And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Turning Thoughts to Spring Fishing, During the Coldest Time of Year

Brrr.  It is frigid outside.  It's the dead of winter now -- the end of January, and it's the coldest part of the season.  The days aren't noticeably longer yet; it's still dark when I get home from work.  Sitting by the warm fireplace with my laptop or a good book is very satisfying right now....  And going out in my kayak is about as appealing to me as skinny dipping in the 33 degree lake.

Having said that, as I look outside at the cold, gray and brown landscape of my yard, the only semblance of color right now comes from the upside-down hulls of my kayaks stacked on top of each other.  There they will wait for me until Springtime.  Late March, I suspect, but no later than early April.  Then, I will hit the river again.  I'm already looking forward to it....

I have often said there is no place more beautiful than my neighborhood in the Spring.  As early as February, the first harbinger of Spring pops up, the beautiful purple crocus.  So small, it would probably go unnoticed any other time of year, but because it is the first sign, the Herald of Springtime, you happily give it your attention -- and deservedly so.  Then the millions of daffodils, followed by thousands of tulips arise and announce that winter is finally over.  The numerous dogwoods and countless azaleas are the fireworks display that declares Spring is officially in full bloom -- literally.  The colors around our neighborhood are as bright and limitless as God's imagination.
Which is more beautiful in early April... the Riverview section of Suffolk, or the Augusta National  Golf Course in Augusta, GA, where the Master's Tournament is played.  To me, it's no contest, Riverview wins.
And you don't have to worry about sandtraps in Riverview....
The fragrant smell of jasmine fills the air, as do the blossoms from our Japanese cherry and pear trees.  And don't forget our gardenias, which smell better than any ladies perfume!  Lawns turn green, and other flowering trees, including tulip trees and magnolias demand your notice, too.  Windows can get cracked open again, allowing your house to breathe fresh air, since the mosquitoes and humidity have not yet started suffocating us.  The male goldfinches turn bright yellow again, and the bluebirds and hummingbirds return.  Cardinals, which never left, proudly fight for their territories again, and their voices, as well as those of every other songbird, fill the air.  Spring is magical.
The symbols of Virginia (and North Carolina, too), the cardinal and the dogwood tree, thrive in Riverview and all over this region.
 And the fishing picks back up again, too, as nature awakens from its long slumber.  So I hose off my kayak, clean it out, and hit the river again....

But not the lower, wider part of the river that I hit from the Summertime on.  No, Spring is the time of year I hit the upper Nansemond, closer to downtown Suffolk, and do some freshwater fishing.  Late winter and spring bring a fair amount of rain to our region, so the lakes are high, and the concrete dams that hold them overflow, bringing lots of cool, fresh water to the upper river, giving new life to its waters.

We have a small marina by the nice, new hotel on the river, and I launch my kayak there.  Then it's about a 3/4 mile paddle to where I have most of my success by the waterfall of the overflowing dam.  But it took a while for me to figure out how to fish there.

Years ago, when I first started  kayak fishing the upper Nansemond, I had heard stories of how striped bass were there, and was anxious to catch one there.  As I paddled around the river, occasionally large fish with light coloring would surface near me, and I assumed they were stripers.  So it was doubly frustrating when no matter what type of lure or jig I threw at them, I never got the first hit.  I even called an old acquaintance who knows these waters intimately because he grew up here, and asked what he had used to catch the stripers back in his day.  Black spinner baits in the black water, he suggested.  I bought a few different kinds, and had no luck with any of them.

Finally one late afternoon, one of the large pale fish rose and surfaced right next to my kayak.  I was able to see its spotted and striped back and large tail.  I saw its head.  It was a longnose gar, not a rockfish.  I do know that there are still a few stripers in the river -- as there are in the lake that feeds it behind my house -- but the fish I had been targeting were not them.  I had to completely change tactics.  If stripers weren't plentiful, then I had to find out what was.

This was early on in my kayaking days, and I was learning a lot every time I went out.  Finally one day, I decided to use some of the same scented soft-plastic jigs I had had success with in the ocean.  I got a hit, and at last succeeded in bringing in my first fish from the Nansemond -- a nice small blue catfish.  I kept that one, took it home and fried it up that night!  Success, at last, tasted so good!
The only time I kept a catfish for myself from the river, was the first one i caught there several years ago.  Since then, while I keep them all (especially the blue cats, which are an invasive species) I always give them away.
The scented plastics seemed to be the trick.  I caught blue cats and bullheads fairly regularly from that point forward, and (since I'm not a big fan of skinning catfish) always found somebody fishing the riverbank somewhere along my trek, who was grateful for the free meal.

Then there was the time I thought I was snagged, and then my line took off.  For the next 10 minutes I was being dragged around the cove I was fishing by a large fish.  Was it a big striper?  No, it wasn't moving fast enough.  It could only be one thing - one of the longnose gar.  Indeed when it surfaced, I could see it was.  Of course landing a fish almost half the length of my kayak presented a problem.  Especially one with teeth.  I knew there was no way to net a fish well over three feet long, so when it finally tired of towing me around the cove, I pulled it next to me in the kayak.  It truly was almost half the length of my 8 1/2 foot kayak.  I broke the line, and thanked the fish for a unique experience.  It swam back down into the dark brown water with a flick of its foot wide tail.
While they don't swim as fast as other gamefish, the sheer size of a longnose gar makes catching one a fun experience -- especially in a kayak only twice as big as the fish....

I was thrilled when another day, I finally caught a nice little large mouth bass.  It wasn't huge, but it was "legal" (meaning over 12 inches.)  But I never keep large mouth -- don't like the flavor of their meat, and they're too valuable as a game species.   So after a quick photo, I threw it back to grow bigger.
 A nice little 1 1/2 pound largemouth was the first bass I caught
I got Parke out there one day, and as we both were fishing in our kayaks, suddenly I had a huge strike unlike any I had encountered out there so far.  I could tell by its strength and quickness it was neither a catfish nor a bass.  And it moved too quick to be a gar.  The next thing I knew I was going on a nice, fast Nantucket sleigh ride.  Whatever it was, it was fun!  Parke started watching me, and I felt like I had lassoed a wild bull from a skateboard.  My line zigged and then zagged, as the fish below the surface tried everything it could to dislodge the hook -- or me.

It screamed some line away from me, and then it turned and started running right at me.  I reeled quickly so that it wouldn't have the slack to spit the hook.  Then, it started swimming from side to side under my kayak, as if it was trying to tip me.  Parke was laughing at everything going on, and yelled some encouragement.

"Whatever it is, you better not lose it.  I want to see what it is!"

"So do I," I replied, holding the rod high and turning it to follow the beast, "So do I."

After several minutes of the river rodeo, the fish finally started to tire and came to the surface.  It had a head like a trout, but its mouth was full of extremely sharp teeth.  Its body was brown, and it had a spot on its tail.  Also, its tail was lobed, like a lungfish.  It still wasn't ready to give up the fight, however, and went on one more run.

"Don't lose it now," Parke yelled.  "You've worked too hard to not have it count as a catch."

Aren't sons great for their encouragement sometimes....

Well, fortunately, the line didn't break, and the hook didn't pop loose, and finally I was able to fit most of the exhausted fish in my net.  I still had no idea what it was, but I would at least be able to identify it, once I got home and looked it up on the computer.

