My dad thought I was holding up a dead, frozen deer. His attitude changed when he realized that I caught it bare handed!
We pulled into Warrens in Northern Wisconsin on the eve of my first rifle season. The falling snow danced along the winding road that lead to the campsite. The temperature inside the '69 Bronco plummeted after we rolled down the windows to get a deep breath of frosty air. With puppy-like enthusiasm I stuck my head out the window and got stung in the face by huge flakes of snow. I pulled it back in when my lips started freezing to my teeth. My body trembled with excitement – I was going on a “big woods” hunt with my Dad.
He eased his way around the final corner. The head lights peered through the snow covered slash pines. A few years earlier, Fortune showed us a beautiful 10-point buck standing under the picnic shelter in the park. Our minds lit up with memories of his bold posture and wide glossy-white rack. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding about a placing a tree stand near the shelter.
The outhouse came into view. It always tickled our funnybone. We dredged up an incident that involved "Unk" one of my Uncles. On one occasion he overindulged in one of Dad's five-alarm chilis and he got all bowed up. He was really pissed-off and didn't hesitate to jump all over the cook. "Pull this dam truck over to the can so I can dump this chili where it belongs. In the shitter!" He dove out the door and scrambled to free his pants. The old outhouse whirled with leaves and tilted when the door slammed shut.
Dad seized the moment. He pulled the truck around and placed the bumper against the door. He gave the can a nudge and let it settle. A more aggressive push followed by another. If trapping him inside a smelly, broken down old outhouse wasn't enough -- on the third try he tipped the can to a 45-degree angle. It teetered for a moment...almost over...then returned with a crash. The old shitter buckled from the strain and threw Unk out the door onto his face with his pants slopping around his knees! The laughter subsided as the “thunder mug” faded into the snowy night.
We returned to our favorite campsite in the remote corner of the park -- nearly 50 miles of wilderness bogs, lakes and woods right outside the door.
Dad squeezed the 20-foot Avion between two monstrous pines. I jacked the stabilizer bars into place and within minutes Dad hit the sheets. His World Class snoring rattled the aluminum roof vents and kept me from sleeping for more than a minute at a time.
The excitement of the hunt was more intense than any year I could remember. Christmas Day almost lost its #1 ranking that night. Vivid dreams of World Record bucks played only long enough to visualize every possible shot angle; running, standing still, cornered away. I'd be ready for anything and everything, or so I thought.
The clattering bells of an old wind-up clock startled my dream buck and I shot high over his back. It took a moment to convince myself the dream was not an indication of the upcoming day. Sometime in the night the old furnace blew out and the frigid air penetrated the thin aluminum walls. I lay and listened to my dad's morning rituals.
He began with a frantic head scratch and a few throat clearings. He followed up with the question, “What time is it? “ “I don't know.” I whispered.
"Why...it's...daylight in the swamp!" he cheered, pulling the sleeping bag from my head and roughing my hair.
I pulled my head back into the sack and laughed to myself. I loved seeing him enter the silliness of my childhood world – Ahhh, the transformation of camping.
His next move was toward the small kitchen where he fumbled noisily through the silverware drawer looking for the flintlock lighter. I revisited the definition of anticipation, i.e. Listening to the sound of flintlock spewing sparks toward a hissing gas flow. Relief came when I heard the "whump" of the stove igniting.
Next, he stepped outside and left the door open. A frigid blast of Arctic air and swirling snow swept across my bed and made it nearly impossible for me to get out of my warm bag. He returned with a frozen water container and chuckled.
"How cold is it?" I asked.
When he reached over me to open the curtains and check the thermometer he slipped his ice-cold hand down the back of my neck, "Says 10 degrees! Once we get up and moving we'll be plenty warm." Funny…to me it felt much colder.
He chopped the frozen surface of the jug, enough to fill the Blue Stone coffee pot to the brim .I waited for the final act of his routine; A series of long, slow, noisy, coffee slurps and a gasp. I dove into layers of clothes hoping to be warm enough, which I never was.
I stuck my head out the door. The first breath of cold air scorched my lungs and froze my nose hairs. The snow creaked beneath my feet as I made my way toward what was left of the outhouse. There's something very invigorating about being the first one to grace the throne on a cold morning. I tried to hurry my duty along, but I was too nervous…hence my discovery of the ghost poopy – (one that makes a lot of noise, but is nowhere to be found.)
I stepped lively back to the camper trying to revive my frozen backside. I stood outside the trailer with my shoulders shrugged over my ears and my fingers balled up inside my mitts. I was wearing my Grandpa's old wool hunt pants too. I didn’t like how the air circulated every time I wiggled. He, on the other hand, cherished the feeling of wool on his bare skin. He wore nothing else.
He slurped the last of his coffee and tossed me an extra pair of wool socks to stuff in my backpack. "When you get to your stand put these fresh socks on. And here's your lunch." He handed me a brown bag containing a frozen butter sandwich, two cookies and a thermos of hot chocolate. "Make sure you check your compass and stay still until I come and get you." He also encouraged me to shoot a big one before he disappeared into the woods.
The snow hung in the Pines and lit the forest floor. It made it possible to see without a flashlight. I made my way through the woods toward my stand. I accidentally bumped a limb and toppled snow down the back of my neck. I was lathered from walking too fast so it was cold and refreshing at the same time.
When I reached my stand I leaned the gun against the tree and opened my jacket. A cloud of steam poured from the zipper and crystallized on my eyebrows. I changed my socks and poured myself a cup of hot chocolate to pass the time that moved as slowly as the pine sap that covered the tree.
