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Hardly Working.

By Eric Mathes.

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The best part of being a dog guy is that the work is never done. Crash and I are always working. We’ve been working since the very beginning. I write about our journey together often because it’s something that I invest a lot of my time into. With that, I like to celebrate our accomplishments together and we do that through sharing our story.

As I’m always reminded with Crash, my one-and-a-half year old black monster, everything is more fun when you get to share it with a partner. That’s what love is all about right? With our partnership comes a labor of love and endless hours together working towards a multitude of goals. This last year has been a lot of working and a lot of waiting while summer counted down to opening day.

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We worked hard putting things together in the training yard, hoping that the little mechanics would translate into the field. As our first few months flew by, everything continued to be a smooth first season. Sitting here in December, there’s been a bit more couch time the last couple weeks. A fizzled trip south over Thanksgiving turned into a bust of a trip north battling cold weather and ice.

But our season is wrapping up nicely with a few more hunts to go, visiting some new and old friends around the country after the holidays. This weekend I watched the snow melt and felt a strong southern breeze blow through the area. It was an interesting emotion to be back outside comfortably in a sweatshirt. I walked around the front yard on Saturday morning and Crash seemed eager to feel the grass again.

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There was a haze covering the surrounding farm fields by my home. A soft mist filled the air and it looked a bit too much like late March when the big thaw comes through. I was antsy. I looked at Crash and he shot one back. He wanted to run and I wanted to set him loose. I kenneled him in my truck while I gathered some gear and training dummies. I made some make-shift markers that I wanted to set out a few hundred yards so we could run blind retrieves in the mud. My goal was to wear him out and let him have fun in the muddy corn fields. This was no doubt going to be a mess.

I picked a hilly field and set off to place the blinds. It was slick walking through the field, but underneath the top later of grease, the ground was frozen. I tried pushing the stakes in the ground with no success. I searched the ground for a large enough rock to use as a hammer.

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Putting out six total blinds, Crash would be covering some ground on this late season workout. Lots of bird hunters shut down their training regimen when the season starts, a mistake that is often costly as the season wears on. Crash and I made a point to train often during the weeks after work, even if it was only for a brief fifteen minutes.

The dividends are paid when I see him making only a small amount of errors in our drills in the second week of December. Since we did enough upkeep, he is still running as hard as he was on Sept. 1. I’m proud of that. He still has a lot of puppy in him, a trait that I’m happy he is carrying. His character is beyond description and his drive is something I could have only dreamed of. Crash is the whole package.

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I sent him on the first of six blinds and he ripped through the mud like a kid in a ball pit at McDonald’s. He loves his job and it shows. The first bird is always his most difficult, but after a few whistles and some heat from his collar, he made the next three look easy. I know he is working his tail off, but he makes it look so effortless sometimes. Covered in mud, Crash ripped across the chopped corn with ease.

We switched back over to a cut bean field with a beautiful downward slope that looks to be a mile long. It’s one of our favorite fields to train in because one where we get to work together without a lot of distractions. Just my dog and my whistle. 

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Working a well-trained dog on blind retrieves is literally the most satisfying thing I have ever done as a hunter. Watching my dog pick up the last two birds was another proud moment in a long list of early accomplishments. We celebrate often with a lot of couch time and fun around the house. Crash rides in the front seat and get a hamburger whenever we stop for a break on the road.

The feeling is indescribable as we near the end of our first hunting season together. We picked up more birds than I planned and got to hunt with a lot of great people both new and old. A few last hunts this year will just be icing on the cake for a proud pop and his dog.

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Autumn’s Grace.

By Nathan Miller.

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The air this fall is much cooler than years past. The forecasters talk of another Polar Vortex in store for us. Who knows though, I don’t trust them to make such a farfetched prediction, but the Canadian air is rushing down with a vengeance and I am more than ok with that. It’s a full menu of an awesome smorgasbord with everything that lifts our souls as outdoorsman, from brushing blinds in the marsh to devouring hot donuts and cold cider from the Cider Mills.

This cool air awakens part of my inner self that has been dormant for a long nine months. Feeling the north wind rush across my face perks up lost nerves looking to crack a trigger again and smell that burnt powder as the smoke wisps away from the end of my barrel. Fall is here and it makes for a special time and place in my heart and soul, reassuring me why I love this time of year so much.

