The Tranquility of a Solo Camping Trip

For quite some time I’ve wanted to do a solo camping trip along the river. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of friends and family on the river, I do. The majority of my fondest memories in the outdoors involve the companionship of others. I wanted to do this trip for a couple of different reasons.

The first reason for the solo trip, is that I wanted to really experience nature. I don’t think it’s possible to really experience all of the little things in the outdoors when you’re in the company of others. I’m always concerned about making sure others are enjoying their trip, or I’m engaged in conversation of some sort. I can’t focus all of my attention on my surroundings and take in each little sound. Maybe some can, but I find myself distracted amongst others. When you’re alone in the dark, in a place that you’ve never been before, you tend to notice each sound. That’s what I wanted from this trip.

The second reason for wanting to go this one alone, was to prove that I still can. It’s been close to twenty years since I’ve made a solo camping trip. In that time, I’ve learned a lot of new things. I’ve learned how to be still. I’ve learned how to make better, safer decisions. I’ve also learned that I’m not as young as I was the last time that I did this, nor am I in near as good of shape. However, being able to write this story is a testament that I’ve still got enough in the tank to go out alone and come back in one piece.

When I mentioned to my family that I wanted to do a solo trip, they all cringed at the thought. Given my track record for accidents and misfortune, almost nobody thought it was a good idea. I’m sure they thought I’d come home with a broken bone, stitches, or a busted boat. And I don’t blame them. I’ve had more than enough of my fair share of all of the above. Even so, this was a trip that I just had to make…for me.

The first part of this trip was the planning stage. I decided that I wanted to put in on the Pearl River in a location that I’d never fished before. Going to the same areas that I’ve fished previously didn’t seem adventurous enough for me. I looked the river over on my hunting map and found a sandbar that seemed suitable for camping. The only question from there was the water level. I couldn’t be sure that sandbar would even be there with the current river stage. There was no way of knowing the stage of the river when the satellite image was taken. I spent the next few days checking the river stage forecast to make sure it wasn’t scheduled to rise any more. This is an important step. The last thing you want to do when camping on a sandbar is wake up to find that the river has risen a foot, and you’re almost sleeping in the water.

Next, was the execution stage. My daughters and I took the afternoon to go to a local private pond and catch bait for my lines. We struggled a bit, but managed to land enough bait for me to run bank poles that night. I figured that I didn’t need to run more than 5-6 poles since I would be by myself. That goes back to knowing limitations and making better decisions with age. After catching bait, checking over my gear, and loading the boat, it was time to head to the river.

I arrived in time to get the poles put out and baited just before dark. Thankfully, the sandbar that I’d chosen to spend the night on was not submerged. I set up camp, parked myself in a chair, and began to take in the experience. Being on the river in the dark, miles from civilization, is incredibly tranquil. Each sound seemed like it was right next to me. I listened to bullfrogs bellow, owls hoot, crickets chirp, and the gentle sound of the river flowing downstream. I can say without a doubt that it was the most relaxed that I’ve been in a long time.

I built a small fire next to my tent for comfort, and sat and looked at the sky for hours. The skies were clear and stars glistened in the black canvas. The sound of the fire crackling added even more comfort to the rhythm of the river. I felt as connected with nature in a way that I cannot remember. Things that I was concerned about before this trip vanished right there on that sandbar.

Shortly before midnight, I decided to check my poles before going to sleep. During the boat ride, I encountered two different alligators and one agitated water moccasin. The gators were skittish enough to disappear as I approached their area, the water moccasin was not. We eventually agreed to live and let live.  After six poles checked, I had one flathead catfish in the boat. Not great, but to me it didn’t matter. I was there for the experience more than the fish.

The following morning, I awakened with the first light. The sounds from the night were mostly gone, but new sounds now filled the air. The diurnal creatures were beginning their day, myself included. I loaded my boat back up and began my trip down river, stopping to pull my poles. Out of the six, I landed one more flathead. The two fish combined will provide enough meat for a meal for my family, which to me qualifies it as a successful fishing trip.

After taking the boat out and heading home, I felt a sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation. My family was relieved that nothing catastrophic happened. If one could bottle that feeling of peace and serenity from that night on the sandbar and sell it, they’d be billionaires. If you have the opportunity to take a trip alone into God’s creation, do it, but move slow. Take it in and experience true peace.

Summer Dreaming of Winter Bucks

Rainy days drive me crazy. I can’t stand being cooped up in the house, but I also can’t stand being soaked to the bone while trying to fish. Years ago it didn’t bother me, but I’ve admittedly gotten softer with age. When the weather proves too extreme for me to go out, I usually resort to cleaning around the house. This is a never-ending task when you have young children, so there’s plenty to keep me busy.

During one of my rainy evening cleaning sessions, I stopped to admire a buck on the wall in our office. This particular deer was killed just after the New Year in 2016 and was my biggest buck until a couple of years ago. I finished my cleaning and sat on our couch, watching it rain, and caught myself longing for deer season.

