Ben is sort of a mix of about one part hippie, one part country boy and one part scientist. And this turns out to be a good mix, because while in their purest forms each is almost always intolerable, when properly diluted and mixed each has something to offer.
After I fished with Ben once or twice, I mentioned to a friend that he seemed to rarely if ever swear. I’m not a foul-mouthed son-of-a-bitch by any stretch of the imagination, but if there is any time when I let fly, it’s when I’m fishing. When I gave my friend the news, he said “That’s really sad. I hope he can get his life turned around.”
Well, he has. Probably, he was fine from the beginning but was just holding back lest he offend me. I wish I could take credit for teaching him to swear, but I know that’s not the case.
Anyway, we fished off and on much of the summer. We fish well together. You know what I mean. We’re both competent enough that the other doesn’t have to teach, but humble enough to take advice when we’re on one another’s familiar. We fish at a similar pace. We tend to recognize the same attractive pools and lies, but are happy to hand them over. And usually, we both catch very, very few fish.
|Smallmouth. Probably my last of the season.|
|Ben lands a bass.|
We hunted together for the first time a couple weeks ago. This was Ben’s second or third time out for fox squirrels, but my first time in about twenty years. As I write that, I can scarcely believe it. There was a time in my life when fishing was just what I did to pass the time until hunting season opened again, but for reasons that seemed fairly innocuous at the time, but somehow occupied two decades, I stopped hunting.
We chatted about it, and Ben mentioned he had permission to hunt the woods behind his house for squirrels. I decided to take him up on it, so I got out my .22 rifle, a fabulous Ruger 77/22, and we put a few rounds through it with the intention of sighting it in. The gun has lived in a hard case all these years and, to my surprise, the scope was as I left it: five rounds at about 30 yards – my preferred squirrel distance – went almost into the same hole, so we called it good. But not after we also let fly with my .22 revolver, a Ruger Single-Six that also has gone neglected for far too long.
We fished a beautiful stream that evening. As the sun went behind the trees, the air cooled. Summer steps aside. We got a few smallmouth bass and agreed to meet in the morning to hunt.
I had forgotten how much I like squirrel hunting. Some forms of fishing are indeed a lot like hunting. Carp fishing, for example. But they’re different in important ways too. For the most part, one’s ears play a minor role in fishing but hunting – squirrel hunting, anyway – is as much about hearing as it is about seeing. I’d forgotten how simultaneously calming and invigorating it is to sit in the woods with all one’s senses on “high”.
|To get to the woods from Ben's house, you must cross this bridge. If you slip, you will fall to your death.|
|Powerline cut, early morning|
Ben drops a squirrel solidly and we both visually mark where it falls. But when we get there, it’s nowhere to be found. Squirrels are incredibly tough and it’s entirely possible that despite being hit, the squirrel may have managed to run off through the underbrush undetected. But we search for a long time before Ben finally says “Fuck it. Circle of life.” and we move on. The disappointment in his voice is evident and despite the fact that an outsider to the event might interpret it as callous, it’s clear to me that what Ben is disappointed in is himself. This is confirmed some time later, after I’ve forgotten about the lost squirrel, when he grumbles to himself – but out loud – about hating to lose a wounded animal like that. It's silly to fret about squirrels, but he does anyway and it's why we hunt together well.
|Ben with one that didn't get away.|
|Ben scans tree tops.|
We’ve now been twice and we both got squirrels each time. Squirrels are a bitch to clean and I’m clearly out of practice. Ben was not quite finishing his second when I finished my first. But it’s silly to fret about squirrels, so I didn’t. I pan-fried one that evening and poured the gravy over some mashed potatoes. The rest are currently in the freezer. We’ve had a glorious Indian Summer fall so far, so I thought I’d save the others for a hearty stew for when it’s colder. My son and I picked over 100 apples from Dad’s tree and I’ve made four pies and two cakes. The garden is spent. I’m to join Jon for steelhead in a month.