Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An intriguing invitation

Last Friday, I sat in the office of teacher Dick Paul at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley. He is set to retire June 13 after 32 years at the school.

His first year was 1976. The very first day he walked into a classroom at the school, he was announced as my homeroom teacher. I was a sophomore at the time. He also was my geometry teacher that same year. On Friday, I got a chance to tell him that his geometry class was my favorite class in four years at T-G.

But, we spent little time talking about geometry or school. Instead, the talk was mostly about fishing and his upcoming trip to Lake Mille Lacs June 9. He fishes the lake several times each year and invited me along for this one.

I've been wanting to go fishing with him for years, but our schedules never lined up. This outing sounds very intriguing. It's an annual trip on a Mille Lacs fishing launch he makes every year with teachers from both Totino-Grace and Hill-Murray, where his wife, Susan, serves as principal. There is a trophy that goes to the team that catches the biggest fish. The competition is friendly, but can get intense.

"They (Hill-Murray teachers) have possession of the trophy," Dick Paul said. "We lost it in the last 20 minutes of the trip last year."

The trip started about 10 or 11 years ago, Paul said, when Duane Buhl from Totino-Grace and Brad Peterson from Hill-Murray worked to put together a combined trip. Prior to that, each of the schools was going out on a launch on Mille Lacs independently.

"It's nothing but pure fun andd good-natured teasing between the schools," Paul said. "Inevitably, someone pulls a prank on someone else during the night."

One interesting subplot this year will be the switching of teams by Aaron Miller. Last year, he fished on the Totino-Grace team because he was a religion teacher there. Then, he was hired by Hill-Murray as assistant principal, starting at the beginning of this school year. So, this year, he will be fishing for Hill-Murray.

Which brought me to the question: Whose team would I be fishing for? Totino-Grace, based on my status as an alum? What about my journalistic code of being impartial, not to mention my code as an archdiocesan employee to support all Catholic schools?

Paul had a quick answer for all of these questions: "You're fishing impartially for us. You are what you are and proud of it."

Let the competition begin!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Turkey time in Wisconsin

I went on a turkey hunt with my dad in Wisconsin last week. In that state, like in Minnesota, you get drawn for a five-day season. This was the second-to-last season, so we were hunting late in the year. But, with the late spring we've had, this turned out pretty well. The birds were active and the weather was beautiful on each of the three days we hunted.

The first day, we had birds gobbling and strutting, but they wouldn't come in. Then, I moved our blind right to the edge of the property line and had a bird gobbling as we were setting up. But, a tractor pulled onto the neighbor's land and started planting corn. Then, another neighbor whose land touches the property we were on drove up on a tractor to plant a food plot for deer. That ended things for the day, but we decided to come back to the same spot the next morning.

Turkeys love freshly-planted corn fields and they were definitely there the next day. I moved the blind to the spot where my son had killed a nice bird the previous year, just 20 yards from a large strip of freshly-planted corn. Two toms were gobbling on the neighbor's land, but wouldn't come over. Then, at about 6:30 a.m., a hen crossed in front of us. I tried to call her into the decoys, but she just kept going. About 10 minutes later, two more hens crossed in front of us. This time, they turned and came right to the decoys, which we had set up 5-10 yards from the blind.

I was thinking it would be nice to have a gobbler follow the hens in when I heard a gobble just over the hill to my left. I looked and saw the top of a tail fan pop up, then another. The two birds came strutting over the hill and I was hoping they would veer right so my dad and I could both get a shot. He was on the right side of the blind (where I thought the birds would come from) and I was on the left.

But, these darned birds stayed left and began to slow down and act cautious. They came out of strut, ran their heads up and stood there. My choice was to keep waiting and risk them leaving, or shoot now and at least get one. I chose to shoot and I dropped the bird in front at 40 yards. Unfortunately, the other one took off right away and my dad didn't get a shot.

We went to another farm (where my son Andy had shot a bird April 13) and hunted there for a few hours that day and then again the following morning until noon. We had birds gobble and come part way in, but we couldn't pull one in close enough for my dad to shoot. So, we ended up one for two. I was hoping my dad would get one, but I think he just enjoyed being out in the woods with me. At his age, 86, that's an accomplishment in itself. He did manage to shoot a bird the week before in Minnesota while hunting with my brother, so he did get his bird this year.

Several weeks ago, I shot a bearded hen in Minnesota (which is legal), but it is not the same feeling as shooting a big tom. Mine weighed about 20.5 pounds and had an 11 1/4-inch beard that was nice and thick. All in all, a great bird and an awesome hunt. I'm thankful to the Lord for the time with my dad and the bird we were able to harvest.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Solving Mother's Day Dilemma

Sometimes, the most valuable hunting and fishing trips are the ones we don’t take.

Say what?

Let me explain. First of all, I like the outdoors as much as anyone. For that reason, Saturday’s fishing opener weighed heavily on my mind.

In fact, in anticipation of this year’s fishing season, I bought a boat that has all of the features I wanted. And, as recently as two weekends ago, during one of those nasty stretches of cold weather, I went out into the garage and climbed into my boat, dreaming of the warm, fishing days of summer.