You awake a little earlier to catch a sunrise full of colorful treetops and the smells of crisp leaves that glisten from the long awaited frost. What a way to live for hunters and non-hunters, alike. We see all sorts of extreme human capacity at the cider mills and pumpkin picking fields. I love to watch the children soar into a pile of raked leaves; that is the smell I remember as a child that makes my hairs stand on end. The time is now. We have awakened into a somber tranquility, as mother earth gives us her greatest gift of fall once again.

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The Friday night lights shine bright, bringing the town together again and I don’t mind sneaking in my flask of warm embezzled goodness to the football field just as I did that classic senior year of ‘98’. (Byron rocks but keep it classy.) Driving through a cloud of smoke retracting to burning leaves in my hometown is a sight and smell most would choke at, but not us, we welcome it in Byron and I’m sure most small town America does as well. We welcome it because everyone knows what is here and what has come to lift our spirits high again.

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Need I say any more to welcome what I live for, what your brother, father, uncle, sister, all of us exist to look forward to, year after year. Work has become extremely bothersome these fall days; my mind drifts to mallards and geese rushing through the cool fall skies into a spread of fire soon after slapping buddies high fives and taking in all that camaraderie the duck blind gives. In the world of social media, the news feeds fill up with pictures of men and woman bragging their successes in the field, and families enjoying hay rides filled with smiles encompassed by red cheeks. No more bugs and smelly bug spray, it is harvest time. I’m itching for the clock to strike three, to see and watch the most respectable beings on this earth we call farmers seek their fortune across a golden brown corn field. We know what is soon coming once the harvest is finished.

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I have been finding myself perched up on these farmers’ door steps, once again offering some of my summer catch and last fall’s kill to show them my appreciation and what it means to me as a hunter to walk and hunt their ground, not mine. I often sit and think what we as outdoorsman, men and women alike, would do without their work and land. To look at it that way reminds me as an American none of us would survive. This is America. This is who we are and what we live for and without ground to work, there is nothing left for us to live upon. The harvest is where everything comes together for us as we watch the combine slowly work the cut we know a fury of aggressive birds will soon make their presence here. I look forward to watching the migration unfold before my eyes and again I yearn to watch one more sunrise high above the ground and hear that thump, thump, thump as the earth awakes for another day.

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Soak it in and take nothing for granted. Let your soul breathe in the fall air and feel the cut of the cold against your lungs with every breath from your call. The birds begin to work now as each pass descends slightly lower than the last. The wait is over. The time is now, squeezing your trigger as you follow through bringing not another bird to its death but a success to your livelihood. Quit holding your breath. Autumn’s grace has greeted us again.

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Marriage.

By Nathan Miller

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You hear a lot of jokes about marriage right before you take the “Big Plunge” and in the weeks leading up to the big day, the jokes seemed tiring as I had heard nearly them all.  Though, in those same moments, I would get a little more excited with each bad joke.

Not many years ago I was on the rampage of hurling beers down my throat, chasing hens throughout the local bars, and hunting and fishing whenever I pleased with no one to cinch a rope around my neck. Then my first daughter Brooklyn was put into my arms and things suddenly changed in life. You have two choices when you have a child out of wedlock. One, you can turn and run, be a coward and leave your child fatherless. Or two, step up to the plate and take what is your creation, and raise them better than you were raised no matter how good or bad of an upbringing you may have had. But in truth there is only one choice, not two, for the reason that being a daddy is the greatest gift in life a man will ever receive.

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Four years after Brooklyn was born I met Sadie, a gypsy soul which whom I cannot even begin to decide where she is from. Born in North Dakota raised there for many years among a mother and a father along four other siblings, they then would packed it into Idaho for a few more years, next into Michigan for a while, and last on her own down to North Carolina for ten years. It was a vacation back to Michigan to visit her mother, friends, and family for a few months when we crossed paths. To make this long story somewhat short she glanced at me and her big blue doe eyes would never let go of mine.

