A recent survey showed that kids without mentors seldom grow up hunting or fishing. Makes sense. Like any other activity — kids need someone to show ‘em how it’s done. Alexander Pope described it centuries ago: “As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.”
When I was seven, my father died in a military hospital in Tunisia during the WW II. My sister was three. The only man in the house was my Uncle Pete. He introduced me to baseball, the New York Yankees, and Joe DiMaggio. He kindled a lifelong love of the sport, and good music. We shared a room for a while. But he moved out to get married shortly afterwards.
From that, one can draw the conclusion that childhood experiences last past adolescence.
Despite keeping my grandfather’s .30-30 Winchester Trappers Model rifle leaning by the door into the garage, he didn’t hunt. Fortunately for me, a hunting/fishing buddy of my grandfather’s asked my mother if I’d like to go up to his primitive camp on Beech Creek, west of Silsbee, at the edge of the Big Thicket. Thankfully, she said, “YES!” I was nine, and my life changed that weekend.
Our jaunts up to his backwoods ”camp” deep in The Thicket created precious memories. I still “go there” on sleepless nights – watching the bottle cork he attached to the line on my bamboo fishing pole for a bobber bounce while an unseen fish attacked my bait. “Uncle Josh”, as I called him, taught me how to set a line for catfish at night, how to call hogs, how to “knock a can of black-eyed peas in the head” for supper, that when the wash bucket was empty, it was my chore to trudge down to the creek to fill it (and trudge back uphill). He also introduced me to bathing naked in that creek (although I worried about turtles). He warned me, too, about the mysterious “wampus cats” that stalked the woods at night. I laid in bed in the dark listening to the sounds of the forest, wondering if the cats were what made the night sounds. And sometimes shivered.
He taught me how to perch-fish, shoot a .22 rifle and a 16-gauge shotgun, hunt squirrels, about tick bites and showed me how he cooked cabrito in his big brick pit. He didn’t have to teach me fascination for his Winchester .32-20 rifle; that came naturally. But I never got to shoot it.
He was a gentleman and a gentle mentor. I can still see him in his khaki pants and undershirt, leaning over the pit, wearing his trademark fedora. I loved him. And appreciate all he did for me.
Many kids don’t have an “Uncle Josh” to show them the woods. Look around. As deer season nears, perhaps there’s someone in your family or neighborhood you could help.
You’d be doing the planet a favor by introducing them to the world off the pavement. And you may be the only one who will.
Kids need someone to introduce them to the outdoor world and all that it encompasses. Many lack a father to do that. Maybe you can help. Photo by Brad Brown.