Three minutes till opening and I nearly fell out of my tree stand when the first rifle shot cracked through the woods. I had a brand new Remmington 30-06 and it was shaking in my hands as my eyes scanned the woods. I was so busy looking in the direction of the shot that I hadn't noticed the deer that made its way under my tree. I snapped the rifle to my shoulder and drew bead on a nub buck. He worked his way passed and never knew I was there. A few seconds later all hell broke loose and shots sounded all around me. In between the echoes I could hear my heart beating through my clothing.
Five deer, all does, ran through a small opening and disappeared. Three more ran within 20 yards. Two minutes later a small herd stopped under my tree. My eyes strained to grow antlers on every one of them. Around noon I stopped counting at 46 -- All does, no bucks.
I made the classic hunters mistake when I left the stand to take a leak. I leaned the gun against the tree and exposed my cold fingers. I’d waited hours to go, but my fingers were so cold and stiff that I couldn't unzip my fly. I did everything I could, short of tearing a hole in my pants to get them open. Finally I managed to get the zipper half down. I fumbled through the various 'fly holes' and fished my trout from its warm shelter. One more layer of cloths and I wouldn't have cleared the zipper. As it turns out, by the time I finished, the zipper froze half way down. My hands were so numb I gave up and left it alone.
On the way back to my stand a small dear stepped broadside 15 feet away. He lowered his head and caught me. I took a step and he looked away. I wondered how long he would let me advance. A few more steps and we were eye to eye. He kept looking around as though he never saw me.
I reached out to touch him and his head flinched stiffly. I offered my exposed palm to his nose and he showed no fear. He didn't mind my touch, so I checked for broken bones or injuries. I just assumed he was injured, why else would a wild deer let me be so intimate, right?
I found nothing wrong with the yearling. I took a stand next to the deer and waited for Dad. Just for kicks I wrapped my arms around the deer and pretended I caught it. Dad stopped momentarily to laugh at what he thought was a dead, frozen deer that someone propped up as part of a morbid joke. I let go of the fawn and his head immediately popped up. Dad's body shuddered and he froze in his tracks, "It's alive!"
He looked bewildered. He performed his own evaluation and found nothing wrong either. We stood for a while and observed the frailty of the eyebrows. We watched his ears work in opposite directions as he scanned for sound. But it was his eyes. The whiteness of his eyes was truly enchanting. We tried to nudge him along with gentle persuasion but he refused and kept returning to our side.
In the distance a small pack of coyotes howled and barked. It sent cold shivers down my spine and I was glad to be near Dad. He understood and respected my decision to give the deer a chance to make it on his own. With predators in the area the deer wouldn't go to waste.
He concluded, "If he's still here when we return this afternoon we'll take him with us." We laughed at the possibility of a live transport back home to show the family.
Just then another hunter appeared and headed our way. He too thought the deer was dead and propped up. I had one photo left on my film roll so I asked him to take a shot. When the shutter closed the deer raised his head as if there were nothing wrong. With two leaping bounds he disappeared into the whiteness, but not before we captured one of the most treasured moments I'd ever spent in the woods.
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
“ See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.” - Mother Teresa
A hooded merganser moved into the area this week and can bee seen hunting the south pass of Clam Bayou in Gulfport Florida. During our kayak trip today the “hoodie” scattered schools of chad across the surface like shattering shards off a broken mirror. He moves quickly, neck outstretched and wings tucked tightly following the school as they passed the Oyster catchers that sat alone on the bar...no willits, no dowitchers, no matter... They sat quietly without as much as a peep or a whimper and let us pass -primping, preening, probing. The laughing gulls found nothing to laugh at which I found odd, they usually have something to say to my amatuer paddlers! The prehistoric squawk of the great blue heron settled neatly on a mangrove perch was quelled as we paddled near a - too comfy to give up perch today.
Into Brandts lagoon the newly acquired Limkin stayed busy just beyond the hull with barely audible grunts of advice as he probed deep into the mud for his delicacies.“go for the ones with at least 100 legs, they're the best!” No clambering ducks, no kestrel in the pine and not one peep from the osprey as she glided overhead. Even the kingfisher with his machine-gun fire chatter only sputtered a few notes as he worked frantically over a school of shiners.
Clam Bayou's art gallery hosted yearly by the wintering pelicans is off to a slow start. No “poo-painters” on the wall today, but evidence of their smelly work is taking shape. Our recent warm weather likely has them soaking up the sun on a beach somewhere...can't blame em really...colder weather soon come. A casual paddler drifted by with her puppy pal tucked neatly in a chest pouch. Both seemed content with the stillness of the day and only offered minimal words as they tucked trash neatly into a sack..."good form" I say to Lady Rose! We can always use more "elves" around here.
The traverse into Magorie canal was reflective and serene. Night herons held tightly to their perch and stared at us through narrow, red-set eyes. We drifted within paddles reach of an American Egret. Her brilliant white plumage pressed against grassy green mangrove will be as close to an image of snowfall I'll see this year. She was gracious to let us pass twice without so much as a neckstretch.
The slurping, sucking sounds coming from the muck in McIntosh tunnel were only audible if you listened closely and at that dessable range you could almost hear the throngs of spiders quietly nibbling on no-see-ems.
It was nearing darkness when we emerged from the hammock to see the sun melting far beyond the beach buildings shrouded in fog.Then the chatter began. It started low, then grew - The nightly migration of the fish crow passed overhead and in a Southern pessimistic drawl - "Uh Uh" (I do-wanna) "Uh Uh" (I do-wanna) reached a chrishendo and carried through the silent corridors of the bayou. The areal display of black depth stretched far beyond the borders of the bayou and continued on.
