Tuesday, April 14, 2020

MY OUTDOOR LIFE--THE BEGINNING

    Spring has finally arrived here at home on Salmon River after what could be described as "a good winter" for this part of New Brunswick. We had very few cold days and the snow pac was much lower this year. Hopefully, this scenario will help lessen the impact of the freshet when it hits full height around May 1'st. After two years of back to back floods, folks around this area could really use a break. I know I'll be keeping my fingers crossed after experiencing the devastation these floods have caused me personally.
    Our province, as well as the rest of the world, has quite literally been shut down during this Covid-19 crisis. Many outdoor activities have been shut down completely and others have been restricted by new protocols put in place by the different levels of government. Although many outdoorsmen bemoan this situation, we must think of the greater good and graciously accept the recommendations of the health experts who have been advising our government officials. If all citizens respect these new social protocols,hopefully, these retrictions will be eased sooner rather than later.
    Since my outdoor activities have been sharply curtailed, it was inevitable that I turned introspective and started thinking of my long life in the outdoor world. My mind led me back to my early youth as I tried to chronical the events that have led me to this point which I would call the twilight years of my outdoor life. I was actually surprised how far back into my past I had to reach to try to find a starting point for these adventures. My earliest memories of growing up in the coal mining town of Minto are faint but that is where my story begins.
    My story actually starts with my fathers upbringing and his childhood books that my paternal grandparents provided for his enjoyment as a young boy. My father was a voracious reader and I'm assuming these early childhood books were the impetus that started his lifelong love of books . These books were, in turn, passed on to me and had a similar affect on me as a young boy. My earliest exposure to these children's books were at a very young age as bed time stories. These books were read to me by my grandmother and father at various times before I was of school age. I now know that this was the very foundation of my lifelong love of books and reading. Here is a photo of me with my parents at our childhood home on Logue Road in Minto.
This photo was taken in 1953 and my early exposer to children's books happened a few years later in the late Fifties.
    My reading skills were already starting to develop by the time I entered grade1 at Major Willard Parker Memorial School in Minto. As a note of interest, the school is now the Municipal Building for the Village of Minto and continues to be of use in multiple capacities to this day.
    As my reading skills improved, I naturally sought out those books that had been read to me and were readily available to me during this time of my youth. These books were the nature themed bedtime stories written by Thornton W. Burgess and the various titles in the Big Little Book series. While the Big Little Books had more of an adventure and comic theme, the Burgess books were invariably written specifically for children with nature themes. These were the books I gravitated to and grew to love.
    Thornton W. Burgess was born on January 17th 1865 during the height of the Victorian period in Sandwich, Massachusetts, U.SA. These were simple times and young Thornton did many of the childhood activities that young boys did at that time. He grew up doing farm chores and because of his close proximity to rural America, he was exposed to a setting of relatively unspoiled natural habitats. His childhood upbringing in this setting and the experiences he had provided the foundation for his series of books he was to write later on in life. Thornton wrote over 170 books and more than 15,000 newspaper articles in the following years and is considered one of the most influential writers of children's books of all time. This is a photo of Thornton in his prime.
His first published book was named Old Mother West Wind. The following year, in 1911, he wrote Old Mother West Wind's Children. The characters he introduced to his readers in this book laid the foundation for the ones he wrote about in his series of books to follow. It was the books in these series that I read as a child. 
    Mr. Burgess wrote in a style that humanized his animal characters much like Disney did in movies later on. I think this style of writing enabled children to better relate to the characters portrayed in his books and in turn allowed Thornton to better explain the habits and characteristics of the various animals in these books. Here is a list of some of the titles in his series of bedtime stories.

As you can see from these titles, all of his wildlife characters had human names and were sparsely dressed in human attire  The characters were arranged into groups according to the habitats they lived in. For example, The Green Forest series contained mammals that inhabited the upland forest. The Smiling Pond series had aquatic mammals, certain species of birds and some amphibious creatures. The Green meadow series was home to a mix of the wildlife that inhabited both of the previously mentioned spaces and provided a common ground where the many wildlife characters would meet and interact. It was this interaction between the different species that provided the story line for the adventures these creatures had in their daily lives. Burgess was able to show his readers the habits and the interaction between his beloved characters in a unique way through his humanizing of these characters that children could easily understand. I believe this was the reason his books had such great success and are held in high esteem even to this day. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Farmer Brown's Boy, who was his main human character in his books. I believe Burgess molded this character from his own boyhood experiences growing up in rural America. Farmer Brown's Boy also enabled Burgess to provide some insight into the real interactions between humans and wildlife in a novel way. In some ways I, in turn, became Farmer Brown's Boy as I grew from childhood into boyhood. Here is a photo of some of the books I read during this time period. This edition was published around 1918.

