The alarm clock sounds before dawn on this Saturday morning, and I welcome it—I’ve been looking forward to this day all week. I pull on a pair of old blue jeans and a T-shirt and head down to the kitchen to prepare ham chowder for lunch.
What marks this day as special might not seem like much. I’m just taking two old guys fishing at a couple of farm ponds. But one of the old guys is my dad, and the other is Ray Miller. The three of us are longtime fishing buddies. Ray and his wife, Virginia, now live in Arizona. Whenever the Millers come to visit, I try to set up a fishing trip.
Dad and Ray introduced me to fishing when I was a kid, and they did a marvelous job. All my early fishing trips with Dad and Ray were packed with fun from beginning to end, and for good reason. They tailored those trips to me—a kid. Ensuring I had fun was goal number one.
Each year our families gathered for a weekend vacation at Bunker Hill Ranch, a cabin resort owned by the Missouri State Teachers Association along the Jacks Fork River. Dad, Ray and I would pull on wading shoes, bait jug traps with crushed crackers to catch minnows, then canoe downstream to one of the bigger bluff holes. With how-to pointers from Dad and Ray, I’d catch longear sunfish, goggle-eye and smallmouth bass. I’d also lay the fishing pole aside and catch tadpoles, crawdads and baby soft-shelled turtles—pretty much whatever I felt like doing.
As a kid I had a deep curiosity about nature. I always had lots of questions: Is this rock a fossil? Why do dragonflies have big eyes? How can plants grow out of a rock bluff? Dad and Ray always had time to take an interest in my questions, even if they didn’t always have the answers.
As I grew older, I never lost my curiosity about nature, and my interest in fishing grew into a healthy obsession. The anticipation and joy of fishing, shared with family and friends, has provided an endless source of fun and fine memories. What a gift!
Returning the Favor
I think about these things as I stand at the stove, sautéing vegetables for the chowder. I ponder, too, how quickly time has passed. I’m in my early 50s. Dad is pushing 80, and Ray has passed that mark. With this