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Giving thanks to outdoor companions and opportunities

With the spirit of thanksgiving blowing across the landscape this week, pushed by a cold Canadian wind, I was reminded recently of something I have been truly thankful for over many years, though it’s not something I think about in detail too often.

My recollections began when talking with a hunter who was having his deer checked at the DNR customer service center in Marquette on the opening day of the firearm deer hunting season.

In our small talk about the relatively long distance he dragged his deer out of the woods, and a fisher that he had seen early that morning, the gentleman, who was a few years older than I am, mentioned that one of his deer-hunting buddies had moved to another state and another had died.

“It’s just not the same anymore,” he said.

Later that day, I saw a dad come into the Marquette DNR office to purchase a hunting license with his pre-adolescent son.

I was still thinking about the man I had spoken to earlier and what he had said when they arrived. Watching them, I noticed their body language indicating the friendly and comfortable bond they had between them.

I was happy to see this. It reminded me of the first fishing and “partridge” hunting partners in my life – my mom and dad.

Since I was about 3 years old, my parents took me and my sister out fishing for brook trout and hunting for ruffed grouse, though at this stage in our young lives, we didn’t do any real fishing or hunting.

I remember seeing a brook trout for the first time and being amazed with the blue and red speckles, the slimy coating on the slick, dark skin and the big fisheyes that stared back at me.

I also recall the smell the fish left on my hands when I was able to hold one before it dropped to the ground and flopped around, getting itself breaded in dirt.

When it came to hunting, Marcia and I would sit in the back seat of the car going along for the ride on those autumn grouse hunts.

My parents had the old, plastic hunting license holders, safety pinned to their backs to make the tag numbers visible from a distance.

When my dad was ready to blast the shotgun, my mom would tell us to cover our ears. Later, back at home, when my mom would clean the birds they’d shot, she would point out the tiny lead pellets visible through the flesh of the grouse before she dug them out.

My dad showed us how to pull on a tendon of a grouse leg to make the foot curl and contract. We would also fan the tails of the birds and like a lot of kids, I brought partridge tails to school for show and tell.

My brother wasn’t born yet.

We are four years apart. We spent a good part of what little childhood we had together often fishing before a different kind of wind blew him to Canada when I was 13 and he was 9.

My mom and dad divorced, and she moved north taking my brother and two sisters with her. I saw them all infrequently after that for many years.

I also moved out west and lost opportunities I had fishing with my dad.

I came home after a decade or so and picked up fishing with my dad and brother when the opportunities presented themselves, but it wasn’t like it was when I was much younger.

Having gotten older now, there were many new responsibilities, working, earning, providing two boys of my own, a divorce and a new wife.

When my kids would come to visit in the summertime, we had some great times fishing together, but it never lasted as long as I wished it would have.

Today, it’s been 15 years since my dad died. My mom is 88 and doesn’t fish any more, and my kids live out of state, about 1,200 miles away.

I have two grandkids, but I haven’t had the chance to fish with either of them yet, though I have put together little tackle boxes and fishing poles for them.

The last time I got to fish with my boys was a couple of years ago. My brother and I are spending the holiday together and we are fishing this week, hoping for steelhead.

Growing up, I had a neighbor friend who was my age. We fished together several times. He was killed in a car crash when we were teenagers. I used to fish with another buddy before he sold his house and moved away for a new job.

Meanwhile, I have a good friend who I worked with for more than 20 years. He and I have fished for many years together and it’s been great. He’s retired and is more readily available weekdays, when I am usually working, but we still make it work.

We both grew up chasing brook trout on little creeks and we still love that kind of fishing the best.

My lovely wife gets out fishing with me occasionally, but she’s awfully busy with all kinds of things. I used to take my stepdaughters trout fishing before they became interested in Tik Tok, boy bands and now, co-ed college life.

I still spend a lot of fishing time on my own, which does provide a quiet and fulfilling experience all its own. It’s an entirely different dynamic fishing by myself and I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything.

However, I wouldn’t trade any of my past or present fishing partners for anything either. I am thankful for all these opportunities and experiences I’ve had.

The older I get, I am learning to appreciate these times even more, knowing that most of them will never return.

It’s also important to live in the now and make hay while the sun shines and all that jazz. I need to make more time to get out to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do before I’m too old or dead to do them.

It’s sad that I can’t pinpoint in my mind the last time I fished with my dad. I know it was at least a couple years before he died. It might have been when we were fishing at a river on a late summer day.

We were only at the place for less than 15 minutes before I heard a big splash downstream. My dad had lost his footing and went into the river.

I helped him up and out and gave him one of my dry shirts from inside my truck.

The world spins so fast these days, it’s hard for me to hold on tight enough sometimes. One thing I’ve learned on this merry-go-round is that people jump off and can be gone in the blink of an eye before you even get to say so long.

People also lose mobility or get sick or lose interest in the passions they once held.

All these things are more reasons to take advantage of the time remaining, however long that is.

Rain doesn’t stop me from fishing or otherwise getting outdoors. Cold or snow doesn’t freeze my urge to be out there in the woods – camping, hiking, stargazing and more.

I find that about the only thing I need to overcome, the only thing that really holds me back, is me getting out of my own way. Instead of thinking about how tired I might be, I need to get outside to do something. I can sleep when I’m dead.

I’m glad I happened to bump into the deer hunter at the check station. His few words describing his own circumstances set me on my own journey of re-discovery.

I found it valuable to take stock of the times I’ve had with great people in my life, while being more acutely aware of the passage of time and the fewer opportunities become the older we get.

My brother reads this column. So does my wife. I hope they think about these things on their own terms after they read it. Selfishly, I hope it makes them want to spend more time with me.

I also need to try to be flexible enough to take myself away from a seemingly endless number of interests and pursuits to be available to them too.

I regret any chances to share the outdoors with any of my outdoors partners that I may have missed in the past.

Tomorrow is another day, but there’s still today too.

I’m going to be outside today, even if it’s only for half an hour – counting my blessings and being present and thankful.

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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