Deer season 2015 was a slow year for me. I’d only been able to get in the woods a handful of times and had only killed one doe, which was harvested early during bow season. The rut came and went, and I only hunted once during that time period, with no luck. As the year came to a close, I’d all but decided that this deer season would be a bust. On New Year’s Day, my cousin called and invited me up to his place in the South Delta for a hunt. I was disgusted with deer season by this time, but the other part of me wanted to see a few guys that I hadn’t seen in a while. I decided to make the trip up to at least hang out for a couple of days.

My first hunt was on the morning of the 2nd. It was cold, and the weather was perfect. I saw plenty of deer that morning, but nothing to write home about. At this point, I was just happy to be seeing deer. The few trips that I’d made that season were marred by warm and rainy weather with very little deer activity. Today just felt different, and I appreciated that. We had lunch down the road in Onward, MS at the only store in Onward. They make a great hamburger if you ever have the chance to eat there. While eating, I can vividly remember thinking of how great an afternoon it was going to be. For the first time all season, I was anxious to get back in the woods.

We got back to the property and all decided where we would sit for the evening hunt. I chose a plot that we called the “Middle Field”, which had a large, elevated box stand on the south end of the food plot. The plot was about fifty yards wide and 400 yards long with cottonwood trees bordering each side. I wasn’t in the stand fifteen minutes when the first buck appeared 100 yards to my right. The buck wasn’t a “shooter”, but was fun to watch. He fed out into the plot and was visibly run down from the rut. While I was watching him I caught a glimpse of movement at the far end of the food plot. My adrenaline began to pump as I could immediately tell that it was a much larger deer.

I grabbed my binoculars and pointed them down the plot, hoping that this was what I thought it was. A quick glimpse confirmed my hopes. The buck was definitely a “shooter.” I quickly raised my rifle and got the deer in the cross-hairs. Before squeezing the trigger, my mind began to do math. The deer was at least 350 yards away. How high do I need to hold it above him to make a clean shot? I decided that the top of his back was a good spot and squeezed off a round. The 7mag blast filled the air and my ears were ringing. The deer took 2-3 quick jumps toward the cottonwoods and stopped at the edge. Did I miss him? I quickly bolted another round and aimed again. I made sure I was steady, but I didn’t have much time before the buck disappeared. I squeezed the trigger again and the buck vanished into the trees.

Shortly after the second shot, I received a message from a friend that was hunting with us. Barrett was hunting a field to my west and said the second shot sounded like it hit. My ears were ringing so loud inside that box that I couldn’t hear anything. I climbed down and walked to the area where the buck was and found one drop of blood. I made sure to mark it and went and got back in the stand to wait for the others to finish hunting. While waiting, I could hear more rumbling in the woods to my right. It sounded like a whole herd of deer coming through the woods.

When the subject of the noise finally made itself visible, it was a large wild hog. Brandon had given strict instruction to shoot every hog we saw on the property, so I wasted no time. Once again, the 7mag rang out canon-fire and the hog dropped in his tracks. My phone began to blow up again with questions of “what in the heck have you killed now?” and “is there a war going on?”

When darkness arrived so did all of the other hunters. Everyone was anxious to see what all had been killed in the “Middle Field.” The hog was easy to find, the deer was a little tougher. We went the spot that I’d marked earlier and began to fan out in the thick cottonwood trees looking for my buck. We searched and searched while only finding a few more drops of blood. Just as we were about to give up on the search, I decided to go in one last time. Not 25 yards into the woods, I nearly tripped over the dead buck. The search was over and my luck had finally changed.

Sometimes it’s really easy to get discouraged during hunting season. There will be times when the weather just won’t cooperate and the deer won’t move. The best thing you can do is keep hunting. One day the weather will change, the deer will move, and you’d better be in the woods ready to make the most of the moment! Speaking of weather, it’s raining again and I miss deer season.

Summer 2021: A Comedy of Errors

When I began writing my blog a little over a year ago, I never imagined that the articles would come so easy. I knew that I had some old material that I could dig into for a story, and figured I’d make a few new memories along the way. I was wayyyyy wrong! I joke with my neighbor from time to time about these articles practically writing themselves each week. At times I wonder if our lives are truly this chaotic, or if this is just normal. There have to be other families out there experiencing the same type of stuff as ours in this stage of our lives. Then again, how many families in our area are comprised of this much estrogen?

In the last year, I have had weeks where I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I’ve had weeks where I had no idea what I was going to write about. On the weeks where I’ve pondered my topic, something always happens to deliver it for me. This week has been one of those weeks. Sure, I’ve got tons of old fishing tales and hunting adventures to sling an article together, but there’s something about writing in the moment that I enjoy more. Everyone has an old story they can tell, but does everyone else proudly hold the title of “chaos coordinator” on a weekly basis?

In a house with three girls, four including my wife, each day presents its own challenges. “This one is being mean.” “That one didn’t pick up her part of the toys.” “She hit me.” The list goes on and on. Needless to say, when I see a brief, fleeting moment at an opportunity for peace, I jump on it. Things were quiet at the office last Friday, so I thought I’d head home early in hopes of doing a little fishing. Saturday and Sunday were to be filled with Independence Day activities at my in-laws neighborhood and in our subdivision, so Friday had to be the day. My wife assured me that we didn’t have any plans for the evening, so I was cleared for take-off.

