Remembering the days of tadpoles and tenting

Published 9:00 am Sunday, June 14, 2015

Woods & Water by Dick Herfindahl

It doesn’t seem like we’ve really had a spring like I remember having when I was a kid.

Maybe time clouds the memory, or it may be that as a kid I took more time to notice things like the first crop of dandelions, the smell of blooming lilac bushes or the appearance of tadpoles in the crick.

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The spring thaw which usually happened in March was followed by April showers, and by May things were greening up quite nicely. I guess in a perfect world that is the general order of things, but each year nature seems to put a little different spin on the beginning of each season.

Looking back to those days of growing up north of town, I remember the excitement of the last day of school. The first order of business was going to Earl Peterson’s barber shop on the north side for my summer haircut. Then my mom would take me to J.C. Penney for a pair of tennis shoes, which were to last me the whole summer. That usually wasn’t a problem because this kid wasn’t really partial to wearing shoes in the summertime. Going barefoot wasn’t without its difficulties.

While getting accustomed to the first few days of summer, I would inevitably end up stubbing my big toe on the sidewalk in front of our house. There is nothing like the feeling of stepping on a honey bee or discovering what the neighbor dog had left in the lawn after its last visit.

After the initial formalities were taken care of, I was free to do what a kid does in the summer. Going down to the bridge under which the crick flowed between Bancroft Bay and Goose Lake was usually one of the first things I did. I believe that every kid who lived within walking or biking distance of that slough considered it their personal stomping ground. I would spend hours exploring the vast slough, which never came without a wet pant leg or a tennis shoe full of mud and slough water to show for it.

As spring turned to summer, we would watch for the first tadpole to sprout legs and eventually evolve into a frog. How awesome was that? We could observe nature at work and see the end result.

Red winged blackbirds would build their nests in the cattails, so I always watched to see how many I could spot. I have always loved hearing the call of a red winged blackbird. Whenever I’d hear the first one of the season, it meant spring was here and summer was not far behind.

Hanging out at the bridge pretty much took up the first part of summer, but as the weather warmed and the water level went down, I wouldn’t frequent the bridge quite as much. Summer usually meant we could play outside later, and that meant playing games such as tag, kick the can and anti-i-over. Cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers were also games we played. The object of the game was to go hide and then sneak up on someone and go bang, at which the person shot would fall down. There was always that kid that hated being caught, so when shot, said person would yell, “You missed!” and we’d keep on playing. The game never really ended until we grew tired of it and moved on to something else or got called in for the night. I know that this game would not go over very well in today’s society, but I believe that our generation turned out pretty darned good.

At least once every summer I would talk a couple of my friends into camping out in the backyard. My mother would give me a couple of old flannel sheets that I’d hang over the clothesline. I would anchor the bottom with whatever heavy objects I could find while putting the other sheet down on the ground for a floor. Voila, I had a tent. Unfortunately, the ends were open so the tent we played in all day in anticipation of sleeping in that night would eventually fill with mosquitoes, June bugs and lightning bugs. After we took turns visiting the inside of my house to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, we would usually end up camping out on the living room floor. I believe I tried doing this many times while growing up, but usually had the same result.

I never had a real tent when I was a kid, but I had always wanted one. My first real job was delivering the Minneapolis Star & Tribune for Lawrence McGill. Looking back, I started the first paper route for the Minneapolis paper in that part of town. They had contests for getting the most subscriptions, and during that time I was able to win a lot of prizes. You could pick your prize depending how many points you had. Over time, I acquired a sleeping bag, kerosene lantern, canteen and a first-aid kit that contained a bottle of 6.12 and a most important snake bite kit. I was ready to camp now, and if I happened to get bitten by one of those venomous garter snakes I had the answer.

Although I never had the opportunity as a youth to go camping in the north woods, which was my childhood dream, I eventually realized that dream as an adult. Today I might be an old guy on the outside, but on the inside I’m still that kid who yearns to spend at least one or two nights tenting by a lake.

Until next time, summer is here so grab the fishing poles, bait and mosquito spray and head to the lake to enjoy the great Minnesota outdoors.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.


Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.