If you’ve followed my column over the years, you know that Joyce and I are NOT renowned for our fishing prowess. When we had our boat, Joyce always had a book along, and when the fishing was slow (as it usually was for us) she relaxed in the sun and read her book. I on the other hand paced the “poop-deck” and grumbled. You see, to me it was all about catching fish; after all, we were fishing! But to her it was all about enjoying the tranquility of being on the lake, even if no fish were caught. I rag on other fishermen and hunters when they get too intense about their chosen sport, but when it comes down to it, I’m often just as bad; Joyce calls it my “conquer mode.” And nowhere does my conquer mode kick into overdrive more than during trapping season.
I have penned this column weekly for more than 12 years now and I’m often asked “Is it hard to come up with subjects every week?” My answer is always “Yes it sometimes is.” I’ve been trapping coyotes for over a week now, and was counting on finding a dynamic adventure or two from the trapline for this week’s column, all the while in “conquer” mode as I sulked about not catching as many coyotes as I should be. I had driven through the ditch, then into a grassy waterway that wound its way across a wheat stubble field, then went overland to three traps I had completely back in the middle of a section. I was rolling slowly along the edge of a new wheat field and came to where it skirted a wooded area and a dry creek. I was talking out loud to God as I often do, grumbling about my lack of trapping success and asking Him for column fodder for this week (as I often do also,) when across in front of me flew a rooster pheasant, then another and another until 5 roosters and a couple hens had taken wing. I looked ahead of me toward where they came from, and there with its luminous, multi-colored head sticking out of the tall green grass and shining brightly in the morning sun stood another rooster waiting to see what I would do. Then it hit me; this was my book when the fish weren’t biting! I didn’t need dynamic to write about at all, I just needed to slow down and somehow convey to you things I see when I’m out in Nature.
For instance, at a certain spot, along a dirt road I travel every morning checking traps, I see a doe whitetail deer and her fawn from this year. One of them is usually in the ditch and the other somewhere near in the field. I slow down and they watch me carefully until I’m too close for their comfort, then across the field they trot like a couple of show horses, their whitetails bobbing from side-to-side, telling me they’re not really spooked, but I’ve gotten close enough. Am I the only one who marvels that wild 4 legged critters like that share our space?
This time each year the Kansas fields and pastures become temporary digs for a myriad of hawks and falcons as they come south seeking the mild fall weather we usually have. I especially enjoy watching the Northern harriers, large slender birds with falcon shaped wings and a broad white stripe across the top of their tail. They hunt by gliding just a few feet above the ground over pastures and CRP patches, rocking from side-to-side as their telescope eyes search for the slightest movement in the grass below.
I caught a skunk this week, and even though I know firsthand their stinky reputation, I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful a skunk really is. Their little head and pointed nose are dwarfed by the long thick coat of coal-black fur they carry around, complete with white double racing stripe down their back. The fur on their tail is so fine it ripples in the breeze. This year we had a skunk hat at the trapper’s booth at the state fair, and it was a great attraction. Kids loved getting their pictures with it on their head. Yes, if you can get past the smell, skunks are marvelous little creatures.
And then there are the sunrises; Kansas has the most amazing sunrises. They begin as a warm yellow glow in the eastern sky. As it crawls slowly up over the horizon, the warm yellow slowly turns to brilliant orange and then that flaming ball we call our sun peaks above the earth and climbs into the sky to light and to heat our day.
Yes, just as Joyce learned to enjoy the day on the water, even if all she caught was forty winks and a sunburn, so I need to learn to slow down and smell the skunks, so to speak. So next time you’re out in God’s creation, whether hunting, fishing, trapping or hiking try to shift out of your “conquer mode” and really see what’s around you as you continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]