    During this early period of my life I was also gaining some practical experience in the outdoor world. I can remember Dad introducing me to firearms around the age of five or six in the form of a breach cocking revolver BB gun. He would set up empty dog food cans against the outhouse that he used as a backstop for our plinking sessions. It was during these sessions he instructed me on the safe handling of firearms. These were lessons that I would carry with me throughout my outdoor life.  This is a photo of me at my paternal Great-Grandfathers house at the end of the Red Row from Main Street in Minto. I am on the left side of this photo with my younger brothers Larry and a young Tim. My great Aunt Eva Bauer is with us. I had turned seven a couple of months earlier.
    It was a bit earlier during this same period I caught my first brook trout. In retrospect, I think I caught that trout more by accident than design.  Let me provide a backdrop to this story.
    When I was a child I would be taken to the home of my maternal grandparents on the Ridge Road which at that time was a much more rural setting. I remember enjoying these visits because my grandparents always had a variety of farm animals and a beautiful garden to roam in. My maternal grandparents were dirt poor, in contrast to my paternal grandparents but there always seemed to be a lot of love present in that part of my family. In no small part due to them raising an even dozen children. The youngest of my aunts and uncles were roughly ten years older than me and many times I was included in their baby sitting duties. Lord knows, my poor grandmother Boyd had to work from daylight until dark just to keep her brood fed and clothed. It was during one of these visits that my Uncle Hartley Boyd helped me catch my first trout.
      Uncle Hartley was 8 or 9 years older than me so that would have made him 14 or 15 years old.  By my best reckoning, I was around 5 years old at this time. I'm pretty sure I wasn't yet enrolled in primary school. Usually, my twin aunts, Cheryl and Sheila would have been looking after me. Perhaps they were busy that day or maybe Uncle Hartley just wanted some company. I can remember it was a nice summer day, not too hot. We struck out from my grandparents house on my uncles bicycle with me riding on the crossbar for at least part of the journey. I think we switched back and forth from there to the seat with me hanging on for dear life in both positions. I remember Hartley had an old fishing rod with him and a few worms he carried in a tin can in his pocket. We rode up the number 10 highway until we reached  the turnoff to North Minto and then biked down this road another five or six hundred meters until we came to the top of a slight hill. This is where a small spring brook crossed the road through a culvert that formed two tub sized holes on either side of the road. I'm not sure why Uncle Hartley chose this spot to fish but my guess would be it was an easy spot for us to fish. The other reason was probably he was threatened with a whipping if he ventured on down to the Newcastle Stream which was about another quarter mile down the road. This was a relatively safe place for us to fish with a chance of catching a trout or two. My uncle cut me an alder stick and wrapped eight or ten feet of line around the end and tied on a hook and threaded on a worm for me. I can remember him positioning me on the culvert and telling me not to move, "Just throw it in there and let it sit.I'll be on the other side" he said. We hadn't been fishing very long when I felt a tug and gave a pull. Too late! I told Uncle Hartley, "I think I got a bite!" Laughing, he replied "Throw it back in and try again". He wasn't having any luck and I think he thought I was imagining things. I remember thinking, I'll be ready this time and when it bit again I pulled hard and to my amazement out came a wiggling trout over my shoulder. I whooped and my uncle ran across the road and grabbed the trout which was eight or nine inches long. I think he was as surprised as I was! He whacked the trout on the head and handed it to me and I promptly deposited it into my pants pocket for safe keeping on the way home. Since I was staying the night at my grandparents I had to keep that trout until the following day so I could show Mom and Dad my trout. By the next day that poor trout was a sorry sight and my pants pocket was quite a mess. This was the first time my pocket got defiled by something but it wouldn't be the last! From that point on, Mom was careful to check my pockets whenever she washed my clothes. I can't say I blame her! This is my only photo of Uncle Hartley and Freddy Richardson on one of their annual float trips on the lower Cains River. Uncle Hartley is on the right. These were the days of gold Hildebrant spinners, worms and a twenty fish limit.

    Not all my early experiences with nature had such a happy ending. As I mentioned earlier, there were a few farm animals at my grandparents place and like most rural households there was a flock of chickens fenced in a small yard behind the house  This flock of chickens had a big, white Leghorn rooster that lorded over his brood. I had been warned to stay out of the pen and not to put my fingers through the fence. For some unknown reason, I thought it would be a good idea to go inside the fence and feed the chickens one day. Big Mistake! As soon as I got inside the fence I heard a wild squawking and seen a big white ball of feathers barrelling down on me. Did that rooster ever give me a going over! Gramp came out swearing and kicking at the rooster and carried me out of there with me blatting and the tears running down my face. Nan cleaned me up and put band aids on the deeper scratches and cuts and after a good scolding allowed me to go out and play again. I remember noticing that big white rooster went missing shortly after that.

Another experience I had when I was even younger traumatized me so badly that even to this day I cringe and instantly go into kill mode! 
    Our front yard at my childhood home at that time had a ditch that butted onto our lawn and a strip of blueberries grew there in the late summer. One day Mom wanted to pick a few berries for a pie so she took me with her while she slowly filled her bowl with the ripe berries that hung in tight clusters. I suppose she sat me down in a comfortable spot where I wouldn't get into any trouble but being a typical little boy, I got moving around looking here and there. Somehow I ended up on a large ant mound and was sitting there running my hands through the soft sand. I was so young I didn't even realize I was being swarmed by red and black carpenter ants that were protecting their home. At some point I must have started crying and by the time Mom got to me I was covered by hundreds of those cursed things. For a few seconds she tried to brush them off of me but she quickly realized that wasn't going to work. She scooped me up and dashed to the house where she stripped the clothes off of me and started pouring water over me to get them off. They were in my hair and in my ears and covered just about every square inch of me. After a few good dousings she finally got me cleaned up. When I got older, she told me I was covered with welts from head to toe. I have a deep hatred to this day for  bugs of any kind and I can't stand the thought of anything crawling on me.
These are just some of the experiences that I had at a very early age that I can remember. I wasn't yet seven years old when these things were burned into my psyche. I will end this narrative here but I'll continue on with my outdoor life experiences from the age of seven up to my young teenage years. It was during these years that I continued to learn about the natural world through books and magazines while gradually adding practical experiences to round out the knowledge I was gaining.

Until then, this is Dale Bauer saying "Happy Trails to You...Until we Meet Again"
    

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MY OUTDOOR LIFE--THE BEGINNING

    Spring has finally arrived here at home on Salmon River after what could be described as "a good winter" for this part of New...