Dating Sadie was special, it was a time in my life that I had missed out on throughout my later crazy years. I have never had so much fun with someone, running around like two lost souls not knowing where to take the next turn. I quickly found myself hopping out of the blind with buddies a little early to get a moment to spend with her. How could I ever drop a bro before a, well, you know…

I realized I loved this woman and at about that moment is when she called to tell me we had a creation brewing in her little coffee pot.

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“You need to get married,” is what I heard coming from family and friends rather quickly when we found out we had conceived a child the night after an Eric Church concert. Marriage was something I never wanted and I certainly wasn’t going to pop the question to a woman because people were telling me too. Lucky for those people it didn’t take me long to figure out what I wanted to do and marriage it is to a woman I have no idea where she is from. Obviously she said yes and we would wait until after our daughter Ella Mae was born to begin the planning.

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Nearly two years after the initial proposal June 28, 2014, I came to do something that I thought was unthinkable not so long ago. I would make sure this wedding had a taste for a flock of honkers or mallards seem very inviting. We went with an outdoor wedding at my Grandfathers home and base it around the country setting. This is who Sadie and I are, two country souls with a handful of decoys. It was ok until I came home to see my GHG Mallards had ribbon wrapped around their necks and I cannot apologize enough to my little soldiers but I fought hard to have them removed to no avail. The duck boat would be the place of interest for the beer enthusiasts and the decoys would line our invented aisle way to lead a bride down to me. There was no “Here Comes the Bride” playing to bring our guests to their feet to welcome her. Today, it was the highball of my mallard duck call to signal this gorgeous hen down to her awaiting drake under that mature maple. A good surprise to the congregation and a few good laughs thrown in made this a unique wedding already. My excitement rose after my air filled the call and here she came stepping down those stairs. Never in my life have I ever seen anything so beautiful.

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Let me step back to two weeks before the wedding. I have heard so many couples mention that ridiculous saying of marrying their best friend. Sadie has always told me I was her best friend and she was getting to marry him. Well Greg Jones was my best friend and I told her she could not replace him until two weeks before the wedding as I began to realize she is my best friend (so hard to write that) she listens to me bitch about Greg, Pat, and all my hunting buddies. She is a rock for me to lean on and the voice of reason when the time isn’t right to buy one more call. Well Greg certainly won’t kiss me, and I sure don’t want him to, so what more could a man look for in a best friend.

She is it.

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A wedding ceremony fit for a duck or a goose and having one of my most amazing friends Aaron get ordained to seal this deal. Now the ceremony is over let’s mingle with family and friends and watch people drink out of the punch bowl, dance with liquid courage, myself included, and have a drunken distant cousin approach you and give you their words of wisdom. Crazy, funny, and fast is what comes to mind at first thought but the tone was set for the evening. The lights were hung to give us the ambiance we had waited to embrace for two years. Dancing the rest of the evening away with the last of the diehards as most old folk grew tired and weary early on to retire to their recliners. This was a wedding, simple, cowboy boots, duck calls, decoys, food, drink and a celebration; a celebration to bring two people together. A unique wedding far from overrated, laid back and very fitting for us and who we are. The feeling to have so many guests come and enjoy two people is the most humbling experience I have ever felt. To take a moment and reflect there simply is not enough time to say hello to each individual but our hearts are full because of you and being able to bring this to Dover &  Jax to live it again is such a wonderful gift.

Marriage. So much has changed.

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Calendar.

By Eric Mathes

I was on my way to a dinner date last week when my phoned beeped from an email and the subject line read: 2014-2015 DU Calendar Photo Contest.

Somewhere in the early summer months I, along with thousands of Ducks Unlimited members across the globe submitted a few of my favorite photographs to be entered in a contest. Each year, DU selects about 14 images to be used in their annual calendar, mailed out to members along with their bi-monthly magazine. The calendar has always been among my favorite things to receive in the mail. A reminder that a new page was being turned, and that a new hunting season awaited. I submitted a handful of my best images for consideration in the specified categories for this year’s contest with hopes that maybe one of my photos would catch a judge’s eye.

I received the email last week, but only read the first word; “Congratulations.” I erupted with a few shouts in celebration, pulled the truck over, and read the rest of the email. Smiling hard, I was skipping words trying to piece this message together. The email said that I had to resubmit a caption for my photo by a certain date, but did not specify which of the photos was selected. I quickly fired off a reply to clarify my selection. Not long after I received a response to clarify. “You actually had 2 photos chosen…” I read in the response. Blank stare. I couldn’t believe the news.

