Remembering the horse chestnut tree in the old neighborhood

Published 9:18 am Friday, November 12, 2010

Dick Herfindahl, Woods & Water

Over the last few weeks as I sat down to write my column I would be hard pressed not to mention the weather. The fall weather we have been experiencing has been just about all you could ask for. I know the deer hunters would probably prefer a little snow on the ground with cooler temperatures, but we have to take what we get and so far the getting has been pretty darned good.

Dick Herfindahl

In looking back to my childhood days growing up north of town I always considered myself a country boy. My Uncle Orville’s farm was just a couple blocks from our house and there was a time when the cows grazed on the grass abutting our backyard. The farm was originally my Grandpa and Grandma Winjum’s but after my grandma, who I can barely remember, passed my uncle took up the duties from grandpa who was also in failing health. I don’t think grandpa lived too long after grandma passed, and I was pretty young at the time but just old enough to remember a little bit about them. I can remember very clearly the time that my mother caught grandpa feeding me raw bacon from the refrigerator. Apparently he didn’t see any harm in it because he did it all the time. My mom didn’t seem to think it was a good idea and told him in no uncertain terms.

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It’s funny how certain things from a person’s youth are still embedded in the old memory bank. I can remember the windmill on the farm and right next to it was the horse chestnut tree and for some reason that tree always fascinated me. Whenever I drive through the old neighborhood and see the old farmhouse the first thing that comes to mind is that tree. I don’t have a clue why but there it is embedded in my memory right next to the bacon incident.

Next to that horse chestnut tree was an old willow tree and my mother used to tell me about the times as a little girl when she had been bad she would have to get a switch from the willow tree and bring it to her dad for a spanking. I can see how that tree could not easily be forgotten. In the modern times of my childhood having me fetch the yardstick seemed to work quite well. I suppose in today’s world our grandparents and parents would probably be in jail.

The majority of the kids in our neighborhood grew up spending most of their time in the outdoors. There were no video games, computers or for that matter much to watch on television. I was a little older before we finally got a TV so before that I’d go to the neighbors who would let us kids stand outside of their den and watch TV through the window. Looking back I’m not sure if they were being nice or gloating a little. I guess that my favorite show was “Sgt. Bilko.” It was a comedy about an army sergeant who was always scheming on ways to make money, kind of like the government I guess.

When I went hunting it was usually with my trusty Red Ryder BB gun and I was hunting for almost anything that I could hit. Fortunately for most of the critters around the area I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to shoot much of anything. Looking back I have all those fond memories of hours spent exploring the slough and of the adventures we had exploring the vast habitat all the way from Bridge Street to Goose Lake.

Walking the slough in the winter was always fun and kicking up an occasional pheasant was common if not eye opening when one got up right in front of you. I wonder if there is as much wildlife living in that slough today? We used to see quite a few jackrabbits in those days and usually we’d see the fox tracks but very seldom was a fox spotted unless it was some distance away. A jackrabbit sighting was quite common in those days but I can’t remember the last time I have actually seen one. Of course I can’t remember the last time I actually spent any time walking that slough.

It would be fun to do but I have a feeling that the legs and energy of that kid have long since abandoned this old body in favor of something a little less strenuous. In those days a kid would attack an outdoor adventure with the exuberance that only kids can have when doing something they truly enjoy. When I carried my BB gun it was usually not to hone my hunting skills but mainly to live that outdoors adventure as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett or my favorite Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. For some reason I was infatuated with anything Canada, maybe it was Sgt. Preston or maybe it was just that Canada was still depicted by many as that great vast wilderness. To me it was a country of adventures with Indians, fur traders, bad guys and of course the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Now those guys enforced the laws in wild Canada and were the champions of good. I pictured myself trudging across the slough on those snowy winter days in search of the bad guys who were always a step or two ahead. An imagination is a great thing and there were a lot of times that it was enough to make any day a great day.

It wasn’t until my high school years that I actually got to use my dad’s .22 Marlin rifle. He had traded my cousin Deloris’ husband Roger our old ’49 Buick for that gun. Dad knew cars and I’m guessing it needed quite a bit of work. Roger also knew cars and luckily for dad he enjoyed working on them. After the dust had settled on the deal I realized that I could be the big winner in this horse trading venture because my dad didn’t hunt. I knew eventually that I’d be the one that got to use it. I didn’t know that I’d have to wait quite that long but I did indeed get to use it. Although I wasn’t really big into hunting I did enjoy pheasant hunting and squirrel and rabbit hunting. I guess all things small game although I never did get into duck hunting.

I have to wonder if the emergence of the coyote and its increased numbers have adversely affected the population of jackrabbits and pheasants in the area. I know that in the 1970s and 1980s there used to be numerous foxhunters in our area. Now the price of skins and the decreasing amount of accessible land have taken a lot of hunters out of the mix. Although coyote hides don’t bring much they are still a varmint and can be legally hunted.

If you still have mind to hunt for a few fish the perch have been biting in the channel by Frank Hall Park and there are some walleye being caught below the Bridge Avenue dam.

Until next time, good luck to all the hunters, have a safe hunting season and above all enjoy the great outdoors!

Remember our brothers and sisters who are proudly serving our country so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s outdoors column appears in Friday’s Tribune.