The kayak hull crunched the shells at the launch site just in time for my kind of holiday office party! Daily with the setting sun at the Gulfport Municipal Marina is a winged holiday clelebration (and this year is bigger than ever) You can join the party witness a huge flock of redwing's, grackles & starlings. Scores of birds chatting away, milling about and vocally celebrating togetherness. If you watch closely you'll notice the office hussy casually dressed as an Ibis likely kabitzing with finely dressed heron who's visit to the open (oyster) bar has his neck craning and weaving....ah what the heck it's Christmas right? All up at once, an in no order what-so-ever the turbulent swarm wing their way over the bayou. Like a black tornado the swirl of birds spins and spirals downward, settling, falling, squawking over a peaceful area nicely knitted with marsh grass and limb. After a short period of clammering the party comes to a peaceful close, darkness sets in, and if your patience is as strong as your bug spray you too are welcome to come in and experience a “real” silent night.
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
The month of May brings the freshness of spring, the newness of life, and the excitement of another fishing season. But his dry sense of humor crashed when he realized that we were not alone in the wilderness.
We arrived at the boat ramp of Lake Emily on the eve of another fishing season. Anglers scrambled to re-spool their fishing reels and prepare their boats for what was predicted to be another "good" year. We unloaded the camping gear from Peter's 1969 Scout and removed a small boat from the top carrier. Lake Emily was ruled a "non-combustible" lake. Gasoline motors weren't allowed. On this trip our craft was propelled by manpower - a set of oars that we pulled out of the trash just one week earlier.
I rigged the Coleman stove on a branch of a gigantic Oak. Peter built a small fire. We sipped a few Brandy Old' Fashions and talked about last year's successes and the plans for this year's top water assault. We played show and tell with our new lures and teased each other about the secret lure that would surely win the bragging rights of this trip’s competition. One by one we fondled our favorite plugs, knowing that the other was holding out on his best bet until daybreak. I laughed wildly at Peter's dry, descriptive humor -- a combination of common sense and creative verbiage -- making us best of friends for the summers leading up to high school graduation. I especially enjoyed the times when he laughed at his own expense.
One particular incident sparked humor on every occasion. We were fishing on the same lake when suddenly Peter's bowels flared up. We were anchored in the middle of the lake -- 20 minutes rowing time to the nearest outhouse. With no time to spare he stripped down to his underwear and jumped overboard. His body evacuated and he gasped in relief. When he turned to investigate his work he discovered one of the biggest turds ever seen. Nearly the size of his forearm the "log” bobbed and drifted away from our boat. We glanced at it from time to time in between casts to see if we could still see it, and of course we always could. We thought the incident was over until a fellow boater dropped anchored down wind. Within minutes the torpedo-like turd slammed into the hull of the neighboring vessel. The waves continued to lap against his boat as we pulled anchor -- we couldn't stand it a second longer, we had to leave our favorite "honey-hole" to save face.
Our tears of laughter began to subside around midnight when we were drawn to the water's edge by the sound of fish jumping. A fresh batch of Mayflies danced on the lake in the full moon light. They tickled the calm surface with their dainty legs and wings. The water was alive with giggling ripples that lured the big Bass into a feeding frenzy. The fish were everywhere breaking the surface and free jumping into the night sky to retrieve their share of the hatch.
Within minutes our boat was in the water and loaded down with gear. I snapped the oars into the locks and Peter launched us from shore. The amount of boat (freeboard) that was above the water line was only about 5 inches, which left us no room for shenanigans or horseplay. I rowed toward the center of the lake while Peter knotted a Hoola Popper, his favorite warm-up plug. We couldn't move fast enough to fling the first cast.
I asked Peter to use the lantern so he could see what he was doing. I didn't think he‘d bite at such an obvious trick, but he moved the lantern close to his face and flipped the switch. Instantly the Mayflies were drawn in by the thousands. Peter's head and face were completely covered with the crawling creatures. He panicked. His arms thrashed wildly and he dropped the light into the bottom of the boat. His weight shifted and we tipped, letting enough water into the bottom of the boat to cover our feet. The flies came in by the bucketful's. Our airways choked with flies. I screamed at Peter to shut the light off before he swamped us, but he was too busy trying to catch his breath to acknowledge me. When he found the switch, all went dark. I began laughing hysterically about the ignorance of the act. I didn't think he'd take it personally. I was wrong. "Let's move to a different spot." He demanded.
With oars readied I began working toward the "hot spot". I rowed myself into lather and made very little progress. The harder I rowed the heavier the boat felt. Peter tried coaching me on the proper technique of rowing and he prodded me to move faster, so I did. Thirty minutes later I covered a quarter of a mile and I was exhausted. Peter's belly busted with laughter when he retrieved the anchor that he'd slid into the water before we changed positions. It had a one hundred pound ball of duckweeds clinging to it! I couldn't believe my eyes, then we both slid into a laughing jag that could be heard clear across the lake.
We threw a few baits and even tried to free-line a Mayfly, but nothing could compete with Mother Nature's version, so we headed toward camp. When we reached the shore I was exhausted from the midnight workout, so I convinced Peter to call it a night.
We stretched out in the back of his Scout and listened to the radio play songs from John Cougar Melloncamp until the clock sounded 2 am. When Peter sat up to adjust his sleeping bag something startled him. "Holy shit," he exclaimed. "There's someone out there!"
"Shut up and go to sleep. There's no one out here but us." I argued
"I saw someone! He ran across the parking lot. He was wearing a white suit." His eyes strained to find movement.
I sat up to take a look and was jolted by the presence of a big feral cat that jumped up onto the hood of the Scout. His yellow eyes glowed in the moonlight and his gleaming white teeth drooled as he hissed at us through the windshield. I jerked the covers over my head. I refused to believe that someone was stalking us.
I told him that if he gathered all the camping and fishing gear we'd leave. After all I wasn't going outside with someone or something wondering about, yet we couldn't leave our stuff behind.
