Great places like Forest Park in the heart of St. Louis provide a little bit of green among the concrete jungle, but for all of the benefits of that grand expanse, it is a long way from unspoiled wilderness.
Those places are getting harder to find, especially in close proximity to a giant urban enclave. That’s why efforts to preserve a place like the LaBarque Creek watershed just south of St. Louis County is such a positive goal.
For the past several years the Missouri Conservation Commission has added to the acreage under public control, including the December 2016 purchase of almost 51 acres of land and acceptance of a donation of an adjacent 25 acres as an addition to the 1,145-acre Hilda J. Young Conservation Area in the northwest corner of the county.
The Young properties, nearby LaBarque Creek and Glassberg Family conservation areas and the newly opened Don Robinson State Park protect the LaBarque Creek watershed, which has been designated for conservation because of the unspoiled nature of the property so near a metropolitan area.
The additional property and the new 818-acre state park in the area bring the total of publicly protected land in the LaBarque Creek watershed to more than 3,700 acres. The watershed is approximately 13 square miles, and about half of the area is publicly owned.
The conservation areas include stream access, fishing ponds, restricted hunting opportunities and several miles of hiking trails.
“It is important to maintain this high-quality watershed for area residents and wildlife,” said state Conservation Department forest management chief John Tuttle.
The 75-acre expansion is bisected by John McKeever Road and is connected to the southeastern portion of the existing Young Conservation Area.
“The three tracts are forested with no open land or water features,” Tuttle said. “The property is entirely wooded with quality dolomite woodlands similar to the existing Young Conservation Area.”
There are no existing structures on the new property but two old roads lead into the acreage from John McKeever Road. Those two passages will be used by the Conservation Department for access as they prepare the property for public use.
The timetable for public access to the new properties is undetermined, but it will take at least six months, Tuttle said. Nothing can begin until the real estate transaction closes.
“The department will have to have the deed in its possession and then mark and sign the boundaries of all tracts so that both visitors and neighbors will know what they are,” Tuttle said. “Sometimes new surveys are necessary, which can take more time. Department staff will also remove all litter or illegally dumped items from the property.”
Management plans for the new property are yet to be determined, but part of the property restoration will be natural resource management that will include removal and elimination of invasive species.
Once the property lines are properly identified, the state will post boundary signs and update printed and on-line maps of the area so that the new area can be open for public use.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback from both the residents in Jefferson County and the area visitors to our conservation areas in the LaBarque Creek watershed,” Tuttle said. “Many have been instrumental in making our management possible and in recognizing the quality of this watershed and the importance of conserving it for future generations.”
LaBarque Creek is more than six miles of permanently flowing stream. It supports 52 species of fish with an underlying sandstone geology that produces dramatic landscapes including steep narrow valleys, canyons, bluffs and shelter caves.
The creek enters the Meramec River as it exits the Young Conservation Area. Evidence of the significant damage that over-use and development can cause is not far downstream.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
Some might say I have lived fast and hard. And now that I am in my 60s, with the way I feel sometimes, I might agree.
Groucho Marx once said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
Back in Civil War days, if one lived to 50, that was quite an accomplishment. It is not uncommon now for folks to live quality lives into their 90s.
But what if you lived for 500 years?
Would you do things differently? Would your outlook on life reflect a much longer life cycle?
Would recycling become a way of life, much more so than just a token effort? Could you support all the grand and great-great-grand kids you’d accumulate? Would you go broke buying birthday presents for family and friends?
In some ways, I think it would be great to live that long. Just think of all the hunting and fishing one could do.
I might spend my first century hunting squirrels. The second century I might devote to turkey hunting and maybe even whitetail deer.
For the next couple hundred years I might hunt elk, learn how to trap and just get into the mountain-man thing.
It might be fun to spend 20 or 30 years each in Africa, Alaska, South America, the Caribbean, or even a decade or two fishing in Belize.
After that, I might devote the rest of my time to waterfowl hunting. I know – from many of my buddies who spend much of their time in duck blinds – it is a sickness for which there is no cure.
I might live my later years bird watching, whale watching or floating clear, fast and beautiful rivers.
That is assuming there would be animals to hunt and rivers to float.
OUT OF CONTROL
All across the globe, we have water shortages. Our natural resources, despite courageous efforts by many, are dwindling at an astonishing rate, and global warming might be more than just a debate.
In my lifetime, the world population has burgeoned and outdoor habitat has been shrinking. Zero Population Growth people (ZPG) and their type of thinking have fallen by the wayside, and clearly we are out of control.
Urban populations have risen to the point where more people are killing each other, and when I drive from St. Louis to the fringe of the Ozarks, it has become one huge suburb all along the way.