By the time I arrived at the house, the weather had me concerned. Dark clouds filled the sky to the south, and I certainly didn’t want to get caught on the lake in a thunderstorm. I checked the radar and felt confident that it would be a quick shower, and the evening would be clear. My wife said she needed to run an errand anyway, so I agreed to watch the two older kids while she and the little one drove to pay the water bill. No harm, right? Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that this is a rare moment for me. Very seldom do I get the opportunity to poke fun at my wife. She is definitely the most responsible out of the two of us, and rarely, if ever, has an “oops moment”, unlike myself.

So, my wife arrived back at the house after paying the water bill after what seemed like an eternity. I could tell immediately that something was wrong. She ushered me outside to have a look at her SUV. There was a long scratch from the right headlight all the way to the side mirror. Visibly shaken, she proceeded to tell me of how Allie dropped something and she leaned down to get it…while driving. In doing so, she pulled the vehicle just off of the road and took out two mailboxes. Being the understanding husband that I am, I assured her that everything was fine. Not! To say that I was aggravated is a gross understatement. However, being the responsible and good natured person that she is, she stopped and told the owners of the mailboxes about her accident. They were extremely kind to her and just told her to send her husband over to fix them. Husband? But I’m supposed to go fishing!

I drove the half mile down the street to scene of the crime. Sure enough, one mailbox was demolished and the other a little banged up. I met with the owner then headed to the hardware store to get materials to rebuild his mailboxes. Fishing sure would be nice right about now. I made semi-quick work of replacing the mailboxes, much to the pleasure of the owner, who kept me company during my toil. I joked with him that this would have been better had it happened about 8 months ago. My dad, recently retired, was a plant manager at the largest mailbox manufacturer in North America, and my wife had a ten year old car instead of a brand new vehicle.

With the work done, I still had time to toss a line. I hurried back to the house, let my wife know the repairs were finished, and loaded up two kayaks in my truck. By the way, I have my truck back, so please don’t steal my catalytic converter because it screws up my fishing. I told my oldest to get in the truck if she wanted to go, which she did, and we headed to the lake. I didn’t even bother to eat dinner, there was no time to waste.

We slid the kayaks into the water just in time for the evening bite. I cheerfully watched my daughter paddle into position to cast. She’s gotten so much better in a kayak with very little practice. Her excitement echoed across the lake when she’d hook a fish. I think it’s worth mentioning that she’s not cane pole fishing with crickets, neither. She’s bass fishing with artificial bait and learning how to present her lure. It’s pure joy to watch her figure things out, mostly on her own. It makes for some pretty “proud daddy” moments.

The evening sky begins to fade, providing us with a sunset that appears to be painted by God himself. We only landed one fish, but the short time of relative peace on the lake together make the evening something out of a storybook. It’s the perfect ending to a chaotic day, and I’m sure it won’t be the last of its kind.

Be Aware of Abnormal Acting Wildlife

One of the best things about being in the woods or on the water is watching the different wildlife that Mississippi has to offer. I have spent many hours just sitting in the stand watching all of the different critters walk by. You never know what you might see sitting in a stand or taking a boat ride down the river. You also never know what you might see driving into your own neighborhood.

As a kid, one of my favorite movies was Old Yeller. What little boy in the 80’s didn’t enjoy it? The movie had everything you wanted: a loyal dog, a little bit of hunting, adventure, and…..rabies. Of all the critters that I’ve watched while in the woods and on the water over the years, I don’t remember seeing anything that resembled having rabies. You hear stories of coyotes and raccoons foaming at the mouth and staggering around like they’d drained a liquor store, but I’d never personally seen anything that resembled this type of behavior. I finally got a glimpse of what that looks like, but not where I expected to see it.

As I pulled into our subdivision from work this evening, I noticed a raccoon in the first yard in the neighborhood. My initial thought was that it was odd to see one this time of the day out in the open. I backed the car up to get a picture to show the kids when I got home. That’s when I noticed that something was wrong. The raccoon wasn’t the least bit afraid of me. It walked slowly around, noticeably staggering as it moved. It was drooling, as well. The only thing I could think of upon seeing this was Old Yeller.

I drove on to the house and grabbed my .22 rifle (for any government officials reading this, I borrowed the rifle because I lost all of mine in a boating accident) and headed back toward the front of the subdivision. By the time I arrived, it was beginning to rain and I didn’t see the raccoon anywhere. I went back home somewhat concerned by what I’d seen. I’m not an expert, but I wouldn’t think it’s a good thing to have a potential rabid raccoon wandering around a subdivision. As I began to eat dinner, my phone rang. Another resident in the subdivision saw the same raccoon and thought the exact same thing that I did. I told him to keep eyes on it and I’d be right there.