The truck door flung open in a flash and equipment began filling the back of the truck. "What about the boat?" he asked. I was being pelted by fishing rods, oars, tackle boxes, a stove and the live nightcrawlers that spilled when the top popped off the coffee container and dumped them on my legs. "OK. Screw the boat! Let's get out of here fast."
We headed for Fox Lake, a small town about 7 miles away. Peter was visibly shaken up as he continued to check his rear view mirror and chew his fingernails like a woodchuck.
We tried to get some sleep in the parking lot of the local Catholic Church. It seemed a safe sanctuary to spend a night for free.
We listened to the radio and drifted in and out of a light sleep. Just then, a news flash came across the wire warning the local residents to be on the lookout for a dangerous convict that escaped from the local prison. Our hearts leapt into our throats as he described the man's prison issue clothing and the position that he was last seen. The DJ scornfully added that he was considered armed and dangerous and no one should try to apprehend him.
Daylight broke about an hour later and we headed back to the lake to get our boat. When we turned onto the narrow drive that lead to the lake we were met by a barrage of police cars all heading in the opposite direction.
They updated the report with a capture. They said he was apprehended while trying to make his get away in a small boat on Lake Emily! We stared at each other slack-jawed, and then looked into the back seat and discovered…we had the oars! Silence in the truck was deafening. Then a Mayfly circled Peter's head and came in for a soft landing on the bridge of his nose.
That was the last time I saw Peter Grimes. He left for a big city college that fall and I guess fishing lost its charm. As for me, when the April showers bring May flowers in the upper Midwest, my blood boils with the memories of past trips. And when the Mayflies dance on the ponds in the full moon light I can still hear Peter laughing somewhere in the buzz of their tiny wings.
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
The excitement of a canoe trip boiled in our veins as we launched from the rocky shoals of the Wisconsin River.
Jimmy was a true outdoors man. He carried all the badges from Boy Scouts -- enough metals to cover his shoulders, chest and sleeves. He was the Catholic schools' "muscle-man" and the main topic of the girl's conversations during Phys Ed. Being a master canoeist he took the helm to refine his 'J' stroke. I was glad he did. I was out to fish a few Walleyes or possibly tangle with a Small Mouth Bass. With a little luck I'd hook a Sturgeon -- a prehistoric fish that grows to be the size of a canoe.
My Dad and brother Lee was in the other canoe. Lee's snappy body gestures generated high speed fun and action for all who knew him. Before we launched he fished from the pier working one of Dad's new Rappla lures. On the second cast he threw the bait high up into a tree. Terrified at the thought of losing one of Dad's fishing lures he thrashed the rod wildly from side to side and tried to free himself from the 'Wrath of the Lost Lure.' He marched up the shoreline with the rod over his shoulder hoping to free the snag. The overloaded branch retracted him like a bungee jumper. He shrieked with frustration and climbed to his feet. Jimmy fueled the flame when he suggested wrapping the line around the light post for leverage. The line snapped off as a 22 rifle and it grabbed dad's attention.
All Dads' have a strange affinity with fishing lures. Whenever we lost one he threatened to ban us from fishing. Every trip to the sport shop he'd remind us of the year, makes, and model number of his lost lures.
For some reason today was going to be different. He laughed at the site of Lee's twisted face when he came to confess. Jimmy and I awaited Lee's banishment, but were defiled when Dad reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a brand new jointed Rappla -- the hottest thing on the market and the prize of any good fisherman. Lee's pitiful expression gave way to show love and appreciation for such understanding. While Dad retied the plug Lee casually turned to us and smiled, then stuck out his tongue, crossed his eyes and contorted his cheeks.
The trip began just below the cascading falls in Wisconsin Dells. The waters there churn white with foam then move silently through town. The State's number one tourist attraction called the "Ducks" rapped up another record tourist season and was on dry dock near the launch site -- one of the signs that winter was just around the corner.
The canoes sagged to the waterline with enough camping gear to support four people -- 3 days in the river wilderness. My Dad had it all; Fishing rods, tents and sleeping bags. Tables, tripods and tarps. Pots, pans and paper goods. This being his first overnight canoe trip he wasn't sure what to take so he took it all.
Dad recited the protocol, 'Hang on boys, keep yourselves low and don't stand up in the canoe!' I gripped the gunnels as Jimmy pushed us away. The initial rush of 'floating' tested our balance and we spilled a few gallons of icy water into the bottom of the canoe.
Almost immediately we encountered the caverns. Dark, damp and spooky we inched our way through the caves to sharpen our exploration skills. At times we crouched and used our hands on the ceiling to gain passage. I remember one particularly long route that ended abruptly when the canoe bumped the wall. The 'thumming' of the vibrating aluminum disturbed the night dwellers. It felt as someone dumped a bag of leaves on us when the bats dropped from the ceiling. Being brushed and bumped by a swarm of bats in a dark cave wasn't on the brochure, but it made for a real test of courage. When we emerged in a cloud of winged escorts Dad laughed so hard he nearly lost his dentures overboard.
The sheer rock walls that lined the river told stories of what the Ishnalla Indians saw when they traveled the river lifetimes ago. I imagined Chief Soaring Eagle standing on the cliff in full headdress. His spear held high chanting to the spirits. He blessed the pioneers as they passed. He told us to, 'Listen to the river for she is all knowing.' He ended with a spine tingling wail and cursed the dangers that waited below the surface of the flow. I would catch a glimpse of the warriors lining the banks. I could see their family's living peacefully along the river. It was untamed then and teaming with beauty and wildlife -- their source for survival.