Those of you who know me know that I tend to cast to the brighter side of structure, however, and I believe it plausible just the opposite might happen should we get a few more years on Earth.
I know you would agree that there are wise men and women living among us right now – good people who fight for conservation, folks who have devoted much of their short lives in the pursuit of what is good and right.
If they lived 500 years, think of what they might accomplish.
• BIOLOGIST – Take Spence Turner, for example. Turner was a retired biologist from the Missouri Department of Conservation who passed recently. He was considered the godfather of wild trout management in Missouri and also responsible for much of the initial research that has dictated our special management sections for smallmouth bass.
He became a legend across the country for his findings and successes, and I wonder what he could have accomplished if he’d had a couple hundred more years to work on his projects.
• TURKEY GURU – How about the wild turkey guru, Ray Eye? Known across North America not only for his woodsmanship but for his efforts at recruiting new hunters, just imagine what he could do if he only had a few more centuries to ply his charm. How many more lives would he touch? How many more youngsters would share the outdoors adventure of a lifetime with this great man?
• SAFETY EDITOR – Outdoor Guide Safety Editor Bill Seibel helped write the book on hunter safety in Missouri, a state which has become the model for other wildlife agencies all across America. Seibel is a regular contributor to our magazine and always is looking for new and interesting ways to present hard facts about safe hunting and the proper way to use firearms.
• PIT BULL WATCHDOG – Joel Vance, another Missouri man and one who has distinguished himself over the years as one of the country’s top outdoor writers, for decades has led the fight to expose frauds, poachers and thieves.
Vance is an environmental watchdog of the pit bull variety. He is the journalist’s journalist. Give Joel Vance another three or four hundred years and I am sure there would be thousands more environmental pirates forced to walk his slippery plank.
• YOUNG LEADER – The Conservation Federation of Missouri is led by a young man who I know would wisely use a few more years, should God give them to him. In just three years, Brandon Butler has taken CFM to new heights, and a longer life might ensure our future as it relates to conservation.
• FIRST WOMAN TO LEAD MDC – And how about Missouri’s new director of the Department of Conservation, Sara Parker-Pauley? She is the first woman to lead the MDC. She just finished a stint as head of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The graduate from Missouri’s School of Journalism will accomplish much in the next few years, and who knows what she might accomplish with more years ahead of her?
Despite my misgivings, I could buy into the idea of living another three or four or five hundred years if these folks were in charge.
It is obvious we’re going to have to do the best with what years we’ve got – years, days, minutes, seconds. Tic…tic…tic…
Besides, if we lived for centuries, could we ever complain one bit if the cable company put us on hold for only an hour?
I am proud of my crusade against the invasive honeysuckle bush species. I have pulled, cut and poisoned hundreds of the plants around my neighborhood and any other place I find them.
A couple of months ago I met my hero, who told me I was doing it wrong. Actually, Jay Doty suggested that pulling young plants is the best defense, and for older plants that cannot be yanked out roots and all, cutting and spraying with herbicide is the most common method.
“Trying to eliminate a non-native species that we introduced to the environment by adding chemicals that also don’t belong is wrong,” Doty said. “It takes much less effort to chop the roots and cut the entire bush out.”
Cut stumps reflourish almost immediately if they aren’t sprayed, and even sometimes after treatment, but the shallow root system is easily severed below the ground at the base of the plant and will not regrow.
Doty uses a tool called a mattock, which looks like a combination of a heavy sharp hoe on one side and an axe on the other.
“You will have to redo the ground around the stump and then reseed the area with native plants that belong in the landscape,” Doty said.
Those planting options can be different on the same piece of property. Plants that grow best along stream sides are different from those that belong on woodland hillsides or on open land.
Doty is a registered landscape artist with more than 35 years of experience. Ironically, landscaping is the original source of the invasive plant. Bush honeysuckle was imported from Asia in the 1890s and first planted around Chicago and Washington, D.C., Doty said. It quickly spread and became a favorite for suburban yards.
“As a landscape architect, I always knew it was better to plant native species, but that is not what the nurseries sell, because the exotics are what we clamor for,” Doty said.
Now, honeysuckle bush grows almost everywhere that the landscape is not maintained. Because it sprouts its leaves earlier and keeps them longer than native plants, it blocks growth of other species creating a monoculture that supports honeysuckle bushes as the only type of plant.
The non-profit Open Space Council of St. Louis recruited Doty to bring his honeysuckle hacking practice to public areas. During his presentation he showed multiple before-and-after slides of areas that went from choked with honeysuckle to clean and cleared land.
He has expanded his efforts to reopening public lands along the Meramec River, and along with the Katy Land Trust, on farms and forests along the Katy Trail.