Parke had parked his kayak on a small dock in the middle of where we were fishing, and so I after I unhooked the fish, he asked to see it.  I handed it to him and took a picture.  We measured it.  Whatever it was, it was 28 inches long, and then we released it.  It was none the worse for wear, even after having spent a few minutes out of water.  (It took a while to get it out of my net, unhook it -- without getting bitten -- and then measuring and admiring it between the two of us.)
When I took this picture of Parke, neither one of us knew what it was.  It was definitely unusual, as I had never seen -- let alone caught -- one before.  We went online and found out it was a bowfin.  An aggressive, prehistoric looking fish that (like a gar) has the ability to breathe air, when the water around it is stagnant and lacks oxygen.  That explains how it was so alive and didn't need any resuscitating or reviving when we released it back in the water.
Later, when we got home, we went online and realized it was a male bowfin.  (The males have the spot on the tail -- kind of like a puppy drum.  In fact, I have since caught a few more, and seen the spot flash on its tail as I fight the fish, and for a moment wondered if I might have a puppy drum.  No such luck in the upper Nansemond.)
With a head like a trout, teeth like a bluefish, a spot like a puppy drum, a lobed tail like a lungfish, and the attitude of an angry piranha, the bowfin is a very unusual looking fish.  Unlike any other fish in the area.  No, it is not a dreaded, invasive snakehead fish.  The bowfin is a native of Virginia.  It fights like the devil and doesn't tire easily.

After the adventure of having caught my first bowfin, I wasn't surprised to learn there are anglers who target these fish, and they even have their own website --  While they are no good for eating, the thrill of catching one of these beasts made it always fun to think the next fish I catch may be another one of these unique fish.

Another unusual (at least for me) fish I caught was what I thought at first was another largemouth bass.  Only later, when looking at it again, did I realize that its mouth was smaller, and it was a little paler.  It was a spotted bass.  They are a little rarer in this area than the more popular largemouth.  And they don't get as big, but once again, had I chosen to keep it, it was over 12 inches.  I'm happy to say that it is still swimming around in the little cove I caught it.  I just stringered it until I could get a photo of it.
This was the first spotted bass I ever caught... not just in a kayak, but ever.  It was fun, and I look forward to the next one of them, too.
That day was a good spring day of fishing.  In addition to the spotted bass, I caught another bowfin (though not as big as the first), and another nice 2 -3 pound blue cat.  (He went to an elderly black man fishing for carp along the river bank.)

Two years ago, I went out in early April, and one of my first casts my line took off again.  I could tell it wasn't a bowfin, but if it wasn't, then it had to be a nice fish, whatever it was.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, I had a fat, 25 inch blue cat on my stringer.  Someone on the shore would be very happy.  I took a photo, and kept fishing.
My first fish of 2009 was a nice fat 25" blue catfish.  It was the biggest one I had caught there.  But it wouldn't be the biggest one caught there for long....  Randy would have a very unique experience, himself, the next time....
I caught another blue cat that wasn't as big, maybe 18 inches, and then started paddling back to the dock, looking for someone who may be fishing along the bank.  I saw a couple of young boys fishing with cane poles, and paddled towards them.

"Have you guys had any luck?" I inquired, staying away from where their lines were.

"No sir," one of them responded.  "And we told our Mama we were going to bring home dinner."  The other boy was admiring my kayak.

"You catch fish in that thing?" The younger one asked, obviously intrigued with the idea of not being restricted to the shore.

"I do."

"Dja have any luck?"

"I did."  I picked up my stringer from the water behind me.  Their eyes lit up as they admired the two catfish.

"I've got these two fish, but I don't have time to clean them as I already have dinner plans."  I looked at them, as their eyes lit up.  "Would you guys like them?"

"Are you serious, mister?

I nodded.

"Yessir!"  They both replied. 

I unhooked my stringer from the kayak, and handed it over to the older boy who had walked over to the edge of the shore.  He then carried it over to his bucket and very deftly unhooked the two cats, letting them fall into his big yellow 5-gallon bucket.  He handed me back the stringer and they thanked me again.

The pressure was now off them.  Whether or not they caught anything else the rest of the day, they had dinner for their mother, just as they had promised.  I wished them luck and I paddled away with a smile on my face.  My good deed for the day was done....

That week I told Randy about the big blue cat, and told him I was going that Saturday.  He decided to join me.  We checked the tides (upriver is still affected by the tides, too), and figured out when was best.  Late morning was the time that day.

Randy and I launched, and during our paddle to the spot, I told him about the fish in that area.  Bowfin, bass, blue cats, bullheads, and gar, and how they each fought.  When we finally reached the cove, it didn't take long before Randy hooked up with a large fish.  It fought hard and was dragging him around to where he thought it was a bowfin as I had described it; but it turned out to be even better.  What we finally netted was a nice 28 inch blue catfish.  It was quite impressive.

As I had the stringer, I told Randy I'd take the fish, and I double hooked it to my stringer.  It started dragging me around and doing what I call the "alligator roll" -- spinning around quickly in an effort to break off the chain.  It finally tired, though, and let me get back to kayaking and fishing on my own.  But every now and then, I felt a jerk as it did it again.  Or so I thought....

Then I felt one more tug stronger than I had felt before.  I looked back at the stringer and my worst fear was confirmed -- the fish was gone.  I called over to Randy who was 50 yards away, and I apologized for losing his fish -- especially because we hadn't even gotten a picture of it yet.  I was devastated.  So was he.  We kept on fishing, but we were both bumming out bigtime! 

Then we saw something moving in the waterfall ahead of us.  We paddled closer to look, and saw something I still find hard to believe....  A large pair of pincers was coming out of the water with a large fish in its mouth.  It was a monster gar, and it had a large catfish in its mouth.

"THAT'S MY CATFISH!"  Randy screamed.  We both looked and started laughing.

"He took that fish right off your stringer!"  He exclaimed.  "You didn't know you were trolling with my fish, and that gar just came up and stripped you of it!"

And now the large gar was having a heck of a time trying to get such a large fish down its gullet.

"Well, that would explain why I felt such a strong tug that last time before the cat disappeared.  After all, I did have it double hooked."  I felt a little better knowing that I hadn't necessarily done anything wrong.  It was just one of those fluky things....

"Look at it this way," I said, trying to make the best of an unfortunate situation, "If you had kept that fish, you would have had a nice photo and a good meal.  But this way, we have one HECK of a story!"

He liked that angle.

Where we fish on the upper Nansemond, I will often see a couple of ospreys that nest nearby and occasionally a bald eagle will cruise high above (their nest is several miles away), and this day was no exception.  But then, to complete the weirdness of the day, we looked up and saw a large red tail hawk flying over us -- with what Randy to this day swears was a kitten in its talons.  I couldn't confirm what it was, but I've certainly heard enough stories of hawks stealing small pets that were left outside alone.  (That's why one of our little Yorkie's nicknames is "Hawkbait").  So why not....
While I don't profess to be a big cat lover... apparently this guy was.  Just in a different way than most would qualify....

"This is definitely a weird day of us seeing bizarre animals killing and eating others in unusual ways!"  Randy declared.  And he was right.

We caught a couple of smaller cats and gave them away before we departed.  We didn't need to take home any fish....  We had enough stories to entertain for a while.  Then when summer began, we switched to the lower Nansemond and enjoyed the best puppy drum season ever.

