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Learning from the old men of the woods

December 22, 2010
By Joe Hackett, News Outdoors Columnist
As a result of growing up in the Adirondacks, I believe I was very fortunate to have had an opportunity to become acquainted with a number of unique characters.

Among these acquaintances were several old-timers, including a few guides, several carpenters and a couple of old trappers and hunters. Without a doubt, each one of them had a significant impact on my way of life and my choice of occupation.

However, possibly the most influential of them all was Bill Strong, a local carpenter, character, guide and caretaker. He taught me the way of the brook trout and so much more. But mostly, he was my good-natured friend.

On Bill’s headstone, located in a small cemetery in the smaller village of Reber, are etchings of his two favorite tools: a fishing rod and a hammer.

He always had one tool or the other in his hands, but never carried both at the same time. “Because there would be no room for a can of beer,” as he once explained.

Bill insisted that his obituary should read, “Mr. Strong wanted to note that with his passing brook trout will once again thrive in the Adirondacks.”

As could be expected from such a competitive angler, Old Bill eventually got in the last word. It’s hard to argue that fact!

It’s also difficult to explain the impact that such a host of characters can have in the process of shaping a young man’s life.

I thought of Bill the other day, as I read an interesting essay that had been written by Patrick McManus, a well known outdoor writer for Outdoor Life magazine.

Titled “The Theory and Application of Old Men,” the story was originally published in 1981. It captured the essence of the influence that having an elder mentor can have on a young man. I have excerpted it here:

“Every kid should have an old man. I don’t mean just a father. Fathers are all right and I’m not knocking them, since I’m one myself, but from a kid’s point of view they spend entirely too much time at a thing called the office or some other equally boring place of work.

“If you’re a kid, what you need is someone who can take you out hunting or fishing or just poking around in the woods anytime you feel the urge.

“That’s an old man. Doing things like that is what old men were designed for.”

I hope I live long enough to have the opportunity to be an old man one day. 



Winter dilemma

As I was working on this week’s column, it became increasingly difficult to focus on the task at hand. Outside my window, there were large downy snowflakes swirling on the gentle breeze, and long icicles hanging from the eves. The ground was covered with a fresh snow, which served to illustrate the comings and goings of the squirrels, mice and a host of other critters that frequented the nearby bird feeder.

In the nearby woods, pine limbs were hanging heavy with snow as the chick-a-dees flitted and fluttered to and from the feeder, scattering sunflower seeds everywhere. The natural activity captured my attention, and begged me to go outside to escape the drudgery of writing.

I really wanted to set down some fresh ski tracks in the new snow. I also wanted to look for some sign of the numerous ruffed grouse that had regularly been flushed during the recent hunting season, when I carried a deer rifle in hand.

But, I expected it would be the same as always. If I took out the shotgun and headed back into the same woods, there wouldn’t be a grouse either in sight or in flight. 

However, I knew if I set off empty-handed, I was certain to have grouse bursting up everywhere. Eventually, I decided to put off the skiing in order to conduct a bit of research. I also knew that if I immersed myself in research, it would spare me the potential humiliation of coming home grouseless once again.



Outdoor study or

indoor research?

I am pleased to share what I learned from a new Oxford University study that was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have uncovered a scientific basis for a theory that most dog owners have long believed to be true. But now it’s a fact: domestic dogs actually are inherently smarter than cats.

By studying the evolution of brain size, researchers established a link between the size of an animal’s brain in relation to the rest of its body and how socially active the animal is.

“It appears that interaction is good for the brain and extends to other species, like ourselves,” according to Dr. Susanne Shultz, a lead researcher.

Cat owners have long believed that their pets were smarter than dogs, since they require less attention. However, the researchers discovered that cat’s brains are actually smaller because they are less social. Possibly, this link explains the aloofness that cats so commonly exhibit.

Results of the Oxford University study indicate that, “dogs are cleverer than cats because their friendly character has helped them develop bigger brains.”

The intelligence of dogs has evolved over the course of millions of years at a greater rate than for the anti-social cats, according to the scientists.

Research reveals a link between the size of an animal’s brain in relation to the rest of its body and how socially active it is.

The socialization between humans and dogs has long been a topic of study. There are few other domesticated animals with which humans share such close social ties; in many cases, dogs are accepted as a member of the family.

According to researchers, humans would never have advanced beyond functioning as a hunter-gatherer society, if not for the advantages provided by the domestication of dogs.

Dogs have served humans for purposes of protection, hunting, herding and, ultimately, for their undeniable companionship. With such emotional attachment, it’s no wonder dogs have long been considered to be “man’s best friend.”
 
 

 

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