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Published: Tuesday, 1/10/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Father's guidance spawned love, respect for the outdoors

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

A fish is just a fish, until someone takes the time to teach you otherwise. Consider yourself blessed if there has been such an instructor in your life, someone to provide guidance and let every moment in the outdoors carry the potential to deliver a worthwhile lesson.

My father was that person for me. Every evening spent wading in a trout stream, every morning walking through the woods, and every afternoon driving around the countryside with him at the wheel was an education. No textbooks, no formal lectures, no exams -- just a subtle transfer of knowledge in a setting where we found adventure, challenge, and so much enjoyment.

The destination in this space will be the outdoors, that impossible to define expanse often referred to here as "great" since that's where the best memories of time spent with my father reside.

There will be stories about endangered species, life on Lake Erie, conservation, habitat restoration, prime locations, and exotic invaders, or just spending the night in a tent listening to nature's symphony of sounds. There will be a lot of people pieces, since it's the folks we experience the outdoors with that usually make it so memorable.

For me, a fish was always just a fish, until dad took me on that first trip to the old stone quarry near Bloomdale, where he explained the importance of stepping softly as you approached the water's edge, so as not to spook the bass hiding in the shallow pocket under the tinsel-like branches of a willow tree.

A fish was just a fish until that moment when dad pointed out the ideal ambush position this bass had occupied and how its wide tail and thickly muscled sides allowed it to use a burst of acceleration to devour unsuspecting blue gills.

A tree was only a tree, until that walk through Watson's woods near Amsden, where dad showed me how the shagbark hickory got its name, how the hemlocks were the lone pines in this expanse of hardwoods and why the only clear sections were those under the branches of the black walnut trees, since their roots produce a toxin that kills off any seedling intruders.

Every trip into the outdoors -- whether for just 20 minutes of intense weeding in his lush vegetable garden or for a week in an outpost cabin in the remote wilderness fishing paradise of northern Manitoba -- each trip was a step through a portal where an inquisitive nature was nurtured, and where everything suddenly took on a different and often symbiotic perspective.

There were lakes that a young kid thought just had odd shapes, until he learned from his dad that the glaciers had scraped and gouged those boundaries with a force we can only attempt to imagine. Grass was just a deep green in May and the leaves always turned brown in November, until he detailed the science behind dormancy and death in the plant world.

Water was just water, until dad had me take a look under the microscope and learn that the seemingly crystal clear sample from the pond was really a community swimming pool full of critters you would not want to ingest.

Smoke curling out of all those factory stacks was just smoke to a 14-year-old kid, until dad showed me the devastation done by the nickel smelting operation to the otherwise pristine northern Ontario landscape near Sudbury. He insisted that there be an understanding of complex environmental problems, not just a rage against it.

A mountain was just a mountain, until he made it clear that the Appalachians have been worn and rounded by their nearly 500 million years on the planet, while the Rockies were young and sharp and likely a fifth that age.

A bird was just a bird, until he pointed out by name the dozen different species that engaged in an endless pecking order on parade at the feeder out back, fighting for the fuel to get through another Ohio winter.

A bug was only a bug, until a lesson in studying the surface of Michigan's Au Sable River revealed that insect awareness was the shortest path to the good side of a brown trout.

My perception of so many things changed, once we stepped into the outdoors. There, my father shared his experiences, his wisdom, and an entertaining array of anecdotal yarns that are still the dominant fabric of family folklore some 15 years after his death.

Now is the time to build new outdoors relationships, following my father's model and attempting to fill those formidable snow shoes worn by my gifted predecessor and good friend, Steve Pollick.

As always, everyone is welcome, but pack lightly since the hope is we return from each foray laden with knowledge. The classroom might be the night sky, the river bottom, or the canopy of the woods ... or anyplace else outdoors adventure leads us.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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