That said, I realized I had a tough choice to make this past weekend -- fishing or Mother’s Day. Because I had a work commitment on Saturday, that left only Sunday to ply the waters in search of walleye.

As tempting as this idea was, I felt a hesitation in my spirit about leaving my wife on Mother’s Day to spend time in my boat.
Maybe I could come up with some sort of compromise, like taking my wife fishing with me. With that idea in mind, I casually queried my wife, Julie, about her interests for Mother’s Day.

Without hesitation, she shot back a quick, definitive answer -- clean up the yard.

Yes, that gets me outside, but that wasn’t exactly the type of outdoors experience I was hoping for. Yet, I felt like I could not ignore her wishes.

In the end, I determined that fishing and Mother’s Day, for me, would be incompatible this year. I would spend Sunday sprucing up the landscape and filling a trailer with things my wife wants gone.
The walleye would have to wait. I realize that probably gets me in trouble with other husbands who will insist my decision makes them look bad.

Believe me, that is not my intent. And, I would caution “fishing widows” out there not to wave this column in front of their husbands and make this type of cynical retort: “See, loving husbands do NOT go fishing on Mother’s Day.”

No, I do not presume to make some type of theological ranking of Mother’s Day above walleye fishing. Even the state legislature backed away from this one as it briefly pondered changing the date of the fishing opener so as not to conflict with Mother’s Day.

Rather, I leave each fisherman to his own conscience in settling this matter with his wife.

I merely believe that there are times when men ought to have enough courage and enough conviction to recognize and grab hold of opportunities to make sacrifices out of love for their wives.
I can’t say I have a great track record in this. Just three years ago, I went turkey hunting on Mother’s Day with my oldest son.
Bad idea. Not only did the hunting turn out to be lousy, but the conversation I had with my wife on the way home was nothing short of painful. She made it clear just how disappointed she was in the choice I had made to leave her on Mother’s Day.

I resolved not to make that mistake again. The experience played a big role in my decision this year. As recently as the Friday of Mother’s Day/fishing opener weekend, I was feeling pretty confident in my decision.

Then, I ran into Julie Pfitzinger of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. She and I both were at St. Joseph School in West St. Paul to cover a talk by Imaculée Ilibagiza of Rwanda on her personal experience of the genocide that took place there in the 1990s. Pfitzinger is a mom and a freelance writer who has written about issues like this over the years.

After the talk, we spent a few minutes discussing the issue. Julie’s insights confirmed I was making the write choice.

“Although my husband isn't a fisherman, I have friends who have been ‘Mother's Day widows,’ ” she said. “I don't think it's ever about them [mothers] wanting the big spotlight to shine around them on the second Sunday in May, but is really about the desire to just spend quality family time together.”

That simple remark made me realize that what my wife -- and, I suspect, many other wives -- really wants is merely the chance to spend time with me and feel a little special.

Lord knows, moms take a lot of abuse in our culture these days, often from members of their own gender. This is just one day out of 365 when we husbands can show them a little appreciation for all that they do to make our families strong and vibrant.

And, as Pfitzinger pointed out, this also is an opportunity to send a message to your children, especially boys, about how to set and maintain the right priorities.

“I believe that every opportunity we have to model to our kids the importance we place on family should be taken now -- it's all part of helping prepare them to raise their own families some day,” she said. “I guess if that means missing the fishing opener in favor of spending Mother's Day together, the valuable message inherent in seeing Dad choose family over fish is more than worth keeping the tackle box packed for a few more days.”

I agree. But, make no mistake, my tackle box will open soon.
And, walleyes of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, beware.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

God's goodness in Buffalo County

Over the weekend, I took my No. 3 son, William, to an annual father/son weekend for boys in grades second through sixth and their dads. We go down to a farm owned by a friend's parents in Buffalo County, WI. The county is known as one of the top places in the country for trophy whitetail bucks and there are more and more hunters gobbling up prime hunting land in this area.

Last spring, I shot a turkey on this farm and have also taken three deer, all antlerless. This weekend, however, was not about hunting. It was about helping about 20 or 30 boys have a good time and bond with their fathers. Thanks to God's grace in turning away foul weather on Saturday, I'd say we accomplished our mission.

One of the highlights is a hike to the top of a bluff along the Mississippi River near Nelson, WI. It was cool and windy at the start, but the sun popped out just when we reached the top and it stayed out the rest of the day. It's a spectacular view from there, overlooking the Mississippi backwaters and Lake Pepin. We lingered for a while to take in the scene, then came back down and enjoyed ice cream cones in Nelson. My son saw a wild turkey on his way down and we saw two others near the farm. I hope to see turkeys like these when I go turkey hunting in Wisconsin next week.

Speaking of turkey hunting, my 86-year-old father shot one in Minnesota on Friday (see photo above). He was hunting with the my brother, Joe, and they called in two jakes (young toms). My dad took the first shot at 28 yards and downed his bird. My brother shot next and missed. Although he hunted three more days after that, he did not get another opportunity. That's the way turkey hunting goes. But, everyone in our family is thrilled to see my dad get a bird. I wonder if he is the oldest turkey hunter in the state to get a bird -- or, even oldest in the country. I'd love to be able to find that out. I hope to help him get bird No. 2 next week in Wisconsin.