The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Outdoors

June 2, 2014

Cross: Take a kid fishing, no license needed

A few years ago, while cruising with a co-worker through an area community on a steamy summer day, we passed a vacant lot.

There, oblivious to the heat and humidity, a group of kids were playing a game of pick-up baseball, racing down well-worn paths to makeshift bases, shagging pop-flies in the weedy outfield.

A few decades ago, such a scene wouldn’t have attracted a second glance.

But nowadays, kids playing anything outside is unusual enough that we had to circle the block and watch the young ballplayers for a few minutes.

Particularly on such a hot, summer day, most kids likely were comfortable in an air-conditioned house sitting in front of a flickering computer screen.

Purely an anecdotal observation, but one based on four decades of searching for photographs of youthful slices of life, kids just don’t seem to log outdoor time like they once did.

It is the curse of aging, I suppose, to suggest that things were different when we were kids.

We were out of the house as soon as possible to join the pick-up games of baseball that formed almost daily on the rag-tag ball diamond near the Phillips Oil bulk plant next to the Rock Island railroad tracks of my hometown.

But the community also was nestled around a lake where the prospect of catching a catfish, some crappies or wonder of wonders, a walleye, sometimes held as much allure as tagging a grand slam off the neighbor kid’s round-house curve.

Frequently on summer mornings, with a galvanized minnow pail swinging from the handlebars, rods poking from our saddle baskets, we’d head down to the lake to poke around the docks, the power plant, in search of finned quarry.

Of course, youngsters still can be found prowling the banks of area lakes on summer days. But like the youthful baseball players, they seem to be increasingly rare.

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