Friday, October 30, 2009

Running in the rain

I went over to Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul yesterday to see my son, Joe, compete in the last cross country race of his high school career. He is a senior at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan. It was the section meet and he was shooting for his best time of the year.

He is the No. 6 runner on the team, and only the top five score in a meet. So, he was running for pride. He also was trying to push through some physical problems he has been having throughout the season, particularly the last few weeks. He has been getting ill during and after races, and he's not sure why.

The rainy, sloppy conditions yesterday definitely did not help. He got off to a pretty good start, but faded later in the race. I shouted encouragement as he ran by, hoping to spur him on to a kick at the end.

He struggled to finish, but I was proud of him nonetheless. Sometimes, it's hardest to complete a task when you know the results you are hoping for won't happen. That was definitely the case here.

But,  there's a valuable lesson that can come from this experience, and I hope he will learn it. I think it's good when things don't come easy and we have to work hard to achieve results that are below our expectations. Too often, I think, parents try to shield their children from things like this.

But, these kinds of experiences build character in ways success often doesn't. So, I walk away happy from this event, especially that Joe didn't give up and pushed to the end.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Conquering Davern Hill

I have been thinking about it for weeks. There is a steep hill on Davern Street about 2 miles from my house and I made it my goal to jog all the way to the hill and down it, then jog back up and all the way home.

The total distance is 4 1/2 miles, which is up about 1 1/2 miles from what I have been doing for the last two and a half months. Various muscle cramps over the last two months kept me from taking on the hill.

But, today, I am proud to say, I finally conquered Davern Hill. After going without muscle cramps for two weeks, I decided I was ready to take on the challenge. I told my son, Joe, this morning as I was getting ready to head out on my run, that this was the day.

He offered a few brief words of encouragement, and off I went. I ran slower than usual to make sure I had enough gas in the tank to get up the hill. The steepness of it was a serious challenge and I huffed my way up at a very slow jog. I joked later that I probably would have needed a running judge to verify that I was, indeed, jogging up the hill.

No matter. What counts is I made it up the hill and all the way home! It was a joyful moment for me and I high-fived my wife, Julie, when I got back home. What was interesting, and a little surprising, was that after I got up the steep part of the hill, the other, less steep, inclines that I faced on the return trip were not a problem at all. In fact, when I got back home, I felt as though I could have kept going.

It's nice to see my body responding to the exertion. I hope that continues. Not sure what my next running goal is. I do know that, when we go out to Montana over Thanksgiving, I want to be able to go up the mountain where my father-in-law's land is. I'm hoping all of this running and walking will be adequate training for the task.

For now, I'll bask in the glow of conquering Davern Hill.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where are the birds?

I had a fall wild turkey hunt last week down in Goodhue County. I hunted properties near Cannon Falls and Red Wing. I had three pieces of land in all and I hunted all three on Wednesday and Thursday.

But, the birds were a no-show. I didn't see or hear a single bird, nor did a see as much as a turkey track, turkey feather or turkey dropping. It looked as though the birds just weren't using any of these properties.

That is the frustration of fall turkey hunting. In the spring, the birds are in much smaller groups and more spread out. Usually, if there is adequate food and habitat, there will be some birds around.

Not so in the fall. The turkeys gather in very large flocks of as many as 50 birds or more. That means feast or famine when it comes to hunting. Either, you encounter lots of birds or none at all. This year, for me, it was none at all.

It might be tempting to blame the cold, wet weather for  the poor hunting. But, it's really due to the flocking nature of birds in the fall. If I want to be successful next year, I'll have to do some scouting before the season to find out where the birds are. The good news is, nearly every farmer who has birds would like to see the flock reduced. So, getting permission to hunt fall turkeys on private land is easy.

I did experience something very enjoyable in the woods last week, however. I saw a total of seven deer during two afternoons of hunting, two the first day and five the second. In one case, I had a nice buck cross in front of me only about 25 to 30 yards away. That was cool!

It got me to thinking about deer season, which is less than three weeks away. The deer appear to be moving right now and the activity will only pick up in the next few weeks. I can't wait!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall flakes

It was a strange sight outside today -- accumulating snow on the ground and clinging to leaves on the trees. Who could have imagined such a sight on Oct. 12?

I'm sure there are lots of depressed folks groaning at the early arrival of the white stuff. But, I wasn't too bummed out. It's not going to last. In fact, I saw an extended weather forecast that predicted a high of 60 on Sunday.

Actually, I took the opportunity to pull out my camera and take a few shots of the white landscape. The most unusual sight was a layer of snow on top of flowers still in bloom.

The petals will win the battle for now, but their days surely are numbered. I figured the hard frost we got over the weekend would mean farewell to the flowers, but these persistent blooms are hanging on.

Flowers and snow are a rare combination. About the only time it seems possible is mid May and again in October. But, I don't recall ever seeing it before. So, naturally, I felt compelled to record it with my digital camera. Later in the week, the snow will be gone, I'm sure. In fact, early this afternoon when I was taking pictures, the snow was already melting and falling in large clumps off the tree branches.