The organization hosts groups of volunteers on outings called Honeysuckle Hacks, marshaling strength in numbers to take on public land infestations. For more information, send email to email@example.com.
Doty’s business background includes working for the Environmental Protection Agency, paid for by the Doe Run Company to complete landscape recovery projects in Herculaneum, MO. It was that connection that led him to help design the “all abilities” Kade’s Playground at the city park.
His latest business venture is called Applied Conservation and offers to remove invasive plants from private land, contracting with property owners to clear honeysuckle bush and replace it with native plants as part of a purposeful land management using creative design.
To reach Doty for information on his private land reclamation company or his work with the Katy Land Trust, call (314) 201-2187 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for him, send e-mail to email@example.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
More than three decades ago, one of life’s simple turns smiled upon me.
My wife’s brother, Greg Doak, bought a condo at Lake of the Ozarks. A medical doctor practicing in Eldon, MO, he had decided to give lake life a try. For the next 15 years or so, Debbie and I spent countless weekends on that beautiful body of water.
The residence at the four-mile marker became our outdoors headquarters, and it is there my fishing education began in earnest. Oh sure, I had fished before – as a small boy and while in college – but nothing as intense as my time on the dock in the shadow of The Condo.
An early riser, I would walk down to the docks at the marina. Sometimes, someone was fishing. Many times, there was no one but me. I would set up with my chair and fishing gear, and for hours I would catch fish. Lots of fish. All kinds of fish.
Those same mornings, Debbie and Greg would sit on the porch drinking coffee while listening to National Public Radio.
For me, there on the dock in the dark, I could hear the haunting last vestiges of the coyotes’ mad song giving way to turkeys gobbling on a nearby ridge. Great blue herons staked out prime hunting waters, and the crows complained about nothing.
A BIG CATCH
Once, I hooked a huge carp, possibly four pounds or so. For several minutes, he had his way with me and my light spinning gear. As I walked around the dock, maneuvering through and around cables, the fish finally gave in.
I hadn’t noticed a nearby fisherman watching the battle. He clapped heartily when I raised the behemoth from the water, only to return my prize back into the lake.
I became obsessed with my new hobby. I started reading outdoor magazines. I bought a floating fish basket to hold my creel. I learned to clean the fish I caught, and I learned to cook them, too.
I bought a couple Loomis rods and Shimano reels. I experimented with different types of lures and became proficient with live bait. A simple hook and worm guarded by a bobber worked great at times, and over the years, I caught and cleaned hundreds of blue gills, bass and catfish.
In a small advertisement in an outdoors magazine, I found JaDa Bait Company out of Wisconsin. They shipped live bait, overnight. I bought wax worms, mealworms and spikes (maggots.) I tried it all.
I ordered so much live bait from JaDa that I got to know the folks by their first names. Eventually, Debbie got tired of fighting through critters in her refrigerator, so I bought a small unit to store my live weapons.
Shortly after we started Outdoor Guide Magazine in the early ‘90s, I met Louie Mansfield of Caruthersville, MO, at a fishing show. He had just invented an artificial fly using a 1/80 oz. lead head dressed with grizz feathers from a duck. He called it the Grizzly Jig.
I fished with Mansfield on his home lake, Reelfoot, and immediately fell in love with his new bait. My fishing success off the dock at The Lake improved, and I found tipping the hook with a wax worm worked wonders. I became a fan of the Grizzly Jig for life.
Soon I met crappie-fishing guru Guy Winters at a St. Louis County Parks seminar, and we became great friends. Winters had a lure company in Camdenton, MO, and I joined him at Linn Creek several times over the years, and my fishing world grew.
Eventually I began to explore other parts of The Lake. I hired guides on occasion, and Debbie fell in love with fishing, too. The Niangua arm became a favorite, as well as the Gravois. We caught hybrid stripers, catfish, white bass, blue cats, buffalo and other species.
Fishing on the dock at The Condo led me down a path to a wonderful career and many outdoor adventures. It’s hard to believe what has transpired since those days when my legs would fall asleep sitting on that dock, all those years ago.
It was at The Condo that Debbie and I reaffirmed our love for each other. Sitting in a porch swing overlooking the lights on the lake, a warm summer breeze blowing, drinking margaritas and listening to Jimmy Buffett gave us time to reflect on our past while we talked about our dreams and hopes for the future. The Condo had become a special place in our lives.
During those years at The Condo, I got to know my brother-in-law, a fine doctor and even greater man. He personifies dedication to his profession – honorable and hard working. I must confess though, while at The Condo, Greg left his work and worries behind He bought a boat. He became a pirate and was self-dubbed “SeaDawg,” a moniker he carries still. With a penchant for Shiner Bock beer and schnapps, he wasn’t one with whom to be trifled, either.