Sure enough, out of several thousand entries, two of my favorite photos (shown here) were picked from the crowd to be featured in the upcoming DU Calendar. My first thought after finding out which photos were selected was about the people and dogs that were involved in both of them. Both of these moments are but snapshots of treasured days in the field that I won’t soon forget.

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The first selection was of a yellow dog named Sadie. She is owned by a good friend named Dominic Dupré in Lafayette, Lou. I have had some of my best days hunting with Dom and Sadie in the flooded rice fields of South Louisiana. This particular day was with three close friends on a rainy, cloudy morning in December of 2012.

We hunted mallards and pintails from a pit blind on a levee between two flooded fields. A picturesque morning of ducks circling in the stiff wind and back peddling over knee deep water. The four of us that made up the blind were no older than 24 years old at the time. I enjoy hunting with Dom because he is very knowledgeable and is an easy going guy with a passion for his dog. We make a good team. This was one of the last days I’ve hunted with Dom, but I am looking forward to reuniting with him and Sadie in Saskatchewan this fall.

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The second photo that was selected is one that I am again proud to be a part of. Starring in the photo, from a duck hunt in the Collins Marsh Wildlife Area in 2013, are Phillip Bonde of Kiel who is hunkered alongside Boise, a chocolate lab owned by Jeff and Stacey Lecher of Rangerwood Kennels in New Holstein.

We paddled out into the marsh on a very windy, crisp morning. I had scouted the area a few days prior and thought we  could pull off a good morning hunt with an abundance of sunshine and wind. Well, as some morning’s go, we showed up and the birds didn’t. After trying to scratch a few down over a few hours, we abandoned hope and opted to take a few photos in the shallow flooded waters.

I positioned Phil alongside the dog and had another hunter get Boise’s attention from above. I snapped a bunch of shots, and came out with one that I was really happy with. What I love about this photo is that it captures so many things that make waterfowl hunting what it is. It’s a culmination of the things I love about the sport and luckily for Phil and Boise, Ducks Unlimited felt the same way. I think it defines the sour days of hunting where success is defined by something other than a bag limit. I am happy to have this image and I wouldn’t trade it for a string of ducks.

My heart is full of joy and I’m very thankful to be representing something that I truly love and give so much of my life to. I’m excited about the opportunity, not because they are my photos, but because the stories of these people, these dogs, and their owners get to live through something a little bigger, if only for a short while. I have a lot of people to thank that were part of these two special moments, and I appreciate them letting me steal time from these hunts to capture something that more people get to see. It’s a heck of an honor and I very happy that other people have a stake in the celebration as well.

For everyone that reads my stories, or checks out my photos from time to time, thank you. You have all been very inspiring to me.

Traditional.

By Trey Arentz

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There are days that come along in life that can really test the strength of a person. About a month ago I was told one of the most heart-wrenching things I will ever hear in my life. After holding back some strong emotions and letting some little ones out, I was on my way back home from Madison.

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In my truck, on the 90 mile, one-road journey, my life all of a sudden stood still. I felt as if I was looking at my life going backwards. Old thoughts, memories, and emotions were flooding my body at one time. I had to turn my music down because everything I was thinking was being rudely interrupted by Florida Georgia Line. The worst long rides are the ones that have a meaning. Staring at this asphalt road of eternity, head against the head-rest, I was getting closer, one yellow line at a time.

When I finally arrived to my grandparents house, the feeling was comforting to say the least. I was greeted with nothing less then open arms and large, pearly smiles. On our way to the kitchen, I glanced over at my grandpa’s mule deer and antelope mounts. As we sat at the table, they asked how life and  work was going. Small talk. I smiled and nodded my head in the most positive way I could, but they knew no one in our family was taking the news well.

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My grandpa and I got into a conversation about the upcoming turkey season. Since this was brought up, I figured I might as well tell him I don’t know where my expensive turkey decoy is. He looks at me with the same look that he has for the past 21 years. It was the same look I got every time I told him I lost something. First thing we do is get up and go check out the hunting room. Passing the mule deer and antelope mounts in the living room, I am starting to encounter more memories. As we walk into the hunting room, something in the far right corner catches my eye.