Last spring I was contacted by the local newspaper and they asked to do a story on me that I mentioned in my first and third blog post.  The article was to be in their new "Suffolk Living" magazine, but it didn't run until the Autumn issue.  The photos and story, however, were written in the spring.  Parke went with me that morning, and while the weather was cold and windy (the photos don't show it never got out of the 40's that day, thanks to a cold front that came the night before) we were still able to catch a couple of bullheads for the article.  (At least I was....  Take that, Parke!  Ha!)

SIDENOTE:  Never fish right after a cold front, if you can help it.  The fishing turns off for a few days.  Because the photographer had already been arranged, however, we went anyway, because the sun was right.

It was funny that the professional photographer who accompanied us had never been in a kayak before.  I was able to borrow a couple kayaks from a good friend, so he could get some good shots for the article.  He was a little bit nervous about tipping over with all his equipment in the kayak -- especially getting into the plastic boat, but I taught him the easy way to enter and exit, and he was fine.  He actually enjoyed the adventure, and said he would do it again.  He also took some excellent shots - most of which didn't make the article.  But he gave me a DVD of them all, so we were thrilled with him and his photos.

The header at the top of my blog is one he took of me fishing by the dam, as is the smaller one on the upper right above the "blog archive".  Here are a few more of my favorites.
Parke and I were fishing the river behind my father-in-law's house.  That's his gazebo up the hill above my rod.  It was early morning -- too early for Parke, as he was barely awake, and didn't catch anything that day.
I like this shot of Parke getting ready to cast right by the dock where a few years earlier, he held our first bowfin.
 A nice shot of Parke putting a new jig on his line
Catching one of the two small bullhead catfish
Heading back to the marina's dock after a cool morning of fishing.
Some of the basic equipment of kayak fishing.... artfully photographed.
There have certainly been enough times when Parke has outfished me, but this morning I outfished him... even if all I caught was a couple of bullhead catfish.  Having said that, the times I get to fish with him, Sheldon or Clayton, are all times that I cherish -- regardless of whether any of us catch any fish....  Hey, when did Parke get taller than me???
I loved the DVD, and got a kick out of the article when it was published, even if they got a few minor details wrong.  (I guess it had been too long from when they interviewed me to when the dude actually wrote the article.)  But the highlight of my Christmas was when several friends all got together, and had a copy of the article matted and framed.  It was a complete surprise, and made my day when they presented it to me.  It now hangs above the fireplace in our Rec Room. 
A wonderful Christmas present from many good friends was a highlight of the Season for me.
So now, whenever I sit by the fire with my pipe and my laptop or a book, (it's the one place I can smoke in my house -- but only pipes, no cigars) I can glance up above the fireplace and be reminded of the activity I love doing outside on the water ... when it's warmer.

Thankfully I have plenty of firewood.

Only about two more months to go....

Until next time,

Fish On!


Monday, January 10, 2011

The Origin of "Captain Tipsy", and How I Came to Appreciate Proper Body Temperature

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  The following story is being told as a warning to others.  With a little "tongue-in-cheek" humor along the way, it is a lesson in what NOT to do.  As such, I have highlighted in red every stupid thing that could have avoided this situation from ever happening, or shouldn't be done at all.  Consider it a "Cautionary Tale" that, because it turned out okay, is now kind of funny.  But ever since this happened, there isn't a mid-January weekend where I don't stop, pause and remember what might have been.  And there was actually something very good that came out of it the following year....

We are now in the middle of January, with the NFL Playoffs in full swing (I like these weekends better than SuperBowl Weekend) and traditionally, the coldest part of winter is upon us.  We have had a bunch of snow already, and more is expected this week.  After several very mild winters, we are having one of the coldest I remember in a while.  So much for global warming....

We have had several weeks of bitterly cold (for this region) weather, and there has been ice on some of the local ponds and lakes.  It is exactly like it was in January 2004.  Why is that significant?  Because that's when this story occurred....

Hurricane Isabel hit us hard in mid-September 2003.  While it wasn't even a Category 2 level storm when it made landfall, it still did its share of damage around Hampton Roads and all of Virginia.  Pine trees were snapped in half and hardwoods were knocked down by the winds all over the area, and we went without any electric power or hot water for 10 days.

There were fortunately no fatalities around here, just a lot of property damage from the winds and flooding from the storm surge; but it was a very interesting couple of weeks, to say the least....  Believe it or not, I even have some fond memories of that period.  Perhaps that will be a blog post for another day.  But it is important to understand that even long after Isabel was gone, the clean up from that hurricane occurred for months....
This satellite image shows how the eye of Isabel came directly over Suffolk.  For 10 electricity-free days we had community dinners, no t.v. and candlelit evenings, as everyone shared their foods from their freezers before it all went bad.  And we had firewood from fallen trees for years.
Fast forward to mid-January 2004.  A friend of ours, Bob, who lives out in the country, called up several of our friends (Mike and Randy among them) and me to see if we could help clear out his back yard of some of the larger debris and fallen trees still left over from Isabel that he hadn't been able to handle alone.  We were all happy to help.

Early Saturday morning, 1/17/04, dressed for heavy activity outdoors, I drove over to Bob's, and along with all the other guys, spent several hours hauling fallen trees, cutting wood, and stacking it for future firewood towards the back and side of his backyard.  (As a sidenote, by his invitation I went over to his house a few weeks ago, and got a few last logs for myself.  It's a little dry with a little bit of rot, but still burns okay.)

When we had finished, we walked over to the lake behind his house (a different lake than the one in our neighborhood) and admired how a thin sheet of ice had formed just about all the way across the lake.  It was quite unusual for around here, and quite beautiful, too.  Bob got a large stick and threw it out on the lake to see what would happen, and the stick broke through the ice making a slushy splash.  The next thing we knew, his dog jumped from the shore where we were standing into the lake, breaking through the ice, himself.  He then proceeded to play icebreaker with his front paws, swimming all the way over to the stick, where he picked it up with his mouth and then returned to the shore through the path he had just carved.  We all laughed and admired the dog's heartiness -- and were thankful that wasn't us.  (Play foreboding music of impending doom, here.... "Dun dun dun dun!".)

As we walked back to our cars, I asked Mike if he wanted to help me with a task.*

*Why is this simple sentence in red?  Because I should have known from a previous experience with Mike, that mixing him and watercraft, with a fishing task, was a recipe for disaster.

TANGENT ALERT:  Several years earlier, Mike had gotten a pleasure boat, a Bayliner.  A nice boat if you were on the river, but nothing I would recommend in rough water, or with more than four people if you want to fish.  To make a long story short, Mike brought his boat down to the OBX for a Boys' Weekend one year, and all of us (I believe there were eight) got on the boat.  (I believe there were eight, because that's how many got off the boat when we were done.  And if we lost anybody, we haven't missed him, yet.)  We had enough life preservers, so that wasn't an issue, but it was just too crowded to do any effective fishing.  The waters of the sound were rather rough that afternoon, and poor Jeff D. and I (who got stuck sitting on the bow of the boat) would have been dryer had we just jumped in the water.  I, at least, had some waterproof gear on.  Jeff did not.  He just laughed, maniacally, the whole time he was on the bow next to me.  I worry about that boy....