The Condo became known as the Margarita Clinic. Many Friday and Saturday nights over the years, we celebrated lake life, experimenting with different brands of tequila-mixed margaritas. Life at the lake was good. But one day, Greg took a position in Sedalia, MO, and The Condo was history.
I know it is cliché to say times were simpler then: no computers, no cell phones. And I wouldn’t trade today to go back. But I will fondly remember those days, watching my bobber disappear, fishing in the shadow of The Condo.
While counting blessings during the upcoming hunting season, we should be sure to give thanks for those volunteers who have made our sport safer by dedicating themselves to educating the next generation of hunters.
The state acknowledges those volunteers each year, selecting a winner in each region. This spring, Kenneth Barrows of Barnhart was named the hunter education volunteer instructor of the year for the St. Louis region. Conservation agent Jeff Breuer said the involvement of volunteers like Barrows is vital to the program success.
“Ken Barrows has been a dedicated hunter education instructor for years,” Breuer said. “He is always enthusiastic, and his support of conservation and safe hunting is immeasurable.”
Barrows has taught thousands of young hunters about the sport since he earned his certification as an instructor in 1993. In 2015, he participated in 18 hunter education classes including six where he served as chief instructor. He contributed 104 classroom hours to the program and helped to teach hunter education to 416 students.
MENTOR TO VOLUNTEERS
Barrows also worked with the most recent class of volunteer hunter education instructors and continued to mentor new volunteers as they worked to gain the certification he earned more than 20 years ago.
“When I think of the dedication and integrity required of our volunteer hunter educators, Ken Barrows is an outstanding example,” Breuer said.
Barrows is proud of the award, and the work he and volunteers like him accomplish.
“We save lives. That’s easy to prove statistically,” he said. “Also, we work to recruit new hunters and to maintain the hunting tradition. Occasionally we get letters of appreciation from parents or grandparents, and that is a wonderful feeling.”
He has been enjoying that feeling for 23 years. He was looking for an opportunity to volunteer somewhere and saw a notice in the Missouri Conservationist magazine. He called that coincidence, “perfect fit, perfect timing.”
The program has changed since he started in 1993, he said, most obviously the move to the online portion of the class, which must be completed before attending the skills session. He also has noticed positive trends.
“Another big and continuing change is the makeup of the classes. There are more women and minorities all the time, and that is a very good thing,” he said. “One thing hasn’t changed and never will is the Golden Rule of safe gun handling, ‘Always point the muzzle in a safe direction!’”
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
In addition to saving lives and making hunting safer for everyone, the volunteer receives many personal rewards, he said.
“You make lifelong friends across a spectrum of people that includes men, women, white collar, blue collar, young and not-so-young,” Barrows said. “You’ll have a whole new community of friends who have an interest in safe hunting in common.”
Getting involved as a volunteer instructor is as simple as attending an instructor class and joining an education team.
“Anyone should get involved who believes strongly that hunting is a safe, healthy activity. Complete the process and come be a part of our team,” he said. “We can always use serious volunteers. That’s how all of us got started.”
Students learn about safety, the history of the Department of Conservation and the value of being responsible, he said.
“I tell lots of people the class is really more about accepting responsibility than firearm safety. If you embrace the privilege of hunting, you will accept the responsibility to be safe, to be a good woodsman, a good marksman, to be knowledgeable of the rules, the game and your tools like your firearm, knives, clothes,” Barrows said. “Like any activity, you can immerse yourself in the details and learn so much more.”
That learning starts with a search of classes at mdc.mo.gov. Thank you to Ken and to all the volunteers who give their time.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
(Editor’s note: Following the recent terrorist attacks across our great country, this is a new version of an old column I wrote shortly after 9/11/2001.)
A young woman rang our doorbell. She handed me a plate of brownies and smiled.
“What are these for?” I asked, giving her my best poker face wondering what “cause” I would be contributing to next.
“They are for you and your family. Enjoy,” she said with a pleased look.
“Thank you!” I offered as she walked away carrying a half-full shopping bag of brownies.
She had written something on a small scrap of paper neatly wrapped and placed inside the cellophane that enveloped the chocolate treasures.
“This is a random act of kindness. Keep your thanks and pass it on.”
I smiled, popped one of the luscious morsels into my mouth, and couldn’t wait to tell my wife what had just happened.
On another day, I might have been suspicious and would not have eaten food from a stranger so quickly. Yet, in the years since terror struck our nation on September 11, 2001, random acts of kindness have become common here in our glorious country. I immediately recognized this as such.
Ironically, the recent horrible and historic attacks upon our nation and its people have triggered a “coming together” of all Americans.