My grandpa proceeds to keep moving stuff around looking for the decoy, and I make my way to the corner. Hanging on the wall, are the same longbows and recurves that have been there for as long as I could remember. I pass my two old recurves that I use to shoot, and grab the first longbow. I look at my grandpa and ask him, “ Isn’t this the bow you shot your bear with?” He looks over at me, smiles, and keeps digging. I remember when I was a kid, the stories he would tell me about his hunts. My favorite was of course his 300 lb. bear he had taken at 12 yards with, in fact, this longbow.

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After shooting a compound for about six years now and being successful, I’ve always looked back to when I shot traditional archery. As grabbed the bow off the hanger, I handed it to my grandpa and asked him to string it. (I know how I just didn’t want to take the chance of breaking it.) He hands it back and says, “You thinking about shooting traditional again?” As he does, I just smiled and we headed for the basement.

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Being an archer for the better part of 40 years now, my grandpa has an indoor range in his basement and a workshop filled with more arrows and archery equipment than Cabela’s. Walking down the old concrete stairs, I hold the bow firm in my hand. Not because I didn’t want to drop it, but because I was getting that familiar sensation again. Something I haven’t felt since I put the ole recurve down six years ago. As we make our way back to the workshop, I glance back at the target and instantly get a flashback to when I use to shoot down here everyday as a kid. I pass through the weight room thats well placed in the middle of everything and start becoming overwhelmed with inspiration. I’ve been down in this basement a million times, but I’ve never felt this way about it.

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It takes my grandpa about five minutes to find some arrows that are a perfect match for the longbow. I grab my old glove and knock the first arrow. As I start drawing the arrow back for the first time, I hear WHAP. I look back at my grandpa and he’s just shaking his head and laughing. Not realizing that I am shooting a 62” longbow I end up nailing the cross beam. My grandpa just laughs and says, “Do you forget that your not as small as you use to be?”

After that panic attack finally cleared, I took a knee. As I drew the bow back, I was imagining myself in my grandfathers shoes when he took the bear. I came to full draw, held for a second, and released. As I put the bow back down and got ready to knock the next arrow, I realized that I was clearly rusty. After about ten more arrows, my grandpa stepped in as he always did, which is why he was such a good teacher. I look back and all he says is, “Remember to squeeze the shoulder blades together and let the instincts take over.” I get back on target, get set, and I hear SMACK.. I then go into imagination and think, that would have been a double lunger, just like he had. I released three more and hear that distinct sound each time, the sound of my arrows hitting the pie plate. Already fatigued, I ended it there.

As we walk up to the target for the final time, bow in my left hand, grandpa on my right side, I looked over at him and thought, this is really what I want to do. From that day on, I made a commitment to myself, to never go back on a tradition. I take one last look at the bow and wish that one day I would earn the great success and fortune that he once did.

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Old Pine.

By Eric Mathes

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I would wake up in a twin bed, freezing cold, and I swear some mornings I could see my breathe while my head still lay on the pillow. I was in college and we stubbornly didn’t turn the heat on as the crisp fall crept over the lingering summer months. We were poor as shit, convinced that when that diploma came, all those problems would be over. I remember it being late October, maybe early November. It was my final semester at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and I was so eager to graduate. So close.

I’d search for my slippers, reluctant to walk on the cold hardwood floors without them as I stumbled to the bathroom of the run-down college house that somehow cost a premium price. When I returned, I flipped on my computer to play some music. My go-to at the time was the album Every Kingdom by Ben Howard. The first track, Old Pine, was my favorite. I’d put on some clothes, pick up my iPod, and head to class. Walking down the street, I remember the amber colored leaves really starting to blanket the ground. It was fall and it was my favorite time of year. Surrounded by the stresses of higher education, I was always holding out for the weekend to sneak back home and head out hunting with my friends and family. That was my escape, and I relished in the struggle between the outdoors and schoolwork.

I must have listened to this album everyday for two months straight and it definitely stuck with me. It was perfect for those late night study sessions, and calming on those drives to and from home during the hunting season. As I listen to Old Pine now, a few years later, I close my eyes and I’m back on the streets walking to class. I’m loading my truck for the weekends away hunting, bundled up because it’s just so damn cold. I’m eating grilled cheese and Ramen noodles, pretending that I’ve figured out where my life will take me. Naive enough to think I know what’s around the next corner. That last part hasn’t changed.