We tried fishing the sound for about two hours, with no luck.  With Ted on board, Mike had the potential for a mutiny for his captain's hat, as he struggled to maintain control of both the boat and his rowdy, wet crew.  We traversed the waters under the bridge back and forth, trolling fake eels and casting towards the pilings.  It was a complete waste of time, and numerous times waves splashed over the bow all over us and every one in the back, as well.  How we didn't capsize, I don't know.  But by the time we finally made it back to the marina, we were all wet, cold and miserable -- but alive.  We vowed that never again would we try that!  Ironically, we saw other boats catching fish, just not us that day.  What else was new.... 

Then to make matters worse for Mike, as we were towing the boat back to the cottage, a gust of wind hit his boat's bimini, blowing it off the boat and onto the bridge as we were crossing it.  Ted and I stopped (we were following him) and fortunately were able to get it before it had a chance to blow over the bridge and into the sound below us.  It just wasn't a good day for us to go fishing with Mike on his boat.  Or maybe it was just Mike....  That's why I have the asterisk....  He wasn't named Captain Tipsy for this adventure.  But it was maybe the beginning....

Back to the story now.  After we had taken down our Christmas tree two weeks earlier, I had saved it, instead of putting it by the curb for recycling.  I had also gotten one of our neighbor's Christmas trees.  I also had a couple of concrete construction cinder blocks and some rope.  Why?  I told Mike I wanted to take the trees out into the lake, and sink them in a deep section, so that come late March or early April we could go to that spot (which we would have marked) and fish for crappie.

Crappie are a large, broad panfish that gather in big schools and love deep cover.  Where ever you catch one, you will catch a bunch.  The trees would sink to the bottom of the lake (thanks to the cinder blocks tied to them) creating a nice habitat for crappie to school in.  Then, in the early Spring, when the crappie are spawning, you just get some minnows or minnow-like jigs, and drop them on top of the sunken Christmas tree habitat.  It's a great way to catch a dozen fish or more.  And crappie are delicious.  Other than trout, they are really the only freshwater fish I keep when I catch them.  (I'll keep catfish too, but I give them away to anyone who wants them.)

The white crappie is delicious, even if it has a funny name.  I promise it is not a crappy fish to catch or eat.
The black crappie is just a little darker, with mottled markings (not vague stripes) but still every bit as delicious.  Both species will gather in big schools, and feed voraciously when they are spawning in early Spring.
Always willing to lend a helping hand, especially when it comes to anything to do with fishing, Mike agreed to assist me with my task.  He followed me back to my house in his pickup truck.  Then we loaded our canoe (actually, it's Parke's), two paddles, the two trees, the blocks, and some rope into the bed of the truck.  I also loaded a few beers and one life preserver (not two).  We then got in the truck and drove around the corner to the point of the lake.  I noticed that the air temperature was now up to about 38 degrees.  It was getting balmy!

Because our lake is deeper and wider than the one by Bob, there was no ice on it yet, so we would be able to canoe out into the lake without having to play icebreaker.  The water temperature, however, wasn't much above freezing.  Mike and I were both still wearing our heavy outdoor gear and workboots, but we had no gloves or hat on, as there was no wind, and we needed our fingers nimble to paddle and tie the blocks to the trees.  I looked behind the truck, and Parke was coming up to us on his new electric scooter.  He wanted to watch us, and maybe learn something.  (He would, alright, just not what we thought he would.)

We unloaded the canoe and put it at the shore of the lake.  We then got two sections of the rope, and tied one to the base of each tree.  Next we took the other end of each rope and tied it to the back of the canoe.  Then we put the two cinder blocks into the middle of the canoe, and Mike got in the front.  I pushed the canoe from the shore and hopped into the back.  We started paddling towards the middle of the lake.  Parke turned around and disappeared back towards our house.

Immediately we realized that the drag of the two trees in the water made paddling the canoe a real effort.  Instead of thinking twice about what we were doing and turning around, we pressed on.  We struggled and teetered as we tried to maintain our balance in the wobbly craft and propel it toward the deep water.  What should have been a two minute paddle turned into a much longer event as we both paddled together in unison, the trees floating behind us dragging like huge parachutes in the water.

We finally got to the portion of the lake I thought was deep enough.  We had traveled about two hundred yards from the point, and the closest shoreline (a neighbor's house) was about a hundred yards away.  We stopped, put the paddles down, and I proceeded to untie the rope to one of the trees.  (We couldn't even think about enjoying a beer, with the tipsy nature of the canoe at the moment.)  Next I leaned forward and grabbed one of the cinder blocks.  The transfer of weight shifting in the canoe caused a major wobble, and we had to quickly counter the weight shift to keep from capsizing.

I had the block in my lap now, and tied the rope through the holes in the center of it.  When the knot was finished I looked at Mike so that he could counter me when I let the block go over the side.  He did, and I dropped it.  We watched the block make a big splash and sink instantly, and the first tree turned upright in the water as the rope tightened ... and then the tree slowly disappeared into the cold, black water....   A moment later, however, it bobbed back up again.  One block wasn't heavy enough to weigh down the tree.

"Crap", I said, and Mike laughed (nervously?).  We were going to have to use the second block to sink the first tree, and then go back for more blocks.  I got another section of rope and carefully reached for the tip of the tree sticking up from the water.  Ripples panned out into the black water, as the canoe quavered some more.  I think it is safe to say that probably around now, both Mike and I realized this was a doomed cause, but we were determined to finish the task... or what,.... die trying?  (Play more music of impending doom.)

As I leaned over and tied the one end of the rope to the top of the tree, Mike countered the weight the other way.  When I finally finished, I sat back up and now tied the other end to the second block.  When the knot was secure I glanced at Mike, who countered again, and held the block over the side.  "Kersplash!", the block went, and the tree went horizontal underwater, finally sinking into the deep black waters, never to be seen again.  We breathed a sigh of relief.  We were almost done.  I glanced to the shore and saw that Parke had returned, sitting on his scooter by the point of the lake.  I smiled.  The other tree was untied and left to float until we could return.  We started the turn around to head back to shore....

(You know how in a movie, whenever a "victim" is nervous about some fear - a bogieman in the closet, or otherwise -  they check it out, only to realize they were mistaken.  Then they breathe a great sigh of relief.... And right when you relax, suddenly the bogieman comes from somewhere else - like behind a curtain - and kills them?  You jump in your seat in the theater, because it is totally unexpected....)
I can't say that I ever saw "Friday the 13th" Part 8.  But I'm guessing this girl probably thought she was safe and okay, right before Jason broke through the window to get her....  And the audience (what audience there was for this movie) all jumped out of their seats when the window broke, I'm sure.

Suddenly one of us leaned to the side of the canoe for some reason I cannot recall.   Regardless, the other didn't have time to counter the sudden weight shift, and the next moment happened so quickly, yet it was also in slow motion -- if that makes any sense at all.  (Ah, heck.  This is my blog.  I can say whatever I want.  It was Mike's fault.  He tipped the canoe.  But even this story isn't why Mike ultimately became Captain Tipsy.  It was just the beginning....)

I remember the canoe tipping to the point of no return, and I remember thinking, "we are about to go in and get wet."   The canoe flipped, tossing Mike and me into the brink.  I went underwater briefly and popped right back up.  My first thought was how COLD the water really was.  It literally took my breath away.  I treaded water momentarily, spinning around looking for Mike.  He had popped back up and was beginning to try in vain to right the canoe.  I realized how futile that was, and asked Mike if he was okay.

I wish this post could have the audio of how he responded to me.  We joke about his response to this day.  All I can say, is our testicles had instantly contracted into the bowels of our abdomen from the shock of the freezing water, and I guess his voice was affected, too.