Every day now, I witness all kinds of acts of kindness, courage and heroism. Folks all across our great nation are espousing pride in our country, and there is a feeling of brotherhood unlike anything I have ever seen or felt.
I am a Korean War baby boomer, having lived my teenage years during the Vietnam War. I remember when “Viet Nam” was spelled as two words.
Vividly I remember the Hostage Crisis in the early ‘80s, and I’ve seen my share of terrible things over the years.
Yet, my generation and the one that follows me, I’ll wager, are experiencing for the first time the collective emotions a country’s people can muster when under fire, when freedom and life are threatened. And if some of you didn’t realize it already, there is a price to pay for being fee.
On the way to work, around that fateful time, there was an apparent tie-up ahead. Traffic was backed up where normally it was not.
As I got closer to the intersection, I could see firefighters holding boots and collecting money.
Not a single car passed our heroes without making a contribution, the drivers oblivious to the green light ushering us along. The firefighters were earnest and determined and, for the first time in many days, I knew we were going to be OK.
LOVE IN BRONZE
Later that day, I watched the evening news as Senator Jean Carnahan honored the Missouri firefighters’ contingent that had joined its New York brothers and sister at the disaster site shortly after the attack. They returned to our state as heroes and were honored before thousands of thankful Americans.
And how about the story of the bronze statue of a firefighter kneeling, exhausted, head down, holding himself up with one arm on his grounded helmet? The monument was in New York awaiting shipment to our state. It had been commissioned years earlier.
Our firefighters said, “Leave it there! Let it stand as a memorial to our brothers and sisters who lost their lives that fateful day.”
The hauntingly beautiful and possibly pre-ordained statue was displayed within hours of the disaster and became an instant shrine.
Just hours after the attack on freedom, I received an email from my youngest brother, Buddy Pearson. He was the sports editor for the Cookeville, TN, daily Herald-Citizen, and like many of us, he was coming to grips with the significance of his job and sports in general in light of this great tragedy
He sent me a draft of his column slated for the next edition. He hadn’t had much time to absorb fully the impact of what had just happened. Events were unfolding as he wrote.
I was barely a teenager when Buddy was born. I remember his first hours, and the subsequent days, months and years as he became a man of whom I am so proud.
Following are excerpts from his column:
“Catastrophe makes sports insignificant. Yesterday morning, as the news began to break regarding the cowardly terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I had to compose our sports section.
“People were losing their lives, the United States was embroiled in one of the most tragic events in its history, and I was looking for photos for a sports story.
“As I read the horrific reports coming across the AP wire, my heart sank. I wanted so badly to help somehow. Working on the sports section seemed to demean the many victims and their loved ones.
“Yet, we have made a commitment to you, our readers, to bring you the best sports coverage possible. Our staff will continue to cover sports during this period of shock and tremendous grief. Perhaps our light news will serve to lighten your burden. We will continue to do our jobs, as is our duty. But we will do this keeping in mind those who have suffered immeasurable tragedy.”
JOB AND DUTY
At Outdoor Guide Magazine, we echo the words spoken by my brother and those of our leaders. Despite our grief, we will continue to bring you the finest outdoor news possible. It is our job, our duty.
Now more than ever, we encourage you to seek the peace afforded by the great outdoors. Float a pristine Ozark river. Take your family to a park, go fishing, hike a nature trail. Grab your loved ones and hold them close.
Watch the moon as one of its many phases lights the sky each night, and let the stars shine upon all that is good.
Embrace your American blood brothers and sisters and send a message to all who would threaten our lives and our freedoms. Set your resolve.
For the battle for freedom and the fight to conserve our Earth and its precious resources begin in earnest now. And your random act of kindness could make all the difference.
Generally I don’t write product review stories, but I am hooked on some new spinner baits I purchased recently, and I am hopeful that many other anglers will discover these fish-catching treasures.
There is an old saying that fishing lures are designed to catch fishermen more than fish, and while these are attractive and effective, it’s where they come from that gives them their added appeal.
The spinner baits are among an assorted number of lures assembled by the employees at Jeffco Subcontracting Inc. (JSI) in Arnold, MO.
“At JSI, we have 114 adults with developmental disabilities who work in our shop,” said Russ Kuttenkuler, executive director. “Our fishing lure business started about 10 years ago. The lures were being made by a man who had more orders than he could handle. He sells them under the name ‘Wizard Custom Tackle and Fish Hog.’”
The non-profit JSI organization now makes lures for three other companies and has been talking to four others about beginning production.
“Typically we will get the painted lure heads with hooks and attach the skirt, bend the wire and sometimes add beads or swivels, and then attach the spinning blades,” Kuttenkuler said. “We have a whole rainbow of colors for skirts and heads. The customers tell us wheat combinations they want. They are the experts on how fish think and what they like to eat.”
