Like most sportsmen (and women), I have my Dad to thank for my introduction to the outdoors. (Not to slight my Mom, who spent countless hours ferrying me to and from ponds, but that's another column for another day.)
Here are some caffeine-inspired earliest memories this melancholy Sunday morning as I sit at the keyboard with a paper crown on my head, courtesy of my middle daughter, Olivia.
I was 4 when I caught my first fish. Dad took me fishing in Baltimore harbor. We had no luck (something I've gotten used to), so Dad went to the local fish monger, where he purchased a fish (species has escaped me) had it wrapped and tossed it to me. My first catch.
Later, the Air Force transferred us back to Washington. And my first recollection of a "real" fishing trip there was a trip to Clear Lake outside of Fairchild A.F.B., where we fished for rainbow trout, again with no luck. But other anglers on the dock had better luck, and watching them actually pull something from the depths of the pond was mesmerizing. The vivid color of those trout, the worms and salmon eggs for bait, the ultra-clear water, the talk of a local moose who occasionally visited - all heady stuff for a little kid with a big imagination.
Mom contributed to the mix by taking me to a traveling seafood merchant in Airway Heights outside of the base. While she bought halibut or salmon the old man would humor my questions about the finfish and crustaceans he peddled.
Dad and I got better at fishing as the years went on, but we were never really good at it. We had our moments - spearing octupus in the reefs of Guam, a few big catfish at Santee-Cooper, mixed bag fishing in Nebraska that included my first "big" fish at age 7 or 8, a 14-inch blue catfish. But the seed he planted grew bigger as I got older.
Hunting was much the same. I was 5 when I tagged along on a pheasant hunt somewhere in Nebraska with my Dad and his cronies. Forever I'll associate the smell of diner eggs-and-bacon, cigar smoke and wet dog with that first trip.
After hours of trudging across frozen corn stubble, a rooster flushed, cackling skyward, and Dad dropped it with his Spanish-made Gaspar side-by-side. Then, he actually outran the setter sent to retrieve it. I was in awe, and drug the bird around in an Army duffle bag the rest of the day.
Thirty-some years later Dad killed his first deer with me in Johnston County, and I'm not sure who was more excited. That basket-racked 7-pointer wasn't a wall-hanger by most standards, but it remains one of the greatest trophies I've been associated with, because after all those years I actually took him hunting, lent him the .270 he let me buy when I was 16, and put him in a stand that I built.
Full circle, you might say, and another great memory tucked away among many. That's the great thing about the outdoors. Success is not a prerquesite for good times. You just have to go.
Thanks for taking me, Dad.