I jumped up from the dinner table and grabbed my, uh friend’s, rifle and went back to the front of the subdivision. The raccoon was on the front porch and certainly wasn’t afraid of our presence. The trash panda eventually left the porch and went staggering into the yard, giving me a clean shot. I was able to dispatch the raccoon with no injuries to myself or anyone else, which is a miracle in itself.

When I went back home, I was amazed at some of the articles on rabies in raccoons that I found. Depending on the source, raccoons made up between 30-40% of rabies cases in America. Bats accounted for the highest number of rabies carriers, which made sense to me. Seeing these numbers, though, made me surprised that I’d never seen a raccoon that I suspected had the rabies virus. This obviously doesn’t mean that I’ve never seen one that had it, I probably have, but I’ve never noticed any unusual behavior.

While on the topic of unusual animal behavior, something else to look for in the fall when you head back into the woods is Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD for short. While CWD is relatively new to Mississippi, it has been around for quite a while. The first known case was in Colorado in the late 1960’s. The first case in Mississippi was in January 2018 and there have been at least 68 confirmed cases since, with the majority coming from the Northeast zone along the Mississippi/Tennessee border. Deer with CWD will show severe weight loss, as well as a lack of social interaction with other deer. Like an animal with rabies, deer will also show signs of salivation along with increased thirst. Also like rabies, they may tend to lose their fear of humans.

You can visit mdwfp.com for more information regarding CWD in our state. There are numerous sites across the state to drop off any deer that you may suspect has CWD. Be sure to check where you hunt to see if you are in a “CWD Zone” before the season begins, as you may have different protocols to follow when you harvest a deer.

These are things that we don’t necessarily need to over-worry about when we traverse the outdoors, but they are certainly things to keep in mind. I believe it’s our duty to do all that we can to ensure that the next generation gets to enjoy the outdoors like we have. Just like if you saw someone stealing a catalytic converter, you’d say something, do the same if you see an animal acting abnormal.

No Catfish and No Catalytic Converter

If you haven’t figured out by now, I make some poor decisions. On Friday, I continued this trend. With a tropical storm heading toward Mississippi, I thought it would be a great time to go check a log on the river. In my defense, I figured the river was going to get too high for the next week or so to be able to go, so I thought I’d beat the weather.

Around this same time last year was when I pulled a 47 pound flathead catfish out of a log in the Bouie River, so I was anxious to return. I remember that it was around the same time of the year because catching that fish made me late for anniversary dinner with my wife. I decided to try and keep the trend alive on Friday and catch another fish before we went to dinner.

My neighbor, Master Sergeant Dave Brooks, has been wanting to make a grabbing trip with me, so I made a quick call to see if he wanted to try and beat the weather. He agreed and we loaded up and headed toward the river. I normally put in at the Pep’s Point landing on the Bouie for this particular trip, but when we arrived the ramp was completely covered in sand. There was no way to launch a boat from here, so we went to another ramp just off of Highway 49. The ramp was a little silted over, but I brought a shovel in anticipation of this. We took turns digging out trenches for the truck and trailer tires, and it wasn’t long before we had the ramp functional. I backed the boat in and we were free.

This is an area of the river that I haven’t been on in over 25 years, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The beginning of the trip was deceiving. The river was a little low, but manageable. After going around a couple of bends everything changed. The river got incredibly low in spots and other spots were almost impassable with debris. My boat is a little big for the Bouie River, but most of the time I can maneuver it up and down with just a few obstacles. This time was different. We got stuck on logs on more than one occasion, and at times I felt like there was no way we’d ever be able to make it back up the river. I kept checking my radar to see where the tropical storm was, while at the same time watching my clock to make sure I made it back in time for dinner. After getting stuck on a log for the thousandth time, I checked our location and we were nowhere near the fishing hole. Time was running out with the storm coming in and a potential ticked off wife at home. We made the reluctant decision to turn back and give it a whirl another day.

As we slowly picked our way back up the river, I became a little angry. I was angry that my usual ramp was silted over. I knew it would be. That’s why I brought a shovel. I’ve seen too many ramps in south Mississippi that aren’t taken care of. It’s a shame that our tax dollars are wasted on so many things, yet we can’t keep a half dozen ramps readily available to the public. Beating my boat to death back up the shallow Bouie River just added to my frustration. Little did I know, all of that was about to be the least of my worries.

In what seemed like three days, we made it back to the boat launch on Highway 49. We pulled the boat ashore and I walked up the ramp to get the truck while feeling defeated. I hopped in the truck and turned the ignition. It made the most awful sound that I’ve ever heard. There was a truck parked next to me, and I thought they cranked theirs at the same time thus causing the awful noise. Nope. Nobody in the truck next to me, so it was mine. I backed up into the dirt road to be able to get a better look at the truck. This is where my Friday meltdown really hits its peak. I crawled underneath the truck and noticed that something was missing. I don’t know much about vehicles, but I was pretty sure that the pipe leading to my muffler was supposed to attach to the rest of the truck. Some jerk had sawed off my catalytic converter while we were on the river.

I sat next to the truck for a second trying to process what I had just seen. I walked down the ramp and told David what I thought had happened, and he was just as shocked as I was. We called the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office, and they sent a deputy out to do a report. He told us that this was rampant right now, and many churches had converters stolen off of church vans. What in the heck is going on in this world when you can’t go to the river without your truck getting sawed on?!!

