For the past few weeks, I have been involved in a constant blur of outdoor activities, from hiking and fishing to paddling and camping. I’ve climbed mountain peaks and I have been swimming with the fish in an attempt to capture underwater photos. I’ve been cliff diving on the Saranacs and I have paddled and portaged into Duck Hole via Henderson Lake and the Preston Ponds.
I have climbed an old firetower in a fog so thick that I couldn’t even see the tops of the nearby trees and I finally caught a brook trout on the Bog River Flow. It was the first brookie that I have taken on the Bog in over 20 years. May the resident, invasive largemouth bass be damned, so that the brookies can stage a comeback.
In the few days that I’ve been out of the woods, I’ve hosted a number of “traditional” camp-style competitions that have featured events such as horseshoes, skipping stone contests, canoe races, archery competitions and played games such as Hide ‘n Seek, Tug ‘o War, Capture the Flag and Flashlight Tag.
I even organized a Marksmanship Championship that required participants to use slingshots and old Daisy Red Rider BB guns to knock down tin cans, as well as a day of kite flying, water-balloon catapults, water-pressured rocket launches and squirt-gun wars.
In keeping with camp traditions, most evenings were spent around the campfire, telling ghost stories and peppering each other with riddles. One evening we were joined by a local folk singer, who strummed a guitar. Fortunately, no one dared to ask him to sing Kumbiya, for fear that we would all break out the slingshots, BB guns and water balloons again.
Possibly, the most enjoyable days of the month have been the ones I’ve spent outdoors with children. In their eyes, I often recall my own youth and I can recapture the thrill of the chase, the joys of discovery and the courage to climb higher, swim farther and take greater risks.
It is easy to be swept up in a child’s enthusiasm. Some days, I’m really convinced that I’m still just a kid, forced by age and circumstance to live my remaining years trapped in an old man’s disguise.
Recently, while fishing on the Raquette River with a young friend and his Dad, I looked at the small boy and saw an image of myself, even though it was about 40 or 50 years younger. He was fishing as hard as a youngster can and yet he was frustrated because he simply couldn’t manage to land a fish.
Each time he’d try to haul a catch up the bank, it would flop off the hook and roll back into the water. The fish in question are actually named Fall Fish, which should have been quite obvious because they kept falling off the hook regularly.
Eventually, the young fellow was able to land a nice smallmouth bass, and with his pride restored, a wide grin crossed his face. The grin was overshadowed only by his wild mop of blonde hair and the wonderful laughter that came from below. I took a quick photo and he decided to keep the fish for dinner.
In return for my guide services, I received a delicious homemade pie, full of freshly picked blueberries, plucked by tiny hands. I still believe that I got the better part of the deal, and my lips were blue for two full days.
In these days of instant communications, and a proliferation of 24/7/365 media coverage of events, worldwide atrocities, financial scandals, environmental disasters and more, we need to take a look at the world through the innocent eyes of a child and take a step back.
Modern day society has stolen so much of children’s innocence, and our own. In many cases we have forced them to grow up far before their time.
Often, it’s easy to restore the feeling and it takes only a short walk in the woods, a jump in the lake or a water balloon in the backside or a frog-catching contest to begin the reclamation process. It begins with laughter and ends with a wide smile, and maybe a giggle.
I recall reading a wonderful poem that sums up the current situation quite nicely. A 13-year-old girl wrote it and it is untitled,
I must laugh and dance and sing
Youth is such a lovely thing
Soon I shall be old and stately
And I shall promenade sedately
Down a narrow pavement street
Where all the people that I meet
Will be stiff and narrow too
Careful what they say and do
It will be quite plain to see
They were never young like me
When I walk where flowers grow
I shall have to stoop down low
If I want one for a prize
Now I am just the proper size
So let me laugh and dance and sing
Youth is such a lovely thing
Photo by Joe Hackett
Ned Kanze of Bloomingdale hoists a smallmouth bass that was taken recently on the Raquette River.