The river flowed at a jogger's pace. A simple paddle drag was all we needed to advance downstream. The swirling water hid scads of underwater obstacles and we bumped bottom often. Sometimes hard enough to whiplash our body's forward, others slid by with a quiet whisper on the gunnel.
Twelve o'clock noon came quickly and dad maneuvered the canoe toward a small sandbar for a lunch break. He unpacked the gas stove and began his mighty preparation. It wouldn't be at all out of place for him to prepare Pheasant Under Glass with Duck'alorange dressed with small red potatoes and asparagus shoots. His extravagant camp menus are famous especially with us kids. The adults couldn't fathom how he orchestrated the tasty cuisine's in the remote wilderness.
The river menu was simple; Beer-battered Pike filets pan fried to snappy perfection in a cast iron skillet, served with corn-on-the-cob and fresh green beans. We often talked about the things we liked best about camping and it was always unanimous -- eating!
Dad cooked and told fish stories about technique and where-abouts. He included his research into the stomach for feeding patterns and spawning seasons. The stories always ended with a peaceful gaze into the horizon and a simple toast, 'Yup, I can still see him swimming around that log and taking the bait.' It always brought a smile to his face.
After enjoying one of Dad's finer moments as camps cook we repacked the gear and continued downstream. Dad had been on the river many times and knew the terrain. He'd been planning this trip in his mind for years and told stories of someday camping on the "perfect" river island.
The next few hours flashed by with the help of a hefty Crappie, two Walleye's and a Channel Cat the size of an oar. We took turns estimating his weight, "Gotta be 10 pounds!" Lee chirped.
"Oh it's bigger than that," Jimmy remarked.
"Do you think so?" I wasn't sure. The thrill of such a big catch had me basking in my own angling brilliance. "Eighteen pounds if it's an ounce!" Dad concluded before I slid it overboard.
Then dad peered and smiled, "There she is boys!" Our excitement grew as we cleared the final corner that revealed a small island no bigger than a football field. He found the "perfect" one. The gunnel scoured onto the beach. We slid the crafts ashore and set off to explore the island. We discovered the bones of a long since deceased deer and we discussed the various possibilities of death. Jimmy calculated the "live weight" based on the skull size. "Last year's winter was pretty tough. I'll bet she starved. By the looks of things I'd say she weighed about 90 pounds. The teeth look like a two year-old's. Dad held the skull and studied it Shakespearean precision, 'Winters have been pretty tough the past three years... probably starved.' He concluded. I thought death was caused by an old hunt wound. Lee's guess was, 'Maybe it just died.' We split up and wandered aimlessly about pondering 'natural death' for almost an hour before we regrouped and finished setting up camp.
The lack of firewood on the island limited us to a small, smoldering evening fire. Dad's early to bed lifestyle was boring us so we swam and played with the fire until we became exhausted and fed up with the swarms of mosquitoes.
Soon we were in our tents. Dad's tent was simple. A piece of old canvas draped over an aluminum frame with two lines staked to the ground... No floor... No ends. Wide open to the elements. We often wondered why we used it at all, he said that it was "All we needed to keep the moisture and morning dew off us." Dad grew up in a cattail marsh and developed an immunity to mosquitoes. In the midst of swarms he could remain cool, calm and collected and would emerge with "not one bite." Lee on the other hand had a phobia about bugs and it would be amazing if he got any sleep at all.
By midnight large raindrops plunked the nylon sides of our tent and I was thankful for Jimmy's tent. An unexpected storm announced its presence with clap of thunder that rolled down the river. In the distance a tornado siren warned the locals of an oncoming uncontrollable force. Sheets of rain tested the side walls of the tent and we all had our senses tuned in to the elements. Instantly the wind and rain died, warning us that the calm before the storm was upon us. A low "humming" startled Jimmy. "What the hell is that?" The wind increased and whistled across the tent ropes. I heard the concern in dad's voice, "We're in for a little wind boys, hang on... here it comes!"
The stories they tell about the sound of tornado are accurate. The charging locomotive was coming. It snapped huge trees like tooth picks as it ripped toward camp.
" I wanna go by Dad!" I cried as the earth began rumbling. I could hear my brother crying and it blended with the wind to make a horrifying scream.
The funnel cloud bounced off the tree lined edges and headed in our direction. It was pushing a wall of water out ahead of it and before we could adjust to higher ground the flash flood reached our stoop and uprooted our tent stakes. I could feel my fingers digging into the sand through the bottom of the tent but my grip washed away and we started sliding toward the drop off. The water flowed through the sides of the tent uninterrupted. The loose nylon snapped and tattered as the winds increased. The deafening roars of the twister drown out my screams for dad's help.
Trapped inside the tent by the twisting wind and lightening that surrounded us toyed with our minds. The storm's sky splitting bolts had no concern for the burning voltage or what it can do to human body. The sheets of rain pelted the nylon tent and sprayed water through the zipper. There were times when the water came in faster then we could bail it out.
I could hear dad's voice cutting in and our of the storm, "Hang in there kids it's almost over!".
Little Jimmy fingered through his scout manual looking for answers, "Get me out of here. Get me out of here!" As quickly as it began it was over. The snapping of trees and the rumbling of Mother nature's force continued down stream. I emerged from the tent into ankle-deep water and discovered my Dad's tent gone. I couldn't believe my eyes. They slept only 10 feet away from us and they disappeared! I called out for them both but no one answered. I grabbed the flashlight and scanned the surroundings. When I found the canvas tarp pinned against a fallen tree I thought the worse of things. Water and loose brush were running over and around it. When I approached I heard sobbing and noticed the tarp was vibrating. I could hear Dad trying to calm Lee. I pulled the tarp to the side and they huddled together tightly. Dad actually laughed when he saw me and exclaimed, 'Wow! Quite a storm huh boys?' His eyes showed concern, but he popped to his feet brushed Lee off who shivered uncontrollably. Then he checked us for injuries and hugged us both.
