Saturday, July 2, 2011

Memories in Life

My brother got married this past weekend. I thanked him for being my best friend these last several years in central Pennsylvania. "Now, that we are both married finding time to hunt and fish together will be harder to come by, but whenever we do take to woods and waters, I will cherish it all the more," I said in my speech.

Silverware clinked, music played, and laughter filled the room, and it was a good late June night. And if one was standing outside the Gamble Mill Restaurant in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, he might have listened to the sounds of a joyous reception mixing into the background as the voice of Logan Branch babbled along directly behind the old brick building—a sweet secret of a stream. Of course, my brother and I had already made future plans to strike it on another warm summer evening in the not too distant future. He had already hauled in a few nice brown trout on some terrestrials a week prior.

In early June the pair of us plus our father had ventured north to Kettle Creek—probably Pennsylvania's most wild stream.  As we worked the stream on a Friday evening and Saturday morning, we were handsomely rewarded with bountiful brook and brown trout. We never did spot the monster brook trout I had spotted early on Memorial Day morning, but we were more than satisfied with our take.

This is who we are in the blossom spring and green summer. Fisherman. When autumn's golden hue shades forth, we morph into field stalkers taking cackling green-winged pheasants in flight, and eventually fold over into rabbit walkers in snow meadows of winter's grip.

Rabbit season ended on the last weekend in February this year—a new extended season added three more weeks to what used to be a rather disappointing arrival of the new year's second month. Most everything closes up for the year once Valentine arrives. But not this year. I was thankful for that. It gave my brother and I one more memory in a good year of hunting and another story to add to a growing collection of lore.

After a hearty breakfast in predawn darkness, we set out to work along the lake's edge in Bald Eagle State Park.  George had recalled spotting several rabbits in the area while catfishing in early September.  It was a frigid morning, and for the first hour we followed Daisy as she scoured the bramble covered slopes for a hot scent. It was simply too cold. The sun had yet to hit in earnest. We did spot a bird of the park's namesake soaring high above the waters. We cut tracks on herds of deer who had cunningly survived another season.  We flushed grouse we could not shoot by law. It wasn't until nearly mid-morning, when Daisy bugled her first call in brush-filled meadow, that we took the first cottontail of the day. Daisy was so deep into the fallen timber that she was literally underground or "undersnow" at a few points in the chase, and it was admirably humorous to watch her amaze us yet again with her effervescent drive for bunnies.  Less than a half hour later, Daisy ran another nice rabbit out to George, and we had two for the walk home. Or so we thought. Signs of spring seemed to set in as the sun warmed our faces and the temperatures rose. Tracks were all over at this point, and we began to randomly kick piles of brush.

Suddenly, motion exploded out of one my brother had harassed, and I squeezed off two fast shots.  Daisy, well-acquainted with the meaning behind a shotgun blast, careened into action, and I was sure I had missed as she took up the trail. I sprung along the snow drifts to an old logging road intent on cutting off our quarry for one more shot.  Daisy was baying wildly, but I could tell she had stopped in one spot. Perhaps the bunny had holed up safe and sound?  George's laughter told the story.  My second shell had found its mark and Daisy was war dancing over the kill.

It was a satisfying hunt. Three heavy late-winter rabbits. A warm sun. And, a great dog. George departed a week a later for another long stint overseas, and that was a good memory to hold on to until I saw him again in June for our fishing trip north.

Our times outdoors are who we are. My hope is that I'll be able to instill the same love my brother and I share in my own two sons. I hope they too know the feeling of trailing cottontails together with a little hound in late winter. I hope they share in the joy of landing a trophy-class trout along a fern laden creek. I hope they grow to appreciate these gifts man has be given.