She Touched A Leech!

This past weekend was the Minnesota Fishing Opener so I did what any good dad should do…take their kid fishing.   Of course, the fishing opener is much more than just fishing.   It’s a time to gather in the entirety of the experience, passed on from one generation to the next.

Our fishing outing began by stopping at Cabela’s.   You see, accompanying me fishing was my soon-to-be 8y/o daughter who has been anticipating this experience for several weeks.   What’s a good dad to do…well, you build excitement over the event because as experience has taught me…sometimes early season fishing can be downright slow.   Especially for younger children.

While at Cabela’s we were in search of a “lucky fishing hat” suitable for a little red-haired girl.   Eventually we found one that looked capable of not only blocking the harsh sun rays, but also delivering on the piscatorial fortune we had attributed to the hat.   After all, if you believe something to be “lucky” isn’t that half the battle?

Next, we had this pink, plastic Plano tacklebox that needed more “stuff.”   You know, the kind of “stuff” fishermen cram into their boxes to help complete it for just about any fishing situation.   We purchased bobbers, hooks, sinkers, pliers, lures, bait…you know, all the good “stuff” that any self-respecting fisherman should carry.

By now, our cart was filling up with plenty of fun fishing items to help fuel the fishing fires burning inside both of us.   It was about that time Elsie asked, “Dad, can we go over to look at the bait?”   Sure, that is next on our list.

We approached an employee who seemed eager to help us with all of our live bait needs.   Elsie peered into the tanks to look at the fathead minnows, the shiner minnows, taking in the lovely sights and smells that only a dedicated fisherman could possibly enjoy.

It was about that time when the employee asked if Elsie would like to hold a leech.   He took his dip net into the big tank and flopped out a big black ribbon leech onto the counter.   Elsie stared at it for a moment watching it squirm and wiggle.   As it did its little dance trying to escape back into the water, Elsie reached down and picked it up.   She cupped her hands and watched it slither and wildly squirm for about 30 seconds.

I then told her to throw it back into the water tank and let’s get going.   As I proceeded to thank the employee for his time, he made a comment that could not have made me more proud.   You see, what I learned is this employee likes to scoop leeches up and encourage young kids to play with them.   Part of it is to encourage contact with a form of bait not always pleasant to touch.   Another aspect is to learn more about the kids.

As we were about to walk away he told me your daughter just did something that most boys her age will NOT do.   “Really,” I said, “boys won’t touch leeches…what is wrong with them?”   The employee went on to explain how most young kids her age will refuse to touch them.   He actually stated how it warms his heart to see a young child so eager to explore their natural world horizons.

At first I thought, WOW!   How could inquisitive kids who come into a Cabela’s store not want to touch a leech.   When I was that age I wouldn’t have given touching a leech a second thought.   But, things have changed.   Society has changed.   By nature, and I hate to say this, but many kids are not automatically drawn to engage in such experiences like kids once were.

I never for a minute considered that Elsie would have an aversion to touching a leech.   That’s not how she is being raised.   If you want to fish you touch crawlers, minnows, grubs, leeches and other such things that fish like to eat.   Indeed, not only do you bait your own hook when fishing with me…but when you can do it safely you also remove your own fish.   It’s all part of the experience of…well, fishing.

Now, certainly I’m not saying that touching a leech is some sort of magical litmus test for whether kids will grow up to be positively engaged in the outdoors.   Nevertheless, I’ve taken every opportunity possible for Elsie to be present when I clean game and fowl.   After all, she dreams of being a veterinarian someday so why would I want to delay her first-hand exposure to the innards of God’s creatures.

And all of this is such a good reason to take a kid fishing.   Not only does it help develop a lifetime enjoyment with one of the best outdoor recreations available, but it helps to push kids beyond their normal comfort levels.   Kids need to realize how death does not only occur on video games and in the outdoors, as in life, there are no reset buttons or “do-overs” if things don’t go well.

