I grew up in a household where I was influenced by three male mentors, my great-grandfather, great-uncle and father. Their lives revolved around the outdoors and I was inexorably drawn along the same pathways. I hung on their every word and action they took in that direction. Any aspect of any part of the outdoors, its denizens or their habitats captured my full attention. I credit it with the early interest I had in reading. I always wanted to know more and I soon learned reading was a good way to do it.
My greatest joy in life was listening to them discuss their experiences or being allowed to tag along with them as they actively engaged in whatever the season dictated.
My first actual participation was in learning to fish followed by trapping. We lived next to the railroad tracks whose boundaries were periodically punctuated with drainage ditches and culverts filled with water. They made perfect habitat for muskrats and became a great source of interest to me. The rats were a ready source of cash in a period of extreme economic conditions that make anything labeled as such today a colossal joke.
My uncle trapped rats as did my father on a seasonal basis every winter and fall. It was an enterprise which at the time based on all other economic factors paid very well. I tagged along doing whatever I could to help the cause. My proudest moments were when I was allowed to carry the catch in the ash splint pack basket my father tailor made for me. One of my proudest moments came when I got my first pair of hip rubber boots for Christmas. I felt that I had arrived when I was able to wade along the trap line; a walking stick in hand probing each step to make sure I did not go over the top of my boots. Shortly thereafter I began to take an active role in the trapping itself. Setting my own traps, skinning and stretching the fur determined to be the best trapper I could be soon became an obsession. I had the trapping fever.
It followed me for the following fifty years until I became actively involved in other matters that precluded trapping altogether. Trapping at one time was a career that many became very successful at. They wrote manuals on the sport, sold lures and supplies and became household words to young guys like myself. I entertained the thought of making a career of it but gradually became weaned away from the scene as I grew older. For a number of years after I became established in other fields I still made it a big part of my life. I did so for the love of the sport and it augmented as much as one-third of my annual income for several years.
The nearest I ever came to making it my only profession was my last year in high school. Foxes and coyotes were the premier fur bearers not from the standpoint of dollar value but because of the difficulty in trapping them. I had arrived at a point where I was holding my own in trapping foxes, there were no coyotes in New York State in those days. I followed the precepts of our English teacher when it came to writing my senior thesis. She emphasized that one should only attempt to write about topics they knew about. So that left me with the three choices I have illustrated above. I choose to write about fox trapping.
I was acutely aware that it was a topic few others would ever give a fig about and certainly not in the running for first prize of five dollars for the best thesis. I had to be the most surprised member in the auditorium when they announced that I had won the prize. I still could not believe it as I stumbled up the stairs to the stage to get my five bucks. I felt awkward and out of place in my first and only new suit, bought for the occasion. As Principal Birdlebough handed me the money he said, I only have one question. Did you ever catch a fox? I was happy to tell him I had.
When I left shortly thereafter for the Army, in my new suit and the twenty dollar bill my mother handed me to tide me over I never doubted for a moment that as soon as I returned home I would pick up where I left off. One thing the military does is give you plenty of time to mull over your future. I had the same old yearning but my better judgment told me to go slow and think about it long and hard. In the end I still kept alive the thought and made trapping a big part of my life but not the center.
The thought for the week is my own and is aimed at those young people who are at the same point in life that I was. Think long and hard about the path you will take. It is a long, often hard, road and you are the only one who will ultimately make it what it will be.