I hope this week’s article will bring some awareness to someone like me. The officer also told us that a boat trailer had been stolen in the last two weeks from that same location. These are things that I don’t usually think about when I’m heading fishing, but will be vigilant about now. If you see suspicious activity, make sure to report it to local authorities. Also, if someone tries to sell you a catalytic converter in the next few days, I’d probably take a hard pass. The good news in all of this, my wife let me slide on being late for dinner…this time.

Master Sergeant David Brooks guides us up the Bouie River

Hiking Provides Beautiful Scenery and Sore Legs

Exhausted. That’s how you usually feel after returning from a vacation. At least that’s how I feel. My wife’s family does it big each year for a family reunion, and this year was in the mountains of North Georgia. We loaded the car up late last week and made the trip up, and I’m glad we did.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some pretty cool places across the country. I’ve been to the West Coast multiple times and been pretty much all over the central and southeastern United States. Most of these trips have been due to traveling with college athletics and don’t provide much time for sight-seeing. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to see some beautiful places. Out of all of the traveling that I’ve done in my life, one area has pretty much eluded me, the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve been to the Cascades, and I’ve seen the Rockies, but I’ve never really been in the Appalachians.

As we started to get into the hills, my excitement level began to rise. I felt like I was looking at a potential “shooter” buck or getting ready for a big game. It probably sounds corny, but I was excited to finally get a glimpse of the beginnings of the Appalachian range. As we curved our way into the hills the scenery grew better and better. I tried to soak in each view as we slowly made our way toward the lodge. We arrived just in time to catch a nice sunset from the lodge, which was situated atop a ridge around 2,500 feet in elevation and holds Amicalola Falls.

Amicalola Falls is the third highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. As soon as we got moving the next morning, we made a point to go view the falls before doing anything else. It measures 729 feet in length and is breathtakingly beautiful. Since the lodge was at the top of the mountain, we began our view of the falls from the top. The kids wanted to hike down and get a look from the bottom, and a part of me wanted to do the same. This is where the trip fatigue begins. To get down to the bottom of the falls from the top, you take a long set of stairs down. This doesn’t sound very daunting, and it’s not. The problem with starting at the top and going down means you have to come back up. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape for a man in his mid-30s. Those steps on the way back up absolutely kicked my butt. My legs burned like they haven’t burned in years. I really began to question my athleticism when an older man smoking a cigarette passed me on the way up. The kids handled it just fine, with Collins asking to go back down and do it again. We did not.

We returned to the lodge with my legs and my pride hurting. I immediately laid down and took a much needed nap. Upon awakening, the rest of my wife’s family had arrived. They had already heard of our morning adventure from the kids and about my fatigue. Most of them hadn’t been to the falls to pick at me about how wimpy I was being. They just accepted that it must be pretty tough. That’s when my wife’s aunt finally spoke up. She lives in the area and had been to the falls many times. She shattered my ego even more when she let everyone know that she hiked the falls for her 80th birthday. Yep, I was still exhausted, and now humiliated.

The next morning arrived and I was determined to prove that I could handle the hiking world. We decided to go down to the bottom of the hill and hike a trail up to the bottom of the falls. This time my in-laws decided to make the trip as well. We hiked around a mile to the bottom of the falls. Along the way, there was a pond that is stocked with trout for catch and release fishing. A part of me wanted to try my luck, but something about a stocked pond full of trout just seemed too tame for my liking. We passed it and kept on hiking to the base of the falls. Also, along the way I heard a familiar little voice. Our middle child was hiking with some of the family and passed us along the trail. I was feeling good about myself and our hike, until she passed by us skipping along the way. My ego was once again shattered. (Side note: she hiked all the way up to the falls and back up the stairs again with no complaint)

When the trip was finished and we headed back toward the house, I began to wonder about hiking opportunities in Mississippi. I usually get my hiking fix traversing the woods of Mississippi with a rifle on my back in pursuit of deer. But what about people that want to enjoy the outdoors without attempting to kill something? I found a website that provides information about different hiking trails throughout our state. The site, hikinginmississippi.com, gives a detailed list of trails in each region of the state, as well as different events that one might be interested in. I’m not sure if I will ever get around to visiting these trails, but after this weekend my interest has definitely been peaked. In the meantime, I will continue to lick my wounds and work on getting in better shape to keep my six year old from running circles around me.

Memories of Summer Trips to My Grandparent’s House

Rain. One word pretty much sums up this entire week. Since returning from the river last weekend that’s all that it seems to have done. Each time I’ve thought I’d have a break to head back out on the water, the radar tells me to stay put. I know what you’re thinking. It’s just a little rain and it won’t hurt. In most cases, you’d be right. On the other hand, if you’ve read any of my previous articles you would know that I don’t need to be on the water in less than optimal conditions.

