Last December while in Tennessee on a duck hunting trip, I bought my wife a five-liter bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, partly for the immense novelty of size, partly because she loves wine and sharing with our friends.
I chuckled a bit to myself, checking out with this preposterously huge bottle of wine, and she also laughed when she unwrapped it for Christmas. In my mind, it was something of a promise of a future good time, like a bottle of champagne you’d open to celebrate on a special occasion.
Like many Americans, our wine glasses for guests and small wine collection are sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Large group gatherings went away after the first quarter of 2020 and when they will return is anyone’s guess.
While many are eager to turn the page on 2020, the season of Thanksgiving is upon us.
It is easier at times to become negative or to focus on what was lost, than to show appreciation for what one does have. Maybe this is a good opportunity to look back a little farther, to try to gain some perspective by looking beyond the comparison or frame of a single year.
With apologies to the adult onset hunters and anglers who never had the same youthful outdoor aspirations, take yourself back to when you were a kid, when you were short on experience and long on enthusiasm, and ask yourself if you’re grateful to be in the position you are in today.
Chances are, you have made a load of memories for yourself, with friends and family, and you may even have those memories represented in physical form through photos, mounts or something in the freezer ready to be prepared as a delicious meal.
I can remember the childish excitement of a pending fishing trip with grandpa. In those days, I didn’t get much sleep on the nights before I was going to be picked up.
I remember how much I enjoyed waiting for a haircut at Denny Wendlandt’s barbershop in Glencoe. It meant I could spend time reading Field and Stream, Outdoor Life or Outdoor News.
I could also hear Bill Dance’s fishing show in the background on Saturday mornings on TNN network. The old men waiting for haircuts by me, the young boy, could all fish and hunt to their heart’s desire.
The outdoors was this big beautiful place full of fish, deer, birds and everything I wanted to learn more about. It all seemed so fantastic to a boy who only wanted to be outdoors.
I would ride on the school bus and hear other boys talk about the deer their father had shot. “Six points” and “eight points” and “10 points.” Coming from a non-hunting family, I didn’t even know to what the counts were referring.
Nevertheless, I knew I would be hunting deer myself, someday.
Similarly, I can remember riding on the bus to basketball practice and passing a few sloughs or empty corn fields with ducks or geese landing in them. That would trigger another boy to tell stories of hunting ducks with his father.
It sounded so magical, time in a blind watching birds circle and dogs whine.
I remember sitting in my grandfather’s fish house with my late uncle and his friends, waiting for prime time to arrive. With youthful impatience, I kept fidgeting with the line, pulling it up, checking the bait and wondering in frustration how long it would be until we caught something.
One of the men asked me if I was going to be a fisherman someday. “I’m going to be the next Babe Winkelman” was my response.
The men had a good laugh before telling me that if I want to catch fish, I have to keep my bait in the water.
It seems that as a child, you want time to speed up, and as an adult, you wish it would slow down.
Every Sunday, my parents would stop at the grocery store after church, pick up a gallon of milk, whatever staple food item was needed and the Sunday newspaper. I always wanted the sports page first, so I could read the outdoors section. Then I’d read the comics, and the rest could be thrown in the trash for my part.
I am a Minnesota state fair lover, having made the trip with livestock for years. During 4H and FFA livestock encampments, I’d sneak away to stare at the fish in the DNR pond, ogling the size and diversity of all my favorite finned creatures. Those fish and the people that told you about them, had to have the coolest jobs in the world.
My mother humored me when I was a kid, taking me and a friend to an outdoor sport show. We toured around the convention center, checking out new fishing products and pitches, past booths for the latest and greatest gadgets or the best fly-in lodges in Canada. I went home with a screen-printed bass T-shirt and a couple of fishing lures I was excited to try on my next lake excursion.
In what feels like many lifetimes ago, that little boy yearned to get outdoors in whatever way it took.
Today that boy is all grown up. On occasion, I give fish pond talks at the Minnesota State Fair. I work a couple sport shows. And I’m blessed to be a freelance outdoor writer and columnist.
I get a healthy mix of time on the water, in the woods, on the prairie or at exotic locales, chasing a little bit of everything along the way. These aren’t the boastings of a braggart, but an attempt to show a little perspective is something we all need right now.
Life blesses us in many ways and soon we treat those blessings as commonplace, taking them for granted or treating them as expected, normal, or pedestrian.
Even framed within 2020, it’s been a good year in the outdoors. I spent a great amount of time turkey hunting in the spring with my kids and friends. I spent a load of time hunting deer this fall.
Our family spent a record amount of time together outdoors, exploring state parks, hiking trails, foraging and getting out in the woods. I’m guessing other people and families have similar stories.
2020 was a great year to get outside.
My wife’s giant wine bottle is a promise. There will be better days to come. We miss our friends.
But through this pandemic and this wild year, there is still much for which to be thankful.
Scott Mackenthun is an outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and may be contacted at email@example.com.