So, even though there are mild days ahead -- even, Indian summer? -- I can't help but wonder if this event is a sign of things to come. Weather experts likely will tell us there's no need to panic just yet about a possible harsh winter ahead.

But, I'm not so sure. It has been a while since we've had a winter that's high on the severity index. We're probably overdue. Well, we'll just have to take what comes. I'm just hoping things will warm up for my fall turkey hunt later this week.

I like seeing fall colors when I'm walking the woods in search of a fall turkey, not snow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An unexpected farewell

I got a phone call recently from Jack Kolars, the director of advancement at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault. He asked about photos I took of the new Divine Mercy church building in July.

After I agreed to send him a photo, I asked how Ron Thibault was doing. Ron and I struck up a friendship in the course of my work at The Catholic Spirit. Ron is a graduate of the school and came back to spend 42 years as a teacher and administrator.

About 11 or 12 years ago, Ron invited me down for the school's annual fundraiser, which they called a lobster boil. We discovered a mutual passion for hunting and fishing and I have always made it a point to see Ron when I'm down in Faribault on assignment for the paper. In fact, I had a nice visit with him in July on my way back from taking pictures of the new church with its pastor, Father Kevin Finnegan.

I ended up photographing three of his four daughters' weddings and I enjoyed them all. The most recent was Laura's almost two years ago. Ron and I talked about going hunting together someday and I came close to talking him into trying a spring wild turkey hunt.

Sadly, we'll never get that chance. Jack informed me that Ron died Sept. 6 of cancer at the age of 68. I was stunned, and so were his wife, Connie, and the rest of the family. He was diagnosed just two days before he died, Jack told me. Doctors thought it was pneumonia at first, but decided to do more testing when Ron wasn't getting better.

Fittingly, his funeral Mass was celebrated at the new church. I have to admit, Ron's death hit me hard -- very hard. He had such a love for life, for Bethlehem Academy, for the outdoors. His family owns a nice piece of land outside of town and he wanted me to come down and hunt there with him someday. He said there are lots of wild turkeys in the area, and he and I were going to hunt them one of these years.

I'm really going to miss Ron. He was always cheerful when I saw him, always excited about hunts past, present and future. Yet, he wasn't in a hurry to leave B.A. And, I'm sure the folks at B.A. were in no hurry to see him go.

I'm sure many, many lives were touched by Ron. Mine is one of them. I'm disappointed we won't have the chance to get out in the woods together. Now that hunting season is in full swing, I'm sure I'll think of Ron often. And, when I do, I'll offer prayers for Connie and their four daughters.

May he rest in peace.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Turning attention to whitetails

Yesterday was an ambitious day for me in the woods of Goodhue County. It was time to do some scouting and stand preparation for our deer hunt Nov. 7. I went down to our deer-hunting properties with my son, Joe, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his son, Chris, who is not old enough to hunt, but definitely old enough to be interested in the rituals of the hunt.

We worked hard and long to get things ready and got most of the work done. We performed the arduous task of moving a stand about 200 yards and setting it up, then did some work on a tripod stand on a different property. I have taken two deer from that stand and am hoping for a third this year. And, we went to cut some shooting lanes near a stand from which Bernie shot a beautiful 10-point buck last year.

As it turned out, someone (probably the landowner) kind of beat us to the punch. When we got to the back corner of the property where our stand is located, we discovered a bunch of fallen trees near the edge of the woods. The line of freshly-cut brush and trees extended for quite a ways, starting near where the stand is located. I wondered how this would affect deer movement.

There was similar clearing done not far from my tripod stand. It seems like this kind of tree removal happens about every other year on at least one of the properties we hunt. And, there are often other curve balls to go with it, like other hunters showing up unexpectedly (including trespassers), vandalism to our stands, and, of course, nasty weather.

Each year, it seems, there's always something. But, such things serve as a reminder that change is a fact of life, and a fact of the Christian life as well. Jesus warns us of this, and even challenges us to be ready for it.

I have thought about this lately and, in my self-reflection, discovered that I very much like to keep things as they are -- the good things, anyway. I am often quick to complain -- and complain loudly -- when the curve balls of life come sweeping in. I always want and hope to adapt well and quickly. But in things like deer hunting, I like success and favorable conditions to last year after year.

But, every year God shows me that change is inevitable. At the same time, he has also shown me how well he can work in such circumstances. Last year was the worst year for bad weather and curve balls, yet our hunting party of five managed to harvest three deer on opening day, including Bernie's 10-pointer. Amazingly, it was the most deer our party has gotten in the six years we have hunted together.

Based primarily on that, I am optimistic this year. We have already faced curve balls, and there may be more to come. But, I believe God will bless our hunt. Does that mean three more deer? Or four? Or, even five? Or, perhaps, none?

I don't know. At this point, I will merely thank God for the opportunity to spend time in the woods with Joe, my No. 2 son, Andy, Bernie, Chris, and Bernie's oldest son, Dan, who will be trying for his second deer this year. And, I will wait confidently for the blessings he bestows on us Nov. 7.