In the place of fishing for the weekend, we took the kids to a local blueberry farm, Sandy Run Farms. This isn’t exactly the adventure that I had envisioned for the weekend, but anytime you take a two year old somewhere it has challenges. We grabbed four small buckets and set out into the endless rows of blueberry bushes. If you haven’t been to Sandy Run Farms, I encourage you to go. It doesn’t matter if you have children or not, it’s a great place to kill an hour or so. The staff is incredibly friendly and the blueberries are delicious.

Do you know how you can catch a whiff of something and it takes you back to a memory that you couldn’t have possibly remembered without that particular scent? I’m not exactly sure what I smelled while we were picking berries, but it immediately took me back to summers at my grandparent’s house in Alabama. The memories were so clear and hit me so hard that it felt like they happened just yesterday. As I continued to pick berries, my eyes filled with tears at the thought of those summers.

My grandparents owned a home in-between Monroeville and Atmore in South Central Alabama. My grandmother still lives there to this day. This particular area of Alabama is similar to the Mississippi Delta. It’s an area scattered with modest homes and as much farmland as one can stomach. Our family owned around 100 acres that was mostly leased out to a local farmer to plant. The crops that were grown on the larger portion of land rotated between cotton and peanuts. As a kid, I loved to sit and watch the crop dusters fly over the house and spray the field, all the while my grandmother running outside quickly to get her laundry off of the clothesline. Speaking of scents that take you back, my grandmother’s towels always smelled the freshest, and still do.

Aside from the cotton field, my grandfather always had a section of land set aside to plant a garden. They’d plant corn, tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes, squash, okra, and egg-plant. I’m sure there was more that I’m forgetting. When I’d go to visit, it was always harvest season. We’d wake up in the mornings and go straight out to the garden to pick. I remember once as a kid we picked an entire truck load of corn. It was also the first and only time that I’ve ever seen a corn snake! I vividly remember walking behind my grandfather as he cut okra off the stalk. I can still feel the itch as we brushed through the plants! We’d fill our buckets with fresh produce and take it back to the house for grandma to clean.

That’s another thing that was, and is, great about my grandparent’s house. The food. There wasn’t a fast food restaurant within 25-30 minutes, so home cooked meals are what we ate. My grandmother is the best cook ever and that’s not up for debate. Every evening we would have an assortment of fresh vegetables from the garden. We also had fruit trees all around the yard. You couldn’t walk 20 yards without running into some sort of fruit tree. From fig trees, blueberry bushes, peach trees, to muscadine vines, there was literally something to eat everywhere you looked. It was like our own little Garden of Eden.

Our family also owned a parcel of land down the road a little piece where my grandfather had cows. We’d ride over there daily to check on them and do whatever work needed to be done. I’d help my grandfather mend fences, bust up beaver dams, or work around the barn. When the work was finished, we’d fish in the pond. This particular pond was perfect to take a kid fishing. You couldn’t hardly cast a line in without catching something. Granddaddy always made sure we made plenty of trips over to the pond while I was there because he knew that’s what I’d rather do than actually working. I know there were things that needed tending to instead of me fishing, but now that I have kids of my own I understand why he made the time for it.

I’m sure there are still kids today that get to experience this way of life with their grandparents, but there’s not enough of them. I really believe that those couple of weeks each summer when I was growing up helped mold me into who I am today. It’s a simple way of life, but simplicity is needed. We live in a world that is way too dang busy today. We need more weeks with grandma and grandpa where we pick peas and sit in the shade with a fishing pole. I never realized how important those days were until I got older.

The last time I spent a couple of weeks there was right before I left home for college. My grandfather was dying of cancer, and the weeks were filled doing the chores around the house while my grandmother cared for him. I tended to the garden, which was much smaller than usual, and made sure the yard was kept neat. It was a strange feeling doing those chores without him beside me. Now that he has passed, I do a garden for our girls. I love to watch them pick fresh vegetables in the evening and for my wife to cook them for us. I think granddaddy would be proud.

Boats, People Watching, and Catfish On the Pearl

The kids are out of school, baseball season is over, summer is here, and the fish are biting. A few days ago, I went ahead and pulled the boat out of its resting place, and prepared for the first voyage of the summer. I’ve periodically pulled it out, cleaned it, and cranked it to make sure when the time was here that I wouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines. Thankfully, she fired right up the first time that I turned the key. Anyone that owns a boat knows that this is a miracle in itself!

I had every intention of heading to the river as soon as my batteries were fully charged. Rarely do my intentions become reality. I watched painfully as my boat sat in our driveway for two days without being used. As soon as I thought it would be a good time to head out, the girls would come up with something that needed, or had, to be done. I put on a half-smile and agreed to their terms, hoping that my river trip would happen sooner rather than later.

Sunday afternoon would be the first time that we didn’t have something that just had to be done, or someplace we just had to be. Well, sort of. We had lunch at my in-laws and the river was calling my name. I didn’t think that I’d ever get the girls to leave so we could get back to the house. After hustling them into the car, it was decided that we’d all be going out on the boat for the evening. This may seem normal to you, or you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” I’ll tell you what the big deal is. Getting four girls into the boat, including a two year old, is big work. Fellas, have you ever noticed how your wife and children will pack the car for an overnight trip? There will be enough stuff in the car that you can’t even see out of the rear-view mirror. And that’s for one night. A day trip to the river usually isn’t much different. They will pack enough snacks, drinks, and towels to open up a bed and breakfast on a sandbar. Seeing that I don’t own a yacht, this over-packing usually makes for a pretty cramped boat ride. For some reason, though, today was different.