I'm okay", he said quickly and in a very high pitch, like the yip of a Yorkshire Terrier.  The one float cushion popped up to the surface and Mike grabbed it.  I was glad he did, as I thought I would be able to swim to shore okay without it.
During our recent Christmas snow of 14", Tiki our toy Yorkshire Terrier, had a hard time making his way through the white stuff that was twice as deep as he is tall.  He was probably saying "I'm Okay" with his yips, as he would climb to the top of the snow and then try and plow through it.  We had to clear out an area of snow, just so he could "do his business."

I looked to the shoreline and realized our shortest swim was to our neighbor's lot, so I told Mike to follow me.  I started doing the breast stroke and turned and saw that Mike was moving now, lying on his back kicking, holding the cushion to his chest.  Parke had disappeared again.

For the next few minutes, as we swam to shore, I remember thinking just how frigid the water was.  Some water was in my mouth, and I spit it out in a stream as I stroked towards land.  "This water is cold!", I remember thinking repeatedly.  I also kept saying this mantra, as I was afraid my body may lock up in the freezing lake.  "Hands, just keep paddling, legs just keep kicking, and heart please keep beating."

Occasionally I glanced over to Mike who was slightly behind me to the left.  He continued to backstroke, face up, holding on tightly to the cushion on his chest.  After what seemed an eternity, we approached the steep bank of the lake at our neighbor's.  Because the lake dropped suddenly there, we couldn't stand until we were within just a couple feet from shore.  When I finally could find some footing, we stood up.  Never have I been so thankful to have my feet touch solid ground....  We felt extremely heavy, from both our soaked winter clothing and the fatigue in our bodies.  The small cliff was about six feet high, and we had to literally grab branches and roots from young trees to pull ourselves up to the land, but when we did, we finally felt relief -- and complete exhaustion.  Pausing for a moment, we looked back across the black water to the capsized canoe in the middle of the lake.  I knew we couldn't leave that there....

We started walking down my neighbor's driveway from his backyard where we had beached, our bodies feeling like they were warming again, now that we were out of the water.  As we approached the street, my wife came zooming around the corner in her Suburban.  She got out of the SUV with Parke, and came rushing towards us.

"Are you okay?" she asked.  "Parke came racing home and told me you guys capsized.  I didn't believe him at first, because he had just come home a few minutes earlier and said the same thing, joking."

The Aesop's Fable of "The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf" instantly crossed my mind.  That's when he had disappeared the first time, the little rascal.
This is the lesson Parke learned by watching us....  Not how to create a crappie habitat.

"He told me he was serious this time," she continued, "and when he started crying, I knew he was telling the truth."

She opened the back of the truck and got out a couple of towels.  "Here," she said, "Start drying off with these."

I grabbed a towel as another neighbor who lives nearby approached.  (Ironically, his last name is Pond.)

"I've got to go get that canoe now, before something else happens to it," I said to Susan and Mike.

"Do you want to borrow my kayak?" Mr. Pond asked.

"Yes," I responded without thinking.  "Thank you."

"NO!  You are getting in that car and going home to change into dry clothes."  Susan interrupted.
"Then when you are warm and dry, you can come back to retrieve the canoe."  She smiled at Mr. Pond, so that he knew her wrath wasn't being aimed in his direction.  He wasn't the fool here.

"I thought you boys were IDIOTS for doing this in the first place!"  She ranted.  And she was absolutely right.

I told Mr. Pond that I'd come back later, and humbly started to get into the truck.  (One of the first smart things I had done in a while....)

"DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT GETTING IN AND ON THE SEATS," she vented.  "Get in the back!"  (Well, maybe it wasn't so smart after all....) 

Meekly, Mike and I quietly crawled into the back of the Suburban for the brief ride home.  "Yes, ma'am."

When we got back to the house, she told us to go in through the Rec Room, go straight to the laundry room and undress.  We complied without saying a word.  By the time we had stripped to nothing but our towels, she had gotten one shower going for Mike, while Parke had gotten my shower going.

I walked back to our master bed and bath, telling Parke to make sure the water wasn't too hot.  He said it wasn't.

As I stepped into the shower, I screamed in pain as the water scalded me.


He came to the bathroom door.  "Dad, that's nothing but cold water coming out of the shower.  Mom told me to do that."

I apologized to him, and that's when I realized that I had severe hypothermia and hadn't even realized it.  I slowly worked my way into the hot (cold) shower, and finally started to get some feeling in my hands and feet again.  The funny thing is, I hadn't even realized I had lost feeling in some parts of my body until they started to warm up... and that's when the burning pins and needles came.  AND BOY, DID THE PINS AND NEEDLES COME!  You know how your leg goes to sleep, and then the pins and needles come when it gets the blood circulating to it again?  Well, it felt like my body had been in a coma!  I can honestly say that never in my life, had I felt such painful pins and needles as I stood in that cold water, slowly warming it up.  By the time I got out of that shower several minutes later, I was still freezing cold, but at least I could feel all my extremities again.

I got dressed in some dry clothing, and then realized I still had to go do the unthinkable... go back to the lake and retrieve the canoe....  I got a winter coat on, got some gloves and a hat, and drove down to the point with Mike who was also in some of my dry clothing now.  We dreaded what we had to do, as Mike had had the same experience in the shower as me.

When I got there, Mr. Pond had the most wonderful, most appreciated present I could have ever asked for, waiting for me.  He had gotten into his kayak (that he had offered me earlier) and gone out into the lake and retrieved the canoe, towing it to shore, himself.  To this day, when I see him I thank him for doing that for me, as I was in no shape physically or mentally to do that.  (The second tree was left floating in the lake....)

I thanked him profusely, and together, we loaded up the canoe and equipment back into Mike's truck, which we had left there in our hurry to get home.  Amazingly, both paddles, the leftover rope and the beers were still all in the canoe.  We hadn't lost anything when we capsized.  Mike then got into his truck and I got in mine and we drove back home.  We unloaded the canoe and then went back inside.

About that time Randy came over, having called the house earlier and hearing about our escapades from Susan.  He asked if we wanted to do anything.  I told him I had one agenda, and that was this....

1:  Make the biggest fire my fireplace will handle.
2:  Get my bottle of Wild Turkey 101, and a glass - three glasses, if they wanted some.
3:  Turn the television on to the NFL Playoffs.
4:  Sit as close as possible to the fire, while watching football, with a glass of bourbon.
5:  Hope that sometime before 11 p.m., when the second football game ended, my testicles would descend again, and I would become a baritone again, myself. 
The surgeon general may not recommend this for warming up your body after having hypothermia; but I've got to say, having a glass or two by a hot, huge, crackling fire, and watching football, worked okay for us.  By the time the first game was over, I was finally feeling warm again.  But it truly did take that long before I felt "normal" in body temperature again....  Dry clothes and a blanket helped, too.

That agenda sounded good to Mike, too.  So he called his wife, we invited his family over (as well as Randy's), and we all had a nice evening, recounting the day's adventure.  And how stupid we were.  And how lucky we were.  And how close we were to leaving our friends and families without the pleasure of having us around, anymore. A nice hot dinner of "comfort food" with a good bottle of wine ended a long, but exciting day.  I went to bed that night, saying my prayers of thanks for my Guardian Angel being on duty that day, and more grateful for my wife and family than I had been in a long time....