We were wet and cold but safe. We huddled under a partially dry sleeping bag and watched the river regain its serenity. The sky cleared and the stars returned and for 30 minutes we didn't say a word we just sat in the sand and watched the night.
Dad pointed out the missing deer skeleton and blessed our good fortune. Then he laughed,
"Well boys it's good to be on dry land again. Next trip we'll bring a weather radio."
That's my Dad - Always looking for adventure in the great outdoors.
Daytona Bike Week 2010
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Older bikers in the community are always eager to share stories about how they did it “way back when” and how the technology has changed the sport so dramatically. But all the grey haired “old school” bikers will agree on one thing…the bugs still taste the same!
One particular “old cat” that I saw gazing at an antique scooter on the wall of the Rossiters Harley Davidson in Daytona caught my attention. He stood sternly, arms crossed and head half-cocked. I had to ask him what he thought of the old ’54. At first he said nothing, he just pointed near the rear end and scratched his wired gray hair. “That looks like my welding job, right there on the rear swing arm. It’s not a pretty weld, but it did the job.”
Rollie, a biker visiting from Wisconsin, considers himself a “real biker” that’s been riding his whole life…year round... for over 75 years! “Being a full-timer meant that you only own a bike…no car. So no matter what you got to get up and hit the road all four seasons of the year!” he said. “No sleet, nor rain, nor snow ever stopped me from popping my ’51 Police Special Harley into gear and heading 50 miles to the Harley plant in Milwaukee, no sir. A good thing about them old leakers – in the cold winter air - the oil became so thick that they didn't leak as much! I'd throw my lunch in the sidecar. Back then fifty cents in my pocket would cover gas, lunch and a beer on the way home1!” Incidentally, he bought the bike from Bill Harley himself for $700 and got a sidecar thrown into the deal! He laughed at the thought of buying the bike instead of an old Hudson that needed new tires and what the value of Bill Harley's personal bike would be worth today.
Hungry for more info we continued chatting away and his story began to stick to my skin like the love bugs on a windshield in the sweltering season to come.
He continued on with constant throat clearing croaks, his eyes drooped shut as he recalled the days of riding to work and having to pass through the low-lying areas of the marshy back roads. Most of the summer the early morning fog soaked through his work boots and kept his (then black) hair smoothed back tight to his scalp. The murky muck of the marsh was a perfect breeding bowl for the mosquitoes that rose thick and swarmed over the roadway. The constant smacking of bugs on his face over the years is what caused the wrinkles he has today, he says. The dragonflies and bats dodged and darted about taking advantage of the feast, sometimes catching his forehead straight on – snapping is head back momentarily before he smeared it back into his hair and off the back of his head.
June was a particularly bad month with the June-bugs pelting the uncovered skin of the knuckles and arms. But to catch one in the mouth is the laughing joke that all bikers brag about as if it were this event that qualified them as “hard-core”. Rollie chuckled at what bikers consider hard-core these days and continued.
Summer also brought the threat of deer and wildlife into play. Very seldom a day passed without a near miss with a raccoon or a rabbit. Low flying herons and hawks also tested the nerves. But it was one particular stretch of marsh, in the heat of the summer that the frogs came onto the roadway. 300 yards of pure “ick” Rollie said. Thousands upon thousands of croakers carpeted the roadway making the crossing a slippery mess of squashed goo. Often enough they’d try to jump free only to catch a boot, a shin, or a knee-cap. The worse case senerio was when a passing car would splash the frog parts into the face and upper body. “now that’s hard-core” Rollie added with a stern finger point.
“yea, the bikers today have so much chrome to keep clean and their meticulous about keeping them shiny, and rightfully so, I can’t imagine spending $50,000 + on a bike! You think raindrops are hard to keep off chrome…you should try frog legs and guts!”
So for you biker's out there looking to make “real biker” or “hard core” status...spring is on the way and Rollie (who happens to be my Daddy) would be glad to escort you down the marshy muck roads of Wisconsin for his 76th season of chew-n-swallow!
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Paddle into the sunrise to summer clouds streaked with purple & pink, see it permeate nature and stir the slick-calm surface of the bayou to life!
Several tarpon rolled and snook swirled as a water snake slide across in front of a traveler from Ohio. It appears their are people more afraid of snakes than I! Squabbling birds bitching for the best fishing branch & calling crickets echo through the mangroves. Mornings are the perfect choice this weekend for visiting & touring the bayou, here's a few more reasons;
Heron's are hatching and still dropping new eggs in the upper creek... a promise of a bright future in the bayou. Ten chicks have been counted and more to come! Who remembers the gator wallow? Well, the "big fella" has emerged from the swamp and is making a new hole in the mud bar.... he's been eating well by the looks of his belly-marks. Remember the nice house with the burned out roof? (old drug dealers house in the upper creek) In a matter of hours it was demolished and is now gone!
Spoonbills have been occupying the dead tree near the pass of the bayou nearly every day. The only pair of Black Crowned night herons in the bayou have built a nest in the lagoon that was filmed in our "Priceless" video! (visit Video page) This is exciting because before we cleaned and restored circulation to the lagoon the area was nearly dead!
Daylight in the bayou comes early this time of year and awakens life to a new day... are you awake?
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Full moon high-water tides brought a new dimension to storm water runoff in Clam Bayou this week. Styro & plastic flowed in from yards, alleys & roadways and from all directions. But on Thursday night 13 kayak volunteers began the sunset sweep clean up series with energy and enthusiasm and took on storm water runoff head on!