HUNT. FISH. FEED. Once Again Serves Up Goodwill In St. Paul

The popular outreach program that takes protein (venison, fish and fowl) donated by sportsmen and turns it into a gift of kindness to help those less fortunate in the community arrived in St. Paul this past Monday.   Of the approximately 50 such events that have been held around the country, this marked the second time (since 2010) where volunteers from the outdoor television industry rolled up their sleeves and donned aprons for a good cause.

The concept of HUNT. FISH. FEED. first began with the Sportsman Channel launching the initiative back in 2007 and has since served up several thousand meals in an effort to end hunger.   Not only does it show sportsman doing something positive to give back to the local community, but it allows television executives, TV personalities, local politicians and others an opportunity to see first-hand how people continue to need such assistance.

Back in 2010 I was fortunate to first experience one of these events at the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.   At the time, my entire family assisted in both the preparation and the clean-up of the charity meal conducted by HUNT. FISH. FEED.   I must say how even though this is a one-meal effort and the need continues daily, there is something quite humbling to witness how certain segments of humanity depend greatly on such volunteer efforts.   It changes how your perceive the world.   And I dare say, it warms the heart in ways very few other volunteer efforts can achieve.

This time around, however, I was invited to the event to just cover all the good deeds going on.   In fact, Michelle Scheuermann and I conducted a quick podcast with some special guests that will be posting soon — stay tuned.   On that podcast we talk briefly about HUNT. FISH. FEED., but mostly we talk with some wild cooking notables who share some great insight on how to best prepare wild game.

If you ever get the opportunity in your local community to volunteer with any such charity work I encourage you to give it a try.   And if you are part of a sportsman group and can parlay that effort into a more positive image for sportsmen, even more power to you.   At the very least, every sportsman should consider perhaps donating some of their wild game to a local food shelf.   Some states and localities might have certain restrictions on you doing that, but at the very least check it out as the need continues to exist.

In closing, here are some pictures from Monday’s event held at the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center:

Here The Sporting Chef, Scott Leysath, stirs up some hearty venison chili that will be served to all guests.

Volunteers form a production line to fill each tray with salads, fruit, cheese bread, venison chili, chocolate brownie and milk.

All in all over 200 people were served in downtown St. Paul on this day.

Moments before food service began, Scott Leysath took a moment to discuss the HUNT. FISH. FEED. program with St. Paul Mayor, Chris Coleman.

The many volunteers who made this day possible.

Important To Understand Your Limits In The Outdoors

About a month ago I sat down with one of my long-time outdoor pals just to shoot the breeze.   While the conversation was upbeat and generally happy as usual, suddenly it took a turn much more serious in tone.   Todd confessed to me that he was having heart troubles and an upcoming important surgery was being planned to correct a genetic defect.   A surgery that would repair an ineffective heart valve causing him several medical and quality of life issues.

Of course, I sympathized and felt sorry for what my buddy was about to go through.   After all, nothing about a person’s heart is routine or simple.   Little did I realize, I would find this out first-hand even before my buddy’s scheduled surgery date.

Last Sunday I asked my wife to take me to the Emergency Room as I was experiencing non-stop heart palpitations.   Oh, I had experienced them before…but didn’t think much of it as they usually went away after a short time.   But that day things were different.   My heart didn’t want to settle down.   I have worked in pre-hospital emergency care long enough to know I likely was not having a “heart attack” per se, but yet I had this sense that something was not right in my chest, either.

We made the right choice.   Upon hitting the ER I could tell quickly this was the place I needed to be.   The technician who conducted a 12–lead EKG on me wasted no time getting the ball rolling toward rapid emergent care.   Within moments my shirt was completely off and big pads were affixed on my chest and back in the event I needed some sort of cardioversion in the form of a controlled electrical shock to take control of my heart.

Yeah, things were serious.   I was deeply concerned.   My wife sitting just three feet away was concerned…hell, I could see the concern on all of the emergency worker’s faces wondering where this was going.   Doctor after doctor checked me out and concluded my heart was not working properly and it needed some sort of immediate medical intervention.