ONLINE OR DIRECT
The companies like Wizard sell the lures on their websites and Facebook pages, he said. JSI has just started offering lures for sale directly to consumers.
“We have a test display at Buchheit in Herculaneum. We’re seeing how that’s going to go. You are always welcome to stop by JSI from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Kuttenkuler said.
The JSI workshop is at 2065 Pomme Road, just off of Old Lemay Ferry Road, in Arnold.
Since 1979, JSI has provided employment for adults with developmental disabilities. The non-profit is funded primarily by the contracts that it has with companies. It also receives subsidies from the state and support from the Jefferson County Disabilities Resource Board through property tax funding.
The employees appreciate the extra spending money they earn at their jobs, but they also are proud of their workmanship.
“Just like you and I, they take a lot of pride in where they work and what they do,” Kuttenkuler said. “They go home at night and tell their families about everything they are working on.”
TRY A TOUR
In addition to purchasing lures on a visit to JSI, Kuttenkuler said, they love to give tours of the workshop in action.
“That’s our best selling point. When we get customers in here and they see how the work gets done and meet our workforce, they’re sold,” he said.
I know that I’m sold on my newest fishing lures. In addition to hooking me, I was happy to catch and release several very nice bass at my favorite farm pond.
I also lost one, fishing a little too close to the underwater structure. Fortunately, I know where I can get more, and now you know too. You will feel good about the fish you catch and the proud Americans your purchases support.
For more information about JSI call Kuttenkuler at 636-296-6211, ext. 1.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail email@example.com and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
This Father’s Day Tribute is dedicated to the late Argle Pearson, who lived in Killeen, TX, was a World War II veteran and became my dad. This was originally written and published shortly before he died in December, 2010.
Since you’ve been sick and unable to talk much, I am sending you this note. Been thinking about you today.
How’s the weather in Texas? Spring coming late here.
It’s hard to believe you’re 85. I remember when you came into my life all those years ago.
It was the mid-60s. Can you believe that? I know, it seems so long ago.
You were a young man then, strong and handsome, 35 or so, and you married my mom a couple years after my dad died when he was only 36.
I was 12 and the oldest of four brother and sisters. My dad was a Marine, having served two terms in Korea. You were a bit older, and joined the army at the beginning of World War II. You were only 17, but they were taking any and all able bodies.
It was politics that brought you and my father together, though.
You supported my dad in his bid for township committeeman, and he supported you in your quest, as well. Both of you won your elections. It was a happy day.
In those early days, you guys soon became the best of buddies and had much in common, too.
Both of you were strong Democrats. Dad was a mailer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and you worked at the Ford plant and as I recall, you both loved to drink beer and play cards.
You got my dad to join the VFW, and at one time, you were Illinois State Commander. Patriotism wasn’t just a theme to you and my dad, it was a way of life.
As I write to you today, Pop, I think back and remember some things and smile.
Shortly after you married Mom, we moved from St. Louis to Festus on that lovely piece of ground on Plattin Creek out by the slab.
Your Tennessee roots had been calling to you for a while, and you finally got to live your dream: To own a place in the country where you could grow a garden and have some cattle.
I was just a sophomore at Crystal City High School then, but it turned into a wonderful adventure for me, those years in the country, and they surely had an impact on my life over these many years.
Remember that huge garden we made? It was a lot of work, but you showed us kids how to grow stuff. Remember that cantaloupe you grew back in the ‘70s? It was so large the local newspaper ran a story and picture. I am lucky to have seen that same smile on your face a thousand times over the years
Man, oh man, could you grow tomatoes, too! Heck, I’m still teaching folks your tricks.
For years after I left home and went out on my own, wherever I lived along the way, I’d try to find a place where I could plant tomatoes and whatever else I’d have room for.
A CLOSE CALL
Hey Pop, remember the day the Allis Chalmers almost rolled over me? You and I were unhooking the mower from the tractor, and it began to roll backwards. The tire’s tread caught me at the ankle, knocked me to the ground and rolled up my leg.
When I yelled, you raced to the tractor and pushed it off me. I’ve not seen that look on your face since. You were a crazed man, and it was obvious you summoned every drop of adrenalin to save me that day.
You and I used to love to squirrel hunt together. Squirrels were your favorite quarry. You showed me how to get in between their food source and the trees in which they lived. Never met a better squirrel hunter than you, Pop.
Your love for the great outdoors in general, and just for being outside, grows in me now still. I have you to thank for that.
After moving to the country, your commute to work became more than an hour each way. I remember how tough that was for you. But you never complained.
