Learning to enjoy nature through generational adventures

November’s almost gone, but I love the peaceful weeks this month offers before the snow flies, the holidays encroach and winter settles in. My husband Mike and I enjoy hiking in November, although we learned the hard way to be aware of hunters. We hiked at the Muscatatuck Wildlife Reserve once in November, clueless that hunting was allowed in-season. We had to skedaddle when we heard shotguns go off.

I grew up in a family of women — it was just my widowed mother, my two sisters and me — so I wasn’t exposed to outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing. I recall my mother telling me in her childhood, my grandpa hunted to put meat on the table. He usually took my Aunt Jean — my mother’s younger sister—with him. Aunt Jeannie liked the outdoors and was a good shot. Knowing my mother, she was happy to stay home, curled up with a book. My grandpa had three daughters and was no doubt thrilled to have at least one who liked to tromp the woods and hunt with him.

Mom didn’t tell me until the end of her life how much she missed eating squirrel and rabbit. She remembered her dad bringing home small game from hunting trips, and my grandma frying it up in an iron skillet. Mom could fry up a mean fried chicken, but that was the wildest game she served when I was growing up.

Fish wasn’t on the childhood menu either. Mom didn’t care for fish, so we never ate it. Then I met Mike. He came from a long line of fisher folk. Childhood vacations for him were fishing trips to northern Minnesota or Canada. His grandfather started the tradition in the 1930’s. Mangases love chasing Walleyes and Northern Pike. It’s in their blood. Even his mother, the most petite feminine woman I’ve ever met, is gripped with fish fever. A photo of her with a 20-pound plus Northern Pike graced a Canadian resort brochure for years.

Mike kept working on me, and at least I learned to like eating fish — and steak without A-1 Sauce. But I told him from our earliest days together, I wasn’t going to go ‘up north’ to fish every vacation. I wanted to expose our sons to a lot of different experiences. Of course, we ended up taking the boys to northern Minnesota a few times, and as luck would have it, my sons now say those were their favorite summer vacations. They loved the unstructured days to swim in clear lakes and to run and play in the woods. All the “experiences” I gave them wore them out. Oh, the irony.

One of the last years my late father-in-law was healthy enough to travel, Mike and I vacationed with my in-laws in northern Ontario to experience a “real” Mangas fly-in fishing trip. I wasn’t sure I’d like the schedule: fish all day with a guide, eat shore lunches — what, no table service? — and sleep in rustic cabins, but I’m glad I went. There’s a peace and wildness found in the Northwoods that works its way into your soul. The dense forest of fir trees and the clear sparkling lakes are breathtaking. The call of the loons haunts you. The utter silence refreshes your spirit. And not to forget … the joy of reeling in a ‘big one.’

I’ll never be Annie Oakley or a fishing queen, but I’m glad I’ve been exposed to the great outdoors … even though at first I protested the idea, kicking and screaming. Time to settle in for winter now and enjoy a few good books. Happy Holidays, all.