The next year, I was asked if I wanted to participate in the Special Olympics fundraiser in Virginia Beach, called the "Polar Plunge".  It was at the oceanfront, and was growing to be quite a big deal.

Since Clayton is fond of participating in the Special Olympics, I decided that if I was ever going to swim in bitterly cold water again, it might as well be for a good purpose.  I agreed, and got almost $2,000 in pledges for my plunge.  As fate would have it, the event fell on the weekend after Sheldon's birthday (February 3), so we decided to make a night of it, staying in an oceanside hotel that had an indoor pool, jacuzzi and sauna.  I knew after the event, I'd want these amenities....

Even though some years the Polar Plunge has had 50, even 60 degree days here in Virginia, that was not the case my year.  It was 38 degrees, and the ocean temperature was 35.  Sound familiar?  I was ready!  A ring of Navy SEALs  and other special forces in "drysuits" lined the approved area in the ocean's surf, for participants to plunge.  The farthest ones were about 50 yards out.  We were to go in one area, and exit towards another area, around a post, so that the flow of people would keep going in one general direction.  That way nobody would get trampled or lost.  The moment came when we were to take our plunge, and the master of ceremonies blew his whistle for us to go.  I ran wildly into the surf with hundreds of other participants, but I was determined to do this right!  I was going all the way to the farthest SEAL. 
The Special Olympics' Polar Plunge in Virginia Beach, is a great fundraiser for those willing to take the plunge....

I hit the surf, and it was cold, but I kept going.  A large wave approached and I dove through it.  My breath was taken away momentarily, but this was a feeling I had experienced before.  I broke through the other side of the wave and started swimming out to the ring of Navy SEALS that lined the perimeter.  When I finally reached one, I "high-fived" him, and then swam parallel to the shore to the "exit area".  Then I turned back to shore, and swam and body surfed back onto the beach.  I had definitely taken the long way around the horn.

As I stepped out of the surf, my body felt warm again.  But this time I knew not to be fooled.  You can't be "warm" in 38 degree air.  After a few minutes searching through the massive crowds, I finally found Susan and the kids.  They congratulated me and gave me a towel.  I also put my sweats back on as soon as possible.  We quickly left the area and went to the hotel.  There, we checked in and spent a wonderful afternoon as a family in the heated pool, jacuzzi and sauna.  A nice seafood dinner later that evening, highlighted a great weekend for a great cause.  It was a nice family memory....

Later that winter, Clayton entered the Special Olympics swimming competition.  I had been training him at the local YMCA, swimming ahead of him, encouraging him every paddle of the way.  It was a great way to spend time with him, doing something he enjoyed, as we practiced every week.  I loved it (perhaps even more than him)... not just because it was a good Father/Son activity that involved exercise -- but because that pool is heated, too.

The day of the competition arrived, and he swam very well.  But he was just as glad when it was over, too.  He had had enough, by then, and was ready for some pizza.  He still likes to swim, just not in "competition."   

Me?  I still enjoy swimming, too.  I'm even okay with swimming in the winter still -- as long as it is in a heated pool from now on.  My days of freestyle in the ocean and breast stroke in the lake, in January and February are over -- unless I'm in the Southern hemisphere,or at least near the equator.  Let's just say I have a new and fine appreciation for 98.6 degrees.  That's why I'm not kayak fishing right now....  I'll do that again when the water warms up....

Until next time,

Fish on!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer... A Hunting Tale.

Happy New Year!  The Holidays are over, and we are now in the doldrums of winter -- a slow time for fishing (except for stripers out in the ocean, and speckled trout in the Elizabeth River's "hot ditch".  But it's been too dadgum cold for me to go kayak fishing, and I've been busy... But maybe I'll go soon.)

Anyway, the other day I was talking with my old buddy Mark (and I do mean "old"), catching up on each other's holidays and how many deer he killed this season, all legally of course, (deer season ended last weekend), and he reminded me of a good story -- my first time deer hunting.  So as we wait for yet another potential snow ... let me recount one of my favorite hunting stories....  Oh, and don't worry, Mark left a few deer alive for next season.  ;)

(SIDENOTE FIRST:  We've already had more snow this winter than we did for the last six winters combined.  Christmas night alone, we had about 14".  The third biggest snow on record here.  Of course, this being Tidewater, we went four winters with no snow whatsoever.  I'm not complaining.  In fact, the snow might even be one of my next posts, as we had quite a blast playing in it.  It was beautiful.  But I digress.)

It was fall of my sophomore year of college at JMU.  Mark and I were looking for a way to spend our long "Autumn Break" weekend.  As it was October, and bow hunting season had just begun, Mark suggested we drive to his parents' place outside Williamsburg, and spend the weekend there.  It sounded good to me.  So after classes were over Thursday, we hopped into my trusty, dusty '74 AMC Gremlin, and headed south on I-81.  We took the turn to I-64E, and drove the rest of the way to Norge.  It was "God's Country," I was told....
While I would argue that all of Virginia - and North Carolina, too - make up "God's Country", there's a section of the Commonwealth near Williamsburg where the Douglas family calls home, that goes by the same moniker.

When I had pledged and joined the fraternity the year prior, Mark's older brother Scott was my "big brother".  That's how I got to know the Douglas's.  I had met all of his family my freshman year, but with each visit, they continued to impress me the more I got to know them.  Never had I met such a testosterone-filled, outdoorsy, "manly men" family as this family.

Mark and Scott were just two of four sons in the Douglas family.  David, the third, was a freshman at college now, and Todd, the youngest, was still in high school.  All four boys, and their father, as well as all the extended family that lived in the area, hunted.  Trophy deer heads were mounted all around the house, and there were enough guns and bows to arm the Virginia Militia.  This family was like something out of the Old Wild West.  The Douglas's were a modern day Earp family.  And I truly believe had they just been born 120 years earlier, perhaps the Confederacy could have really won the "War of Northern Aggression."
Had the Shootout at the OK Corral been between the Earps and the Douglas's, I'm not sure who would have won.  But my money may have been on the Douglas's.  And the South would have definitely had a better chance in the Civil War, had they just been born in time to fight for General Lee.

Me?  I was just a suburban kid that had been a boyscout for a while, so I knew how to shoot a pellet gun.  And I had played Cowboys and Indians enough that I could shoot a bow and arrow straight.  I could fish, yeah, but my hunting had never gone beyond the birds and squirrels in my own backyard growing up.  And that was cheating....
Speaking of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, these were my guns growing up... I LOVED this game.  Back when companies didn't care if some small child swallowed metal marbles, they made cool games like this.  And Jarts!  Remember Jarts in the backyard? 
When I really wanted to shoot something, I broke out this bad boy... The "Rattlin' Gattlin' Shooting Gallery".

We got to the house and were warmly greeted by the only human with estrogen for miles around, their mother, Mrs. Douglas ("Sharon" is what we have always called her affectionately behind her back) - a soft spoken woman who loves her boys more than anything!  A good fried chicken dinner awaited, and then we went out to visit friends in the area.  But we didn't stay too late, because Friday was going to be a busy day.

We woke up Friday morning, and "Sharon" made us a wonderful ribsticking breakfast of homemade biscuits and sausage gravy.  If that don't fill you up, nothin' will.  It's also a meal you don't want to see made, if you care about cholesterol and fat.  But it sure is delicious!  It's amazing nobody in that family is fat, as good as her southern cooking is....