As I hooked the boat up to the truck and loaded up the life jackets for each person on board, I noticed Collins (middle child) carrying a small grocery bag of snacks. I wondered, how can this be? Is this all they intend to bring? They didn’t even pack drinks! I loaded up a couple of rod and reels and packed a small cooler with a few bottles of water. This trip is already looking better than previous trips! We loaded the kids up in the truck and headed toward the Pearl River.

When we arrived at the boat launch, I could have sworn I’d been conned into taking my boat to some kind of auction. There were more boat trailers parked in the lot than you’d see at the Bassmaster Classic. It dawned on me that it was Memorial Day weekend, and every boat owner in three counties was at the river. My patience was being tested at the launch, as it took at least 25 minutes before it was my turn to back my trailer in. I got the boat into the water, slipped and fell twice, and strained a quad before finally getting everyone in the boat. Thank goodness the boat fired right up or who knows who I may have killed! As we headed up the river, the pain in my leg went away, and my anxiety disappeared. I finally felt at home.

Speaking of feeling at home, when you go to the river in South Mississippi, especially on a holiday weekend, you see all walks of life. If you had time to just sit and look, it would be a fantastic place to people watch, much like an airport! My kids were probably a nervous wreck with some of the characters we encountered, but these are my people. I love how every boat you pass, or every person on a sandbar, will wave at you as you go by. Heck, you can pass a sandbar full of people waving, go two hundred yards past it, turn around, come back, and they will wave again! Fortunately, for me, this has always been the case. Folks on the river are happy and friendly because they are on the river.

We traveled up the river a pretty good piece and found a nice spot in the shade to fish for a while. Since this wasn’t so much of a fishing trip as it was a pleasure trip, we baited up one rod with a worm and cast it into the edge of the current. It wasn’t five minutes later the rod was almost jerked entirely out of the boat. I grabbed it quickly and began reeling. The kids squirmed with excitement as I landed the four pound channel catfish into the boat. The fish wasn’t huge, but daddy was seemingly a hero. I beamed with pride at the first, of hopefully many, catfish for the summer. We baited the hook again and tossed the line back in the water.

We didn’t catch any more fish, but I didn’t really care. Watching my girls enjoy the outdoors was more than worth the trip over for the afternoon. On the way back to the boat ramp I explained to Mackenzie (oldest child) how to navigate the river. She soaked up every bit of information like she was preparing for a test. Hopefully one day she will look back on days like today and smile, just like I do when I think about times on the river with my dad.

The Difficulty of Transitioning Seasons

There’s an old saying that goes “time flies when you’re having fun.” The last few weeks have been incredibly fun and have seemingly gone by like a shooting star. Having success is always fun, but falling short of your goal is gut wrenching, especially when you are as close as we were.

After returning home from winning our conference championship, we only had a couple of days to unpack a bag, wash our clothes, and head back on the road. There was barely enough time to squeeze in some family time and take care of some neglected yard work before leaving again. We were selected to play in the NAIA Opening Round, which is essentially the equivalent to what most call a regional. Our “regional” was located just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The tournament consisted of five teams, four of which were ranked in the NAIA Top 25, including the 4th ranked team in the country, Central Methodist University. To get to the World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, we would have to play our best baseball of the year.

I haven’t spent too much time in the Midwest, so I really looked forward to seeing new things. The scenery on the trip up was a nice mixture of flat, farmland and rolling hills along the Mississippi River. The weather was nice on the drive up, but on Saturday that changed. We were hit with a brief rain and chilly temps on Saturday afternoon. That rain continued off and on all the way through Wednesday. It was absolutely miserable. Thankfully, the field that we were playing on was artificial turf so we didn’t have to worry too much about rainouts. However, it did rain so much that the tournament was backed up some.

We opened the tournament as the number two seed and played the number three seed, Benedictine-Mesa, out of Arizona. Fortunately, we were able so slide past them with a 2-1 win, putting us in the winner’s bracket. Next up was top seeded Central Methodist. After getting in a hole early, and facing a 6-1 deficit in the 9th inning, our top hitter launched a three-run homer with nobody out to bring us within two runs. We got the next two runners on base before the pitcher was able to work out of the jam, giving us our first loss of the tournament. Reality began to set in that we were one game away from our season being over.

We didn’t have much time to think about things, as we had to play again that evening. The rain from the previous days had the schedule backed up, which forced us to have to play two games on the same day. Our first elimination game of the season was against McPherson College, out of Kansas. They had fought through the loser’s bracket and were also on their second game of the day. We jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, eliminating them by a score of 10-2. However, with the win meant we would have to beat Central Methodist twice the following day in order to return to Lewiston.

