Jim's Outdoor Blog

Hunting, RVing and Great Escapes – Everything Outdoors

I Wouldn’t Change A Thing

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A Lifetime Outdoors

I have spent my life outdoors.  Escaping the bonds of plaster, steel and concrete, I have enjoyed a life washed in freedoms found only where trees, clouds and stars are stirring above my head.

In many ways my siblings and I are members of the last generation in America to have grown up with a taste of “the way it used to be”.  We were raised in a truly rural environment where in most everyone we knew were country people.  Many of our friend’s parents earned their living by farming in the same way as generations before themselves.  More or less, every family made all or part of their living by growing crops for market, raising livestock for food and/or profit, and everyone grew vegetables and fruits to consume at their homes throughout the year.

The world around us has changed so extensively, the lives of today’s non-city dwellers no longer resemble the way we lived half a century ago.  Rural families still feed their livestock, they still clean stalls and mend fences, but little else has remained the same. 

Speaking in generalities, nowadays most livestock feed is bought at a chain farm or ranch supply store.  Their employees are not necessarily involved in ranching or farming, but are probably city dwellers that simply needed a job.  In my youth, feed stores were located near a grain elevator or on a large farm.  The owner/operator often sold products produced by he and his family.  He sold his surplus hay, corn and oats to his neighbors.

In those days, much of the feed consumed by our livestock and portions of the food served at our tables, came from sweat equity.    In order to feed our horses, my brother and I worked through the summer hay season and took our wages in bales of hay instead of dollars.  Combines left a good deal of field corn – in the field.  After the corn was picked and before the field was disked, my dad slowly drove our truck down cornrows while my brother and I retrieved ears of corn from the cold ground and placed them into large gunnysacks.  The bags quickly weighed as much as we did.  Our calves, pigs and horses consumed the nutrient rich corn throughout long Illinois winters.  Our dogs and cats lived on scraps from our table and the cheapest dry kibble we could purchase.  Astronauts ate scientifically formulated diets, not pets.

Weeds and other unwanted volunteer plants were removed from enormous tilled fields by hands, teenaged hands.  Arriving at a specific field no later than 7:00 a.m., squads of kids used shovels, machetes, and bare hands to clear stubborn plants from half-mile rows of soy beans.

Hay was first cut, racked into rows, turned and dried before noisy, unreliable baling machinery haphazardly dropped eighty to one hundred pound hay bales on the ground, from where they were hoisted onto slow moving wagons by one hundred twenty pound boys.  Only experience enabled these field walkers to learn the necessary balance of force and forward motion between a raised knee and arm thrusts required to send rectangular bales soaring many feet above their heads to the stacker riding high up on the wagon.  The whole process was reversed at the storage barn.  Field walkers tossed bales from the wagon to the loft, hundreds of times each day. 

Modern haying equipment needs only a driver to bale, stack and off load.  A fifteen-year-old girl can sit in an air-conditioned cab, listen to her favorite music downloads on an IPOD and get more work done in an afternoon than we could in a week.  What’s more, she will accomplish all this wearing shorts and sandals.

At the end of a four or five hour work day, modern kids jump into their lowered Honda or Mazda, flip on the satellite radio and stop for an icy frappuccino coffee.  Driving away from the coffee shack, speaking in a clear and loud voice the teen commands their hands free cellular telephone to, “Call McKenzie”, in order to make their evening plans.

At the end of a ten or twelve hour day of “bucking” hay bales, we would make our way home by walking cross country.  We took the shortest route, which meant climbing fences and making our way through patches of timber, wading creeks and climbing hills.  Sometimes we would have ridden a horse to work or even better, we may have been allowed to drive our employer’s tractor.

If we weren’t in school or working, we were outside for recreation.  We watched television on Sunday evenings and in the winter after chores and homework were done.  I remember several families descending on a neighbor’s home one particular Sunday evening in the early-1960s.  We gathered in their living room in order to watch the first episode of Walt Disney to be broadcast in color.  The program showed amazing footage of animals in the jungles of South America.  We were spellbound by the magnificent colors of the birds and the ferocious Jaguar.

When our workday was complete, my brother, our friends and me, would saddle our horses and head for the woods across the railroad tracks behind our home.  Followed by our family dogs, a farm cat and even our hand reared barn pigeons, we camped out as many as four or five nights a week throughout the summer.  We slept on the ground under a ceiling of twinkling stars.

Firewood was gathered by hand and by means of horsepower.  With one end of a rope secured to a downed limb or small log and the other dallied around a saddle horn, hauling adequate wood for an all-night fire was part of the evening fun.

We took food from home, but we often caught fish for dinner.  Fishing was a testimate to our ingenuity.  Building a fish corral with rocks and gravel in a creek, we would “herd” fish inside and try to catch them with our hands.  Our dad had a long narrow net used to catch minnows.  With the net stretched across a creek, one end would be secured on the sand or gravel bank.  One or two boys would walk in the water above the net, splashing and pounding the surface with sticks, herding the fish ahead of them. As they got closer, the unsecured end of the net was slowly swung about, sweeping across the creek and toward the opposite bank.  Fish not placed on the evening menu were immediately released.  The net snared a bizarre assortment of strange looking turtles, bugs and other aquatic species.

No matter how much fun we had, we were expected home at 7:00 a.m. to complete our daily chores.

During the fall and winter, we fished, hunted, rode sleds, ice skated on ponds and creeks, built leaf walls and snow forts and regularly spent time in our gargantuan tri-level tree house. 

As an adult I have backpacked in the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, hunted bear, cougars, deer, elk, upland and water birds, fished on mountain lakes and rivers and the Pacific Ocean, and explored nearly every nook and cranny of the far western United States.  Every vacation of my adult life has been spent on the mountains, deserts, rain forests, or beaches of our pacific states, or, on whitetail hunts in the mid-west.  I have been an outdoor writer and a hunting guide.  Always seeking new adventures under big blue skies.

When my days are at an end and I reflect upon my years, I will certainly have regrets, but none will be attached to my lifetime spent outdoors.

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March 27, 2008 - Posted by | Hunting Stuff

1 Comment »

  1. Tell it like it is, brother. I am Jim’s real sis, still in Illinois and guilty of witnessing the changes he describes. He does so eloquently, doesn’t he? Maybe he should write a book?

    Jud

    Comment by Judy Michael | March 28, 2008 | Reply


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