After breakfast, Mark and I went into the back yard with a couple of hunting bows and several arrows and started taking some practice shots into hay bales and deer targets.  We practiced for a while, all the time Mark educating me about everything from the land (private property) we'd be hunting later in the day, to the flight and trajectory of an arrow with a real razor-sharp head, and not a suction cup.
My bow growing up wasn't as effective on deer as Mark's....
Mark's equipment was a little more effective.  And it shot farther, too.

Finally I got comfortable enough shooting the bow to where if the deer got within spitting distance of me, I felt like I could shoot it.  Actually I can spit pretty far, so if that deer was within 50 feet, he was as good as wet -- I mean dead.

"A hunter typically has to spend 11 hours in the field before he ever even sees a deer," Mark informed me when we were done and having lunch.  "And then, he may not ever get close enough for you to get a clean shot off.  And with a bow, obviously, the deer has to get even closer for you to get a shot."

"How could that be true?" I wondered.  "I had seen enough hunting shows on television to know that they always get some monster buck with a Boone & Crockett score of 800 in less than an hour; and most of the shows were less than 30 minutes."  I kidded.
I grew up watching Curt Gowdy's "The American Sportsman" every Saturday on ABC.  He caught monster fish and shot birds and deer within an hour every week.  How difficult could it be?

Still, he didn't give the kind of pep talk to get you excited about the possibility of bagging your first deer.  But I was pumped up and ready, none-the-less.  I couldn't wait to go.  But we had to wait until at least mid afternoon before it would be a good time to go.  The deer would begin moving as the sun got low. 

As I had no hunting clothes, Mark suited me up in some camouflaged gear from head to toe (it's not like they didn't have enough camo to outfit the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division), and after the October sun had reached its zenith and started its decline, we prepared to hit the hunting trail.

The area we would be hunting was a break between some woods and a small pond.  There was a tree stand directly over one of the paths the deer take to the water, and on the other side of the water, down a different path off to the side was a log.  One of us would be in the stand, the other would sit still on the log.  If deer came from either direction, at least one of us would have a clear shot.  The rest of the Douglas boys and "Clarence" (Mr. Douglas in person, that is "Mr. Douglas, sir" in person), would be hunting some other property nearby.

As we parked one of the Douglas pickup trucks and got out at our site, Mark took out a small bottle and told me to lift my feet.  He then proceeded to dab doe urine on my boots.  It had a very (un)pleasant smell, to say the least... but to a buck, it was Chanel No. 5, he informed me.  I would take his word for it.  It would also help cover up my own ugly human scent.
To a buck, this stuff smells as good...
... As this does to a man.
We started walking quietly towards the location about a half mile away, seeing an occasional deer track; and Mark signaled that I could have the tree stand, while he would take the log.  I nodded, and as we got near the pond, we split up.  Carefully holding the bow and arrows, I climbed the tree to the stand about 15 feet above the ground.  From my perch I could see the pond in front of me and the top of Mark's head 50 yards beyond that, as he sat on the log behind some brush.  Behind me was some thicket and then more trees.  But from above, I could definitely see the path that deer took on their way to get a drink. 

Now I just had to wait... for 11 hours or more, according to Mark.  Of course, the sun was going to set in just a couple, so I could only hope he was wrong.

When you are hunting it takes your body some time to adjust to the outdoors.  To turn off your own sounds and thoughts of the human world and focus on all that is happening around you.  Are there birds calling?  Why?  Or why are they being silent?  What about squirrels?  Are they acting normally or chattering and shaking their tails because they see you.  Where is the wind coming from?  Is the rustling you hear in the leaves just the wind, or is it something more?  Is that a spider crawling down my neck while the mosquitoes are having a field day on my hands and face?

Just about at the time I was feeling like I had better settle down and get serious (maybe 20 minutes into the hunt, if that) I heard a pitter patter behind me.  I slowly turned around and looked into the woods, and saw three does coming down the path, and through the thicket.  I couldn't believe my luck.  A few seconds later, they literally stopped directly under me.  Any of them was maybe a 15 to 20 foot shot, if that.  They paused and fed on some acorns around my tree.  I looked over at Mark, and could see that he saw them too.  He was as alert as a short-haired pointer on a quail.  I readied the bow and notched an arrow quietly in the string, and waited.

After about five minutes of feeding around my tree, the does all stepped toward the pond and now began drinking.  They were broadside to me, and now any of them was maybe a 30 to 40 foot shot.  I looked over at Mark who was having a fit as quietly and still as he could.  Then I heard another pitter patter behind me. 

I looked back to the thicket and saw a nice sized six point buck standing still, sensing, smelling cautiously, ears twitching in every direction trying to pick up any unusual sounds, or scents with his wet black nose.  I readied the bow slowly again, and waited.  I glanced back at the does, who were still completely oblivious to us, and drinking and feeding on grasses as peacefully as possible.  Beyond them Mark was now standing, signaling to me that I should shoot one of the does.  He was pulling his hands apart and letting his fingers go, shooting an "air bow", hoping I would get the signal.  I did.  I just wanted that buck.
Not quite trusting his eyes, the 6 point buck stayed behind the thick brush, never quite giving me a clean shot I felt good about.  His three does, however, had no problems with the acorns, grass and water available around me.

I moved slowly, behind the trunk of the tree, so that the buck couldn't see me and pointed to the woods behind me.  I put my hands on my head, trying to signal to Mark,"antlers in the woods", while holding the notched arrow in the bow.  Then I peeked around the tree again, and the buck was still there.  Still standing, twitching his ears, waiting.  He was only about 30 feet away from me, and he was broadside, but the thicket was such that I didn't trust trying to shoot an arrow through it, to hit the buck.  I resolved I would wait for him to join his ladies, and then take him out.

Ten more minutes passed, and the buck never moved.  The does drank and got their fill of grass, acorns and water, and then they just stood around.  The buck never moved beyond the brush.  It would have been a clear shot for a shotgun, but with an arrow... it just wasn't a clean shot.  I may have been a novice, but I knew what limits an arrow had, and I wasn't willing to risk injuring the deer.  I would either take a true "kill" shot, or none at all.

I don't know if there was a slight wind shift, or an unusual noise, or what, but suddenly he snorted and wagged and raised his white tail.  The jig was up.  He sensed us, even if he didn't see us.  He stepped back a few more feet to the trees, and I knew he wouldn't be coming to have a drink.  I looked over at the does, and while they were now more alert, they were still not in any big hurry to scamper away.  In fact, even after the buck snorted, wagged his flashy white tail and stamped his foot, they just took their time casually walking from the pond to under me, pausing again, and then to the thicket.  It took them another five minutes before they were back in the woods -- the whole time Mark was having a conniption from acting out his shooting motion toward me.  His face was red, and he was mouthing "shoot them!" towards me.

While the does never got THIS close, they might as well have been.  I just didn't want to shoot Bambi's mother.  Not when there was a nice young buck nearby, too.

When the deer were finally gone, we waited another 30 minutes or so, to see if any other deer would come, but they didn't.  Mark got up from his stand and came towards me.  I got down from the tree, and we walked back to the truck.  The moment we were back inside the truck he let me have it!

"WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOOT ANY OF THOSE DOES!"  He yelled at me.  "You know it's legal to shoot a doe with a bow, right???!!!"

I did.