Nature was at it's finest this eve! The new green herons, in their awkward immature plumage were showing off their fishing skills to the crew. The egrets, dozens in full white plumage, gathered in a lagoon for the nightly roost. We drifted past just in time for a flyover of the royal fleet of spoonbills escorted by a wood stork!
Grandma Rambo took to the water like a duck, the Flowers family loaded bags steadily, Ye Magical Crew Of Carol stayed ashore and swept the launch area to a fine shine, & the McIntosh's showed their seasoned talent with a discarded crab trap and a kayak loaded to the waterline with bags!
Sharon carrying her "Wet Floor" sign up the launch site will likely be the memorable moment. She has long been a Greenie and works hard snatching debris from the mangroves and marsh grasses, and is a tremendous help cleaning and loading equipment after the events. After tossing her muddy janitorial sign onto the heap she made one last trip to the launch. Mangrove beans are dropping this time of year and cover the launch site. Sharon's footing started to slip, and like Bambi on an ice pond she skidded down the ramp and plunged into the bayou! Fortunes are not made or found on our clean ups but nicknames can stick forever... here's to "Slippery Sharon" for her hard work and dedication to our environment!
Tragedy turned triumphant - Last year we lost a Roseate Spoonbill to a wad of discarded fishing line. This year the lone spoonbill returned with a new mate! In addition, in an area once riddled with trash, now a group of (6) black-crowned night herons have moved in and established roost.
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Excitement bubbled from a familiar face as he leapt from the Jeep to lend a helping hand.
He's becoming a natural steward to the environment. His enthusiasm for the great outdoors points toward a positive future for us all. Always looking to clean up our waterways Tyler encourages people of all ages by setting a good example. On our kayak quest for manatee in Clam Bayou Gulfport Floorida he continued to impress. He readily went about snatching cups and floating bottles from the water and tossed them into his kayak which he paddles from a kneeling position. The discovery of an egg sack from a fish - well described. The return of a starfish to the bay - a good deed. Hefting and paddling a heavy plank from a sandbar for proper disposal - heroic. His uncanny outdoor skills and concerns are a good example of what the next generation could be like. Tyler's outdoor education is being encouraged and supported by Jimmy Mason, Tyler's Grand-dad. Weekends filled with outdoor adventures are just what the doctor ordered...thanks Jimmy for the courage and the cookies.
As for a tippy canoe...well it appears to be a bonding recipe for Scharibone family. The best I could figure the ingredients include;
One helping of good attitude and a loss of balance
2 floating flip-flops, a pinch of sarcasm and a handful of concern from a spouse, and 1 bucket of mud for color
First - mix the ingredients in kayak built for two
Second - paddle hard and into the wind for 25 minutes
Third - When the time is right (usually when the kids aren't following directions) it's time for the roll-over. Follow this up by having your spouse jump out of a dry kayak to help. The real flavor comes in the sweet frosting - laughing so hard you can't get back in the kayak
And finally don't be afraid to get creative by falling in or out a few more timesYou'll know the recipe is a success upon completion of the trip by the smiles on the faces, the hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm walk as they head toward their car - wet, muddy & happy.
Try recipe out on your guests this holiday season, it' sure to be a hit.
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Elnor Islands patience is to be admired. Decades of debris rest on her feet and still she smiles. Before Saturday's clean up Elnor hoisted a spoonbill to the top of the roost to welcome the volunteers who endured the mud and muck on her shores to help make her shine. The circling osprey kept a watchful eye over the crew as did the brown pelican that swam just beyond the shore. We are committed to "Bringing Back the Birds" to Elnor and you can help.Nature is calling...can you hear it? It's a magical sound that can't be heard when swimming in the thoughts of every day life... it's a sense. It can't been seen in the news or on this laptop screen... it has to be experienced. It can't be touched through the glass of a car or the window at home... it must be caressed with your feet and fondled with your hands. What is nature saying to you today, are you listening?
Click on the link to see a great video of the day!
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
I took another step and felt the cobwebs on my face. The eerie feeling of spider webs on skin -- in the dark -- can drop a grown man to his knees!
The kayak slid ashore with a hissing whisper onto an island a few miles East of Brooksville. I was on my first self-guided wild boar excursion and no better place to start than a speck on the map called Hog Island!
A pungent belch of sulfur fouled the 35 degree air when my foot sank out of sight into the rich earth. I threw a light line around a tree and tied it off to avoid being stranded, left to swim the cold and spooky tannic-infused waters of the Withlacoochee River.
I grabbed a flashlight from my hunt belt where my Smith & Wesson snake pistol hangs reassuringly from a camouflage hip pack. It also carries a whistle, matches, ammo, a small tripod and camera and a useless snakebite kit that I have no intention of using after being advised by a doctor that it may cause more harm than good. The only reason I carry it is to remind me of the possible dangers that lurk in Florida swamps.
The flashlight beam played tricks with the casually rising fog. Anything beyond ten feet glimmered with bluish yellow streaks that fanned out in all directions. The distorted light stretched the cone-shaped cypress knees to immense proportions. They bobbed and weaved like dancing wizards in the moonlight until I shut the light off.
I sat for an eternity and waited for my eyes to adjust. My ears struggled to hear something... anything. A person can get out of shape living in the city. My vision was weak and my ears squealed with phantom sirens and noise. I shook my head like an old hound dog with ticks and tried to knock loose the noise pollution, then stood still.
The flowing water penetrated the sound barrier first. The river popped and gurgled over the fallen cypress and around the bend where it churned like boiling black soup. Then an orchestra of swamp life chimed in. In between the bullfrog belches and the crickets cracking the alligators growled their mating moans. Distant owls called “who cooks for you. Who cooks for you”. Ahhh . . . music that salves the soul!