In time, I was moved to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where I would end up spending the next two days trying to get control of my racing heart once again.   My condition is known as Ventricular Tachycardia and basically it’s the bottom half of the heart not working in proper sequence with the top half.   In other words, when things don’t work together as they should the heart is not an effective blood pumping organ.

I was fortunate to be in the Mayo (Clinic) Health System so I had access to some of the brightest minds in medicine.   Team after team of experts consulted with me and a plan was launched to bring this health matter under manageable control.   In total, I spent five days in the hospital last week realizing that when a person approaches their mid-50s they must deal with medical challenges that a 30 year old often doesn’t think much about.

I now take a series of medicines that help to control my specific heart arrhythmia.   Oh, things are not perfect or as they once were.   I now have limitations to what I feel I can physically do safely.   These are not limitations put on me by my doctor, instead…these are limitations I put on myself not to push things beyond what I feel comfortable doing.   After all, the only one who pays the price is me.

A year ago I had the opportunity to go on a remote fly-in fishing trip into the northern part of Canada, but I turned it down.   Even back then I had a sense about me that I should not be that far off the grid because my body was telling me so.   At that time I thought it was just feeling jittery from too much coffee…so I gave up caffeine.   The symptoms were reduced…but did not totally disappear.

I suppose I was in denial.   Often times the body tells a person something, but we don’t like to listen.   Men, as I’ve been told repeatedly lately, are notorious for being in denial.   Heck, I did not even tell my wife about any of the symptoms until the day I had her drive me to the ER.   Oh yeah, as a nurse she was not pleased about that silence.

Over the coming weeks I am now faced with figuring out to what level I can carry out my future outdoor activities.   I know trudging through a wet slough where the mud grabs onto your feet and wants to hold you is not probably something you will find me doing.   Likewise, dragging a deer for a great distance or packing out meat would be far too taxing on my now somewhat fragile heart.

Nothing quite like dealing with an important medical issue to force you to accept reality…and your own mortality.   On the other hand, the reality is just because a person might have some limitations does not mean they need to give up the activities they truly enjoy.   Sometimes it take creative planning.   Maybe this fall I choose an easier deer stand to reach without getting all worked up.   Maybe I don’t struggle trying to do certain tasks alone when I have outdoor partners who can lend a helping hand.   Hell, one of the best things about getting older and needing assistance is to invite younger, stronger blood into the experience to help you.   In exchange for your wisdom they gain, you get the brawn of someone younger doing the strenuous tasks.

I guess the main point I want to emphasize in this blog post is if you live long enough on this earth crap is going to happen to you.   My buddy, Todd, hasn’t even had his heart surgery yet and it was almost ironic that I had to suddenly deal with heart issues even before he does.   As I’ve come to learn, one of my other life-long hunting buddies has been having terrible knee problems and needs surgery.   He’s also struggling to get his blood pressure under control.

Indeed, when we get to a certain point in life we don’t necessarily quit thinking about pheasants, big deer or trophy walleye.   Not at all.   Yet, when many of us start venturing beyond “middle age” we must contend with other matters like medicines, surgeries and various health issues that can certainly influence how we safely enjoy the outdoors.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept you cannot still do things you once did when you were half your current age.   That said, as a sportsman ages, it is very prudent to realize those limitations and then strive not to push one’s own physical limits.   The outdoors can be a a physically demanding environment in which to recreate.   It is also not the ideal place in which to experience some type of personal medical emergency.

In closing, don’t fret about me.   Over the coming weeks I feel very confident that with some tweaking of meds I will have my medical situation well managed.   This summer I plan to fish…search for morel mushrooms, and do lots of nature photography.   Next fall I plan to hunt, trap and do mostly what I love to do outdoors, if God remains willing to go along with my plans.

If nothing else…sitting in the hospital for five days gives you a unique opportunity to reflect on what is truly important to a person’s life.   With a renewed perspective, the outdoor is important to me and will continue that way for hopefully many more seasons to come.