Thursday provided the first sunshine that I had seen in the Midwest since arriving. The sun, coupled with the gentle breeze, made for a perfect day for baseball. However, what started out as a perfect day ended with heartbreak. Central Methodist took an early lead and held on for a 7-2 win, ending our season.

Watching the final out of the season is never easy when you’re on the losing side of things. I’m flooded with emotions at the end of the game. On one hand, I’m grateful for the success we’ve had and the opportunity that our younger guys had to play in postseason games. It should serve them well for the future. On the other hand, my heart breaks for the seniors who just played their last game of baseball. It stings to watch them hug one another with tear filled eyes, having come up just short of a goal. Their contributions to our program are certainly appreciated.

I hear coaches all of the time say things like, “Winning a national championship is the only goal”, or “the season will be considered a failure if we don’t win it all.” I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach and idea. Success can be measured in many different ways. I believe that making it through the season without being shut down due to Covid can be considered success. A conference championship is absolutely considered success. Having each one of our seniors complete their degree is considered success. If that mentality makes me a loser, slap an “L” on my back and tell me how many national championships you’ve won.

Now that the season is over, it’s time to transition. The new season has begun. This time will be filled with filling roster spots from players that are moving on to figuring out how returners will fit into the mix for next season. It’s also a transitional period at home. My wife has essentially been a single parent for a few months, and our kids have to learn my name again! The good thing is that summer is quickly approaching and school will be out soon. Maybe a couple of trips on the river is just what they need to remember Dad. It’s certainly what I need.

Baseball, Hunting, and Fishing Have Many Similarities

Wow. What a week! Postseason baseball is incredibly fun, even more so when you win, but it’s also pretty draining on the mind and body.  As I rested today after being on the road for a week, I began to think of some of the ways baseball, hunting, and fishing share some similarities. Of course, baseball shares similarities with many things in life, as do hunting and fishing, but I don’t know much about accounting or construction so I’ll have stick with what I know.

Going into our conference tournament this past week, I felt like we knew a pretty good bit about the opponents that we would face. We’d seen most of them during the regular season, and I didn’t expect too many surprises in the tournament. In the days leading up to the tournament we look over statistics, tendencies, and make out scouting reports. If we do it right, we should have a decent idea of what our opponent can and cannot do. Then we put together a game plan of what it will take to win. How is this any different than hunting?

In the months leading up to the beginning of deer season, many of us will scout the animals we want to pursue. We will prepare food plots, put out cameras, and plot areas on a map of where we think gives us the best opportunity for success. By the time the season gets here, we will have a pretty good idea of what our opponent (the deer) are doing and when they are doing it. We will know how the deer will move in certain kinds of weather. We will know where they sleep and what they are eating. We will know which stands will give us the best chance for success depending on the direction of the wind. In essence, we will have our own little scouting report to give us our best chance to harvest that buck we’ve been lusting after. Just like baseball.

Before I go to a lake or river to fish, I usually like to take a look at some type of map. If it’s a public lake, there is usually a map somewhere online showing the different depths of the lake. It’s always good to know ahead of time where the deeper water is and where it begins to drop. If I’m fishing a river, I like to look at a topo map. This gives me a decent idea of steep drops in the land that usually coincides with a drop off in the river. After getting a general idea of where to fish, the next step is how to catch the fish. I equate this to trying to get a hitter out. If you’re a pitcher, you need to know what pitches a hitter hits well and what pitches they don’t hit well. Can I get this guy out with a slider? Can I catch this bass with a spinner bait? What pitches do this team feast on? What baits do these fish feast on? Just like baseball.

Next is the equipment debate. I’ve seen baseball players with crummy bats and ragged gloves whip the tails of kids with brand new stuff. They are just better players. I’ve also seen fishermen that were in boats held together by duct tape and prayers win tournaments while guys buzzed around in forty-thousand dollar rigs catching weeds. They are just better fishermen. However, my mother in law often chides me about being the best dressed hunter in the woods, and I am. I’m built for comfort, not speed. There are also a heckuva lot of guys out there killing booners in blue jeans and flannel shirts, while I snooze away an afternoon in the best Under Armor jacket you can imagine. They are just better hunters. However, I do believe that having updated equipment gives you an edge in the woods and on the water, just as it does on the baseball field. If you put two equal teams on the field, give one the best equipment and the other old equipment, I’d bet the guys with the new digs win the game. If my uncle had the gear and clothing that I have, he’d likely be able to sit in the woods for 3-4 days without making a twitch. Regardless of gear, some hunters/fishermen are just better…just like baseball.

Finally, how about the joy and heartache that each bring? After hours of preparation and work, how gut wrenching is it to miss that buck you’ve worked so hard for? Or better, how much happiness does it bring you to catch the bass of a lifetime after fishing a particular lake for an entire summer, day in and day out? Fortunately for our team, we got to experience the happy side of things this past weekend. After an entire year of uncertainty with Covid, and a regular season filled with ups and downs, we were able to raise a trophy on Sunday and proclaim ourselves conference champions. It’s a good feeling when hard work pays off! Just like hunting and fishing.