before climbing to higher terrain.

Through the driver’s side window, I heard the calling of a whip-poor-will and I stomped on the brakes. I rolled down the window so my brother could hear the sound coming from just up the hillside.

Though these birds do live in the Ontario woodlands where my brother lives, it is at the northernmost extent of their range. I suspected he might never have heard one before.

We kept driving. A few miles down the road, I heard another whip-poor-will, this one even closer to the road. It was heavenly.

Just about the time I wondered what could make this occasion better, a common nighthawk appeared in the headlights beam, flying down the roadway chasing bugs in front of us.

Nighthawks, and other birds of the nightjar family, including whip-poor-wills are among my favorites. Easily seen white patches on the wings of this bird helped in its identification.

After just a moment or two, it flapped out of the range of the headlights to the left and was gone from our view. Absolutely magnificent!

I thought about a beautiful poem about whip-poor-wills I read recently written by a friend of mine – a true artist.

I also thought about a note I received recently from a gentleman inquiring about the conservation status of whip-poor-wills as his encounters with the familiar name-saying calls of the birds had seemed scant in recent years.

Populations of whip-poor-wills have declined due to loss of deciduous forest habitat for development and agriculture. Pesticides and collisions with passing automobiles have also had effects on these birds.

We were fortunate enough to hear two in one night. Wow!

According to a website posting by the American Bird Conservancy, “one New England legend says the whip-poor-will can sense a person’s soul departing and capture it as it leaves.

“Native American lore considered the singing of these birds a death omen.”

With night fully enveloping us now, we passed by the still waters of an inland lake. Within a few miles we had made it back to the blacktop, the winding road laid out before us, punctuated occasionally by sets of approaching headlights.

I hope there will be many more days and nights like these in the years ahead for me and Jimmy, with a lot of time left for sharing and caring.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.

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