Meekly I replied, "I was waiting for the six point to come out into the clearing where I had a clean shot at him.  He was a nice deer."

"You had those does around you for half an hour, and you never even got one in your sights," he clarified for me, as if I didn't know what I had done.

"I was waiting for the buck."

"What about when he snorted and backed away?" He responded.  "You still had more than enough time to take out one of the does."

"I know," I replied.  "But at that point, I just wanted my first deer I killed to be a buck, not a doe."

"You're killing me!"  He sighed, and shook his head in frustration, pounding the steering wheel as he cranked the ignition.

And the rest of the way back to the house was either deathly silence or more lambasting....

When we finally returned back to the house, we parked around back where the other Douglas boys were also all just gathering.  None of them had seen anything.  It was a slow afternoon.  To which, Mark proceeded to tell them all our (my) adventure.

"WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"  They each began to chastise me.  "You don't get chances like that every day!  You've got to take the shot they give you.  And you had PLENTY!"

I was now feeling about two inches tall.  None of them wanted to hear my side about how I wanted my first deer to be a buck, not a doe.  (Besides, it's not like I had seen any doe heads mounted around the house....)

Even Clarence sneered at me.  And this is a man who doesn't say much....  Doesn't have to.  He's the father of four boys who commands respect from each and every one of them, and everyone else.  The proverbial Patriarch.  One look from him could either let you know you had done well, or it would kill you.  I was feeling killed at the moment.  There was no mercy from any of the brothers, or Clarence.  I sulked and slithered quietly to the house after cleaning up and putting away the equipment.  I was now less than one inch tall.
Clarence was even one of the "re-enactors" for Colonial Williamsburg back in the 1960's, as Mark liked to point out in our old World Book Encyclopedia.  (It had his photo among a crowd.)  It's no wonder the British lost at Yorktown.  That's very close to where the Douglas's live.

I made it to the back door and walked in the house.  I was counting on finding some solace there.  Surely Sharon would comfort me.   She would understand.  She was a female.  She was tender.  She was a mother.  She would understand my gentle-natured reason for not wanting to shoot the innocent, naive, oblivious does, in favor of the hardened, tested, larger buck.  She would understand it, empathizing with another "woman" who got to live another day because of my mercy....  Surely, she would, right?

We went to the kitchen where Mrs. Douglas was preparing dinner, and the grief continued from all the boys still hounding me.  I finally built up enough strength to defend myself again, knowing I had a potential comrade and sympathizer in the only female for miles around -- except for those does, of course....

"Mrs. Douglas," I said, putting on my best, pleading voice, "Surely you understand why I chose to leave the does alone.  They were so close and so easy to shoot, it was just no challenge.  I didn't want to shoot Bambi's mother.  I wanted my first deer I shot to be a buck.  And there was this nice six point that I kept waiting for..."

I never got to finish my sentence, as she jumped in....  to my defense?  Hell no!

"WHAT?  YOU DIDN'T SHOOT A DOE?  DON'T YOU KNOW THEY HAVE THE MOST TENDER MEAT?  THEY ARE THE ONES THAT TASTE BETTER!  I LOVE DOE MEAT.  And besides, they can end up taking over the land, if they are left unchecked!  You've got to take them when you can!"

There would be no consoling anywhere to be found in that house that night.  I quietly ate my dinner, and we went to bed early....  Tomorrow was another hunting day.  Hopefully I would get a chance to redeem myself....

The next day, we went to the same location, but this time Mark took the tree stand.  I had been relegated to the log.  I walked over to the long fallen oak that was the log, and got comfortable.  I notched an arrow, so that I was ready for anything, and I waited.  If I thought the mosquitoes and bugs were bad the day the before, they were only worse down on ground level next to the bushes nearer the pond.  "No-see-ums", gnats, ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, and some good old-fashioned Virginia, Indian Summer humidity made the day less pleasant than the previous one.  But I settled down, got my mind into "hunting mode", and began to take in my surroundings....

It wasn't long before a couple of hummingbirds that had yet to migrate, flew by me, hovering over the long grasses and wildflowers that were between me and the pond.  I watched them, always amazed at their flying abilities.  So quick.  Instant stop.  Fight each other.  Chirp like crazy.  Hover.  Go to a flower and feed.  Fly backwards and regroup.  Come back at 60 m.p.h., and do it all over again.  I watched them both for several minutes until they finally tired and flew away.  Then I sat and waited some more.
watching a couple of hummingbirds feed and fight and show off their aerial displays is always entertaining....

Then I heard leaves rustling along the path.  I froze with an arrow notched, and slowly turned my head towards the sound.  I waited, as the sound got closer.  As I looked above the brushline toward the path, where a deer would come, I didn't see any antlers approaching.  I didn't see any animal above the brushline.  But the shuffling leaves sound got closer.  Finally, I looked where the end of the log met the path, and saw a big old raccoon waddling.

He paused at the log, and turned his head to look at it.  I froze.  He didn't see me, and turned towards the log.  The next thing I knew he was on top of the log walking back and forth just 10 feet away from me.  He inspected every nook, hole and crevice on that log, looking for grubs, bugs, and who knows what.  And then he stopped.  He looked right at me, but either didn't care I was there, or didn't see me.  He rested for awhile, cleaned himself up, turning completely away, and I watched him.  He was obviously comfortable where he was, and in no hurry to move on.  I sat and watched him for 20 minutes.  Finally, he jumped off the log and went back into the woods.
This would have been a tempting target, had I only known to shoot it....  "That's a $25 pelt".  In 1982 dollars.  That's probably like $50 today.

Some time went by and I heard more rustling, and turned again.  This time a red fox came out, nose to the ground, looking for mice, moles or other varmints.  He came to the end of the log, sniffed around, walked towards me within just a few feet.  He paused, looked up at me, didn't care or didn't see me -- just like the raccoon, and then walked on by to the other end of the log, where he paused again before disappearing again into the woods.
This guy's pelt was beautiful, as he was getting his winter coat....

Another hour passed, and we never saw the first deer.  The time came, and I watched Mark climb down from the stand.  It was time to go.  We met at the pond, and I guess I had a new appreciation for his 11 hour theory.  Still, I had enjoyed the day, and told Mark about the hummingbird duel, the raccoon and the fox.


I shrank in my urine-covered boots (doe urine, not mine).  "Here we go again,"  I thought.


I looked down.  Now I wasn't sure whose urine was on the boots....

And I did not look forward to going back to the Douglas house, and seeing the Douglas boys... and Clarence... and Sharon....  And hearing it from them all over again.  Never have I looked so forward to going back to school. 

And the next year when we had our Autumn Break...?  I drove again (my "new" '78 VW diesel Rabbit); but this time we went on a road trip to visit some other colleges.  There was no hunting involved at all....

I think I'll just stick to saying,

"Until next time,

Fish on!"

(I'll let Mark and the rest of the Douglas's "hunt on".)


EPILOGUE:  Now, almost 30 years later, I must confess I still enjoy getting together with the Douglas clan -- even if it is much rarer.  Clarence, Sharon, and all their sons and their families all still live within an hour's drive of the area.  But they finally have more estrogen in the family.  In addition to a bunch of daughters-in-law, there are granddaughters out the wazoo.  Mark alone, has become the antithesis of what his family was.  He is the only man in a family consisting of a beautiful wife and four lovely daughters....  And they all love to eat their venison, too -- especially doe meat.