Now, I consulted my compass for a Northeast heading.
I developed the habit of using a compass while on a canoe trip with my father when I was eight. We were preparing for a portage through some loosely scattered hardwoods when I learned...the hard way! I eagerly grabbed the bow and dad hefted the stern. He urged me to check the compass.
I had to laugh as we had done the same portage earlier in the day, I knew where we were. Yeah, right!
The first twenty yards slid by quickly. Soon after, my narrow shoulders and spindly neck erupted in fatigue. "Time out!" I huffed.
"What's the matter...lost?" Dad chuckled.
"No...my shoulders hurt." I defended.
His laughter grew anger as did my fatigue with every step. Suddenly I saw water where I didn't remember seeing water earlier in the day. My gut feeling was that we had discovered a secluded pond and a chance to observe some wood ducks.
When my father dropped his end of the canoe I was shocked. The aluminum “pung” of the hull echoed through the woods. I snapped my head around with a frown and wondered why he would blow such an opportunity to watch the colorful woodies.
Seconds later, in between a laughing jag and a gasp of air he broke the news, "You've walked in a circle, Kurt. This is exactly where we landed 20 minutes ago!"
It was then, during my dad's gut busting, wide-open belly laugh that I realized the importance of a compass. He knew I was circling all along, but wanted to drive the point home--as only a dad can do. The sound of his laughter still rings in my head before I take the first step into the unknown. "Always check your compass!"
Anyway, my plan was to stalk the entire length of Hog Island in hopes of seeing feral hogs for the first time. My boots sucked and slurped their way free from the tar-like mud. Another stinky pocket of swamp gas wafted upward before I reached hard ground. I slipped quietly up a steep bank that leads to a few old oaks which proudly displayed their bounty of Spanish Moss. It dripped and drooled off every branch. The mystical fog added a special dimension that visually defined my dreams of southern swamps -- cold, dark, damp, and dangerous to newcomers.
I eased my way through the darkness toward the center of the island and tried to find some promising sign. The scattered silhouettes from the palmetto palms teased and tested my attention with their raspy rustling. I overfilled my lungs with the heavy swamp air until I felt light-headed. My senses tingled from the sweet air that heals my "city" body. I stopped again and checked my direction. Earlier, and not to my awareness I had stopped just short of a gigantic spider web. It had just begun to get light and I hadn’t been able to see it. It stretched an impressive 15 feet across. Elegantly knitted to the branches of a small oak then over to a Palmetto and up to the top of a tall cabbage palm.
After a compass check and correction I felt a strong intuitive sense that suggested I scrap the original plan and change course. “Nothin doing...you'll be ok” said the voice behind my right eyeball. In the predawn darkness, I took one giant step and experienced an “Arachni-phylatic Fit”…when I felt the cobwebs on my face, my head spun away in a spastic twist that knocked the hat off my head. The semi-thick silk stretched tightly across my entire body. I spun in circles with my arms flailing about trying to free myself from the web until I tripped over a log and ended up on my knees. I hunched over covering my face. I hoped I wouldn't detect the feeling of eight hairy legs making advances on my body . . . sorrowfully I was wrong.
At the base of my exposed neck, I could feel something sweeping back and forth like a low hanging pine bow brushed by the wind. I wrongly slapped the back of my neck and squished a greasy arachnid into the palm of my hand while sweeping another from my hair. A legion of goose bumps swept through my body and tingled my spine.
I spun like a pup for his tail trying to see myself all at once then tripped on a family of cypress knees and slid across a muddy slick of grass before I regained composure.
I was too busy to notice the pale white sun’s morning ascent into the foggy air, or the cobalt blue streak that tickled the treetops. When I looked back to where I had disturbed the family of arachnids, the first spear of light shone through the canopy of oaks and palms and caught the web just right. The thick morning dew exposed the hidden gold. The breeze massaged it gently and the light shimmered down the spider's silk strands. I could see the hole I carved and a few smaller spiders in the web. The gruesome displays of bug and beetle carcasses scattered throughout the web told the tale of an accomplished marksman -- a brilliant engineer with a high kill rate and a fancy for gold. Judging by the size of the web she was much bigger than the ones I'd already met.
And there by the web I saw my hat lying in the dirt. I was about to grab it when I discovered her. She had somehow eluded my frantic body search and had taken a stand on my forehead. She was as big as a mans hand and her right front leg was testing my crinkled forehead. My gasp for air startled her and she made her move -- one leg caught my nose, another hooked my mouth. When she jumped off my cheek a thick yellow strand of gold silk spewed out and stuck to the side of my head. I swiped and dodged like a madman in disbelief that she was on me for that long. I grabbed my hat and tried to shrug it off. The rest of the day I could feel her hairy little legs on my face.
I did a little research on the webslingers when I returned to the world of information. (Also called the web, haha) What I discovered was fascinating. Sometimes called Banana spiders, the Yellow Orb Spider has one of the most interesting weapons for protection. When confronted, the spider gathers a bunch of body hairs with her forelegs. These tiny black hairs shaped and designed as harpoons have very sharp serrated points and edges. When the adversary gets within the perimeter of her lair she flicks the hairs into the predator's eyes. Once in the eye the mini harpoons burrow their way directly into the eyeball. The weapons continue to irritate the eye until they've successfully worked their way all the way through the backside of the eyeball where they dissolve!
After I read this, I developed an irritating twitch in my left eye. I try to forget the invasion, but I'm confident that the Yellow Orb Spider that protects her gold with daggers of fear will always be there . . . spinning her tricks in the depths of the Florida swamps.
Kurt Zuelsdorf. Writer, Urban Tracker, Outdoor Enthusiast at Kayak Nature Adventures kayak and sup rentals