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Old Pine defines a specific time in my life, a time that I started to understand who I was and what the outdoors meant to me. What those feelings of being a part of something bigger were all about. Breathing in that crisp, fall air. Spending time with people I love and meeting new people. Taking a leap of faith to venture out into the unknown. Heading north to guide hunts on the Canadian prairies. Packing up my truck to move to southern Louisiana, living in a little shack for the winter chasing ducks and geese. Fleeing to the woods of northern Wisconsin every November. Finding the right way to get stories, images, ideas, and memories out of my head for others to see. Something inside me has driven me to seek out these things, and listening to this song and music again just puts a lot of my past into perspective. Who I am today, and what made me this person I love to be.

I looked up the lyrics today, because I wanted to read every word. It really made me look back. Old Pine is such a reflective song, particularly focused on all those summer memories growing up. But you can’t help but think of younger years and all of the great memories you’ve made on so many different occasions. It gives me a liberating feeling of freedom that I sometimes long for while sitting in my office. Give Old Pine a read, it’s poetic:

Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags,
I’ve come to know that memories
Were the best things you ever had
The summer shone beat down on bony backs
So far from home where the ocean stood
Down dust and pine cone tracks

We slept like dogs down by the fire side
Awoke to the fog all around us
The boom of summer time

We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods
So happy-hearted
And the warmth rang true inside these bones
As the old pine fell we sang
Just to bless the morning.

Hot sand on toes, cold sand in sleeping bags,
I’ve come to know the friends around you
Are all you’ll always have
Smoke in my lungs, or the echoed stone
Careless and young, free as the birds that fly
With weightless souls now.

We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods
So happy-hearted
And the warmth rang true inside these bones
We stood
Steady as the stars in the woods
So happy-hearted
And the warmth rang true inside these bones
As the old pine fell we sang
Just to bless the morning.

We grow, grow, steady as the morning
We grow, grow, older still
We grow, grow, happy as a new dawn
We grow, grow, older still
We grow, grow, steady as the flowers
We grow, grow, older still
We grow, grow, happy as a new dawn
We grow, grow, older still

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The lyrics, to me, describe what it was truly like to transcend into my own soul. To discover what made me, me. A reflection of past experiences that gave way to new adventures. A view inward to see what’s important to you, how certain things make you feel. What a nostalgic experience it is to put this album on. One of my favorite lyrics, if I had to pick, is “I’ve come to know that memories, were the best things you ever had.” I love looking back on old memories, because I think they give way to the next ones down the road. It’s inspiring and I look forward to the days ahead.

Easter.

By Nathan Miller

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After a questionable amount beer and whiskey, a utility knife was the weapon of choice to seal our bond, forever as one, sometime around the year 2000. It was the night when we became blood brothers. As incapacitated as it all seems, that moment stands out to this day and marks a time that two crazy souls became one. At least in our eyes.

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His name is Aaron Easter. We all call him Easter and it has been a few years since we have been able to truly enjoy one another’s company and get back to where our youth left off. Easter came in from Colorado, where he has made his residence the past seven years. This year was going to be different; I was finally ready and able to spend a couple days away from everything reality throws at us. No children, no work, no bills. Just my soul and I, and soon my blood brother Easter. Let’s see where this will go. We had no plan. We only knew we were on the hunt for Steelhead and nothing was more important. We had two days to find some fish, to fill everything that makes us live, most importantly Easter’s. He does not have ample opportunities to chase after these beasts of the rivers, and our passion alike for this is strong; so damn strong. Let’s roll out brother…

Thursday morning had me waking up to a baby slurping down a six ounce bottle next to me in bed. I sat up and looked over to see Easter making faces at my 11 month old daughter as Sadie was feeding her. Sadie and I looked at each other, confused at the moment. We weren’t used to a 6’3”, 225 lb. man laying in bed with us at 4am, but he was ready as was I to get this day going and embark on another adventure together. I was 20 years old again the second I stepped out that door and nothing was holding us back from making the most of the two short days we had together. No plan. Just two souls, some fishing poles and a fly vest.