And I remember how, all those years, Ford could not produce enough cars for the demand. You never missed work, and for so many years you worked 10-hour days, six days a week. That is when honesty, strength of character, and made-in-America meant something.
I remember one late summer evening, a couple of buddies dropped me off at home. We saw an opossum running across the gravel road in front of our house. We jumped out of the car, chased it and killed it. Then we buried it next to your garden.
The next day you asked me about the grave. I was so ashamed to have to tell you what had happened. I’ll never forget the look on your face. That was a sad lesson learned, but I’ve tried to make up for it in many ways, many times over the years, Pop.
As the oldest, I always wanted you to be able to depend on me. I hated it when I let you down.
Hey, Pop, remember that day I told you a kid had been bullying me at school? I was afraid of him. He finally embarrassed me enough in front of a bunch of kids that I agreed to meet him for the final fight at the playground.
I didn’t want to go. You got out the boxing gloves and worked with me. You gave me the confidence I needed to face him.
You went with me that day, and he never showed up. You and I were triumphant on our walk home without having to say a word to one another.
Debbie sends her love, and you should know she is bristling to get her flower pots out. Each year when you visit, we love sitting out on the patio among her lovely creations while we talk and cure the ills of the world. We missed you not coming this past summer.
Thank you, Pop, for your service to our country, and for making a place where our dreams can come true, and we remain free.
Thank you, Pop, for coming into our lives when you did, and for all the love and strength and wisdom you’ve shared over the years.
I leave for Florida in a few days to hunt turkeys and wild hogs. When I get back I’ll call and tell you all my stories. Let’s plan for a few days when I can come down, and we’ll head to the lake and use some of those fancy lures they send me from time to time.
I’ll be ready for a cold beer. How about you, Pop?
A few weeks ago I had one of those flashback moments to a childhood memory. It is always nice when those come around.
I was driving along a seldom-traveled road, when just making his way onto the pavement was a fairly good-sized snapping turtle. I slowed to nearly a stop and stuck my head out the driver’s side window for a closer look. About the circumference of a basketball, the wayward reptile froze in his tracks.
The situation reminded me of a fishing trip with my dad and Uncle Wink. I was probably about 10 years old. As we rumbled toward home from the river, Uncle Wink hit the brakes. We screeched to a stop and my two mentors jumped out of the pickup. One of them grabbed the beast by its pointed tail and held it aloft.
This was long before the days of high fives, but the two brothers were obviously satisfied with their catch. The turtle was unceremoniously dropped into the bed of the truck, and we continued for home. I don’t remember specifically, but I am sure I kept a watchful eye out the back window of the cab, making sure that scary looking thing didn’t get too much closer to me.
I remember portions of the turtle cleaning process. Without being too graphic, it begins with a procedure similar to the more well-known chicken butchering first blow, except that while a chicken may resist with pecks and flailing, a snapping turtle brings a much more sinister demeanor and appearance.
I am sure the turtle soup was tasty. I have never eaten any that I didn’t like. Throughout my high school years, we caught and cleaned a few from the neighborhood park lake, and my friend Lucky Jim led me to the most famous fare available at the St. Mary’s Church picnic in Brussels, IL, every year in early August.
Despite the mouth-watering trip down Memory Lane, I really never intended to jump from my truck and capture the creature. I don’t think Kelly would have been keen on my supper plans, and I had not yet bought my fishing license for the season. I was pretty sure I needed one to take the turtle home.
“Yes,” said Jeff Breuer, a Missouri conservation agent. “They are identified as a game species, so you would need a fishing permit. You could not just keep one as a pet because they are protected.”
No one in his right mind would keep one as a pet, I thought but did not say.
Agent Breuer quickly flipped to the page in his handy Wildlife Code Book and gave me chapter and verse.
“Common snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles may be taken by hand, hand net, bow, crossbow, trotline, throw line, limb line, bank line, jug line, snagging, snaring, grabbing or pole and line. Shooting turtles with firearms is prohibited.”
The season is open year-round for snapping turtles, with a daily limit of five. Soft-shelled turtles may be taken only from July 1 through Dec. 31. I have never tried to clean or eat a soft-shelled turtle. They are not as menacing looking as a snapper, but they are not attractive either.
My conversation with the conservation agent led to a discussion about box turtles, which will be seen commonly in coming weeks crossing roads or maybe even seemingly sunning themselves on pavement. Unfortunately, many get hit by vehicles. Please be sure to steer clear if you see one crossing the street.
The agent said he doesn’t recommend people stopping in the road or on the roadside to help box turtles across the pavement because of the potential danger for the Good Samaritan. Even though people regularly are tempted to take box turtles home, they are also much better off left in the woods and fields rather than confined as pets.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for the Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.