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Rockford, MI was the first town to break to fish the Rouge. I had just pre-fished this river five days previous to try and find some fish, with some success. Rockford would be just a blip on the map today as we hit it hard for three hours through rain, sleet, wind and snow, with no fish. Time was short. We better get a move on. Newaygo was next to fish; otherwise called The MO. Rockford was a two hour drive from my place, and now onto Newaygo for another 45 minutes north. We stopped into the Muskegon Fly Shop to look for spawn. I knew our chances were grim in a fly shop, but they turned me onto some trout beads. I had heard of them before but never tried them, and a lot of guys have sour feelings when it comes to fishing them. As always, I love to support a local fly shop and I made the purchase on some beads and we were on the water minutes later, rigging rods. We were fishing under what seemed to be an abandon railroad trellis. It was hard to tell as the only tracks the trains leave are the ones that are made for them. An hour into fishing the trellis, drift after drift, Easter had snuck down around the pylon extruding from the harsh current. I looked over at him and his look was priceless: a serious man when it comes to the fight of a steelhead as he had a fish on.

After somber fishing, we were alive again and the fight went on, tiring the fish, completely knowing Easter would be saving this one for the grill. He took a nice buck, 5 or 6 pounds. He gave him everything he had to fill his arms with life again. We snapped a few pictures and I jumped back in the run; three drifts in and, wow, fish on! The line screamed from the reel. I knew right away I had a decent fish, and hoping for a hen to suck some spawn from. Easter would blurt out that this was the hen we had been hoping for. He made it very clear to not lose this one, as she carried the key for the salvation of our journey. He coached not only me but this fish as well all the way to the bank. I felt as if he thought I had never caught a steelhead before, but I remembered quickly, for everything that put a bend to our rods today needed a valiant effort to heed our success! A gorgeous plump hen rose to the bank to fill the stringer, providing the gold within her womb to keep this journey alive. But I guess these beads had us onto something here and anyone who calls this LINING FISH on this day fishing a deep run is a fool. These fish snapped, and gave us the treasure we had hoped for from the anticipation leading up to today.

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We wrapped the railroad trellis in our back pocket and headed north yet again for a 30 minute drive to Baldwin, where we would find a bar to feed our hungry souls and a few beers to wash the grease away. The bar burgers and beers were sleeping pills after a long, cold and wet day chasing Steel, and a few short miles later we were checking into a small trout lodge in what felt like the heart of Michigan’s trout country. For $65 a night I anticipated a hole in the wall motel, but this place was warm and cozy, full of trout nostalgia everywhere we turned. It helped keep the motivation alive to fish the Pere Marquette the next morning.

The Pere Marquette is one of Michigan’s premier trout fisheries and holds a giant name for itself during the peak salmon runs in the early fall, but Steelhead and resident trout abound here as well. The river comes with rules: keep your voice down and enjoy her, do not leave anything behind and pick up what should not be there. The river did not disappoint in her beauty the next morning, which was greeted with a few giant snowflakes, as we wisped our fly rods against the current. Although we would not find a fish here this morning we took in all the PM had to offer and once again we were on the road heading back into Newaygo to pull the railroad trellis back out of our pockets.

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The trellis did not hold her treasure she had the day before, but Easter had a hole in mind throughout this entire trip, and I knew he had been itching to get back to it one more time before our trip would have to end. We made our way a few miles up the river to what I now call the Easter Run. He had pulled a limit from this run one year ago nearly to the day in quick fashion and he was hoping for one more tug back before his return to the Rockies. Three drifts in and he blurted “fish”! I looked over and his smile once again said it all. If things could have gotten any better, I don’t know how it would have happened, for this was the icing on the cake. The last run; the last moments of the day lead to the last fish of this amazing adventure, and he took one more elusive creature far from our world to the banks of his reality. The feeling I felt inside is indescribable. A mere three fish total for two hard days of fishing and plenty of driving felt like a pile of success. The big spring push of fish from Lake Michigan had yet to happen at this time, but we encountered what we were after.

600 miles later, I was hugging an old friend goodbye only to tell him I would see him soon. Not a friend, but a brother of blood that intertwined one foggy night.

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