(Author’s note: A good friend and longtime Outdoor Guide reader, Burton Mandel, passed away recently. The following is a piece I wrote about Mandel several years ago. When he read it back then, he said it made him smile.)
His hands shook violently as he grasped for the bullets to load into the .357’s cylinder. I stood at his side, wondering if he could do it. Wind whistled through the canyon. Gun smoke filled the air, and the smell of burned powder was inescapable.
A few short weeks earlier, an old handball buddy had called me. He hadn’t signed up for his CCW (Carry-and-Conceal Weapons) class yet, and he wanted to take it with me.
Burt Mandel and I had met almost two decades earlier on a handball court. Fifteen or so years my senior, he became my handball teacher. He definitely helped me to a higher game over the years, but more than that, he also taught me much about life.
Burt always was suspicious of things that came too easily.
Also, he demanded, if I were to play him, that I be on the court and ready to go at 6 a.m. Like Ben Franklin, he believed getting an early start on the day was paramount.
Always a handshake before the game and always one after, he taught me to lose graciously and never gloat after a win.
Back in those days, strong and rugged, Burt could serve a handball with a hop you couldn’t touch with a tennis racket.
The night we were to take our class, I met him at a restaurant a couple blocks from where we were to take the four-hour classroom session.
As I sat and chatted with him that evening, it was evident his shaking had gotten worse since I had seen him last. He had told me of his affliction years ago, and time certainly had taken its toll.
We reminisced about our handball glory days, talked about carry-and-conceal, and traded our ideas and opinions on the Second Amendment. I had a few cocktails while he drank his soda, and when we left, I asked him to drive my truck. Despite his shaking hands, his driving was fine.
John Ross was our classroom instructor that evening. He is an investment broker and financial advisor in the St. Louis area, and a self-proclaimed member of the gun culture.
Ross, author of the book Unintended Consequences, is a well-known gun expert and is known nationally for his efforts on behalf of Second Amendment supporters. The book is a fictional account of how our rights under the Constitution have eroded over the years, and it was clear from the first moment of his seminar that this wasn’t his first shooting match.
For four hours, we discussed gun safety, training and preparation. We talked about the mindset of carry-and-conceal as well as the moral and ethical aspects regarding the Second Amendment.
Ross closed by explaining that the second half of the class would be on his shooting range a couple days later, and to pass the test, each of us would have to shoot a handgun with accuracy.
After the class Burt and I walked to my truck. “Do you think I can do this?” he asked.
I thought for a moment, not knowing what to say, and then an idea occurred to me.
“Look, you drive great. Think of it this way: When you’re loading the bullets into the gun, it is like putting your key into the ignition. When you shoot, it’s like you’ve got your hands on the steering wheel.”
He smiled, and we parted happy that our first session had been successful.
AT THE RANGE
A few days later, as we drove to the range, Burt and I talked about a lot of things. We discussed the social implications of carry-and-conceal and shared our thoughts about the great responsibility that comes with the right of gun ownership.
Ross’ shooting range was in an old quarry north of Grafton, IL. He had tables set up under a pavilion with guns of many calibers spread out like an exhibit at a gun show.
After his safety talk and a demonstration, each of us took turns firing for record. I stood at the table after shooting and motioned Burt to come up and shoot next.
I handed him the revolver. Ross stood on his left. I was on his right. About 25 folks sat at picnic tables under the pavilion.
Burt’s hands shook as he loaded the gun. But he loaded it. He stood squarely and confidently and fired. He fired again and again. Each shot rang true. He loaded the gun again and fired; again and again. All shots found the short-range target.
“Next!” bellowed Ross. It was over. Burt had done it.
President John F. Kennedy wrote a book as a young man called Profiles in Courage. His book chronicled courageous acts by eight members of the U.S. Senate, detailing how each man, during a critical time in our history, displayed the courage to do what a man rightfully should do despite personal consequences.
Burt wanted his carry-and-conceal permit badly, so badly he risked failure and humiliation to get it.
It is ironic, I know, but had JFK been at our side that day, I am sure he would have taken note of the courage displayed in that little quarry, not far from nowhere. In that chasm that could have consumed another man’s spirit, my buddy put it on the line.
The echo of friendly explosions rang out as we walked the quarry road back to my truck. The smell of gunpowder followed us down the trail.
Burt was smiling, looking at his certificate of completion. John Ross had signed his name at the bottom authenticating the event.
“Mr. Ross has a nice signature,” he said. “Would you like me to sign your certificate?”
I laughed and politely declined.
Later that evening, I changed my mind. The next time I saw Burt, I asked him to sign my certificate after all. I gave him a felt-tip pen and had him sign his name boldly across my certificate. Then I framed it and hung it on my wall.