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I have come across a bit of information, supplied by the latest issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine, that presents some outstanding stewardship in Countryside Round me. Several conservation groups, government agencies and landowners who care about the environment have worked together to create a turnaround that is an absolute marvel.

Notice how bad the environment had been for trout and trout fishing in northeast Iowa, compared to where it is now. From the magazine –

Bill Kalishek, a DNR fisheries biologist, explains, “Trout require clean water and by 1980 only six Iowa streams were free enough of sediment and pollutants to sustain trout. The good news is the streams today are much cleaner because of habitat improvement and, especially, landowners working with agencies on watershed projects.”

At the Decorah State Fish Hatchery, manager Brian Malaise confirms the turnaround. “Thirty-two northeast Iowa trout streams now have naturally reproducing populations,” he says, “and we stock seventeen others.”

With this in mind, I had to take to the nearest stream and get a sampling of this awesome news. And the news is reflected in these few photos with the absolutely gorgeous landscape, streams with water as clean as the water that issues forth from Brigid’s Well, and some of the most colorful freshwater fish and stream bottoms that nature has to offer.

Which brings up the thought, among the many thousands of subjects that seemed to stream through this pea-brain during my hike this morning (which isn’t good if you’re the writing type), that I wonder if the outdoor blogging community is hurting it’s own cause. How I got to this, I don’t know because I forgot to bring along my journal. But with putting all this information out there, and doing it as enthusiastically as we do, are we doing it for the right reasons? And what are those reasons? Can we bring too much attention to the parts of life that we truly love and can’t seem to live without?

I don’t want to show off the Countryside Round’s trout fishing to have some idiot come in and exploit it, or ruin it. Or introduce people to duck hunting and have them end up being poachers.

But then again, I want to show the part of the world that doesn’t understand where I’m coming from, why I feel the way I do. Because nature and the outdoor pursuits should be shared in some form or another.

I may be thinking too selfishly. Most of this thought stream probably comes from my solitary side. I don’t want to run into another person when I’m involved in something out in the “wilds.”

I just hope we as outdoor bloggers/writers are doing the right thing.

Does this tree look like it’s singing in a woodland opera? Anyway, here is a picture or two of other things I must have liked on the 3.5 miles of grassy/stony path today. Please enjoy. And if hiking is something you don’t like to do, please reconsider it. It’s damn good for you. But you writers clean a good part of your mind out beforehand. It will make the hike more enjoyable.

Until I can write again – peace and take care.

Your friend –

Casey

A dream of mine would be to one day write an outdoor story that would be fitting for the back page of an outdoor publication, or even be included in a short story collection somewhere. So imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from Sporting Classics asking if I would consider posting a story from their July/August issue.

Hell ya! I would LOVE to! And they are giving me that very opportunity. It is an honor for me to host fantastic writing in a field that I adore, and aspire to contribute to.

Before I get to the story, I would like to let you know that you can visit Sporting Classics online here. You can receive a complimentary copy and also purchase a subscription. Please consider it if you are a fan of fine outdoor writing and art. And if you are so moved, let them know Casey from The Countryside Round (a future contributor) sent you!

Also, if you are a Twitter user and enjoy this post, please click the “Tweet” button at the bottom of the page. This can be done with any of my posts if you feel they deserve it!

The story I picked is, of course, close to the Countryside Round me. Minnesota. And grouse hunting! A bird I haven’t hunted or eaten (it’s delicious) in many, many moons. Please enjoy!

Tales To Tell by Micheal McIntosh

Meeting up with the Bridge Bird would prove a final,

fitting salute to the place and the time and the

many grouse that had given him the slip.

Peter Grant turned off the road where the graveled surface ended. This spot had once been occupied by a house trailer, but the owners had long since towed it away, much to the betterment of the countryside. Now the only view was of woods in every direction. He could have driven to where he was bound, but he’d always preferred to walk the last mile down the narrow dirt road.

Grant opened the rear hatch and shrugged on his vest, checked to see that he had a half-dozen cartridges in each shell pocket, and unbuckled the top of a canvas and leather gunslip. The gun he drew out had been built in London more than a hundred years before, sleek and elegant in its lines, with graceful triggers and hammers filed to a perfect mirror image of one another. It wasn’t the ideal grouse gun, but it was the most beautiful of those he owned, and the one he wanted to carry this day. Draping the gun over his shoulder, Grant set off slowly down the road.

It was an October day such as can only be found in northern Minnesota – cool and still under a brilliant blue sky, a few yellow popple leaves still clinging to their branches, fragrant with the smell of ripening wood fern and the occasional musky thread of stink left by a whitetail buck in rut. It was all familiar, and Grant found himself treasuring the familiar more and more.

The woods on either side had once been productive grouse coverts, but now the growth was too old to be attractive to the birds. A dog might have found one that had strayed there for reasons known only to itself, but Grant had no dog. His old Brittany had died two years before. He had loved her fiercely through 11 seasons and a long retirement, and Grant no longer owned the energy to train and keep pace with a puppy.

And there was only one bird he hoped to meet that day.

At length, the road curved sharply to the west. That place, too, had once been a good covert, marked by a disused Minneapolis-Moline tractor that had sat there for years, slowly rusting toward oblivion. It was now gone, hauled off to some scrap yard or rescued by a collector who thought it could be restored.

A couple of hundred yards beyond the bend, Grant turned south again at the lane that led to the old farmhouse. Partway there he left the lane and walked a few yards into the woods, found the place he wanted, knelt and brushed leaves from a flat-set granite gravestone. “Laura Peterson – 1882-1898” was all the chiseled legend said.

Laura died nearly 50 years before Grant was born; was even four years older than the gun he carried. She had been 16 when she succumbed to tuberculosis. Grant knew this because he had once talked with some members of the Peterson family, old people then, who told him of their little sister. They described a spritely girl and the sadness they all felt when she died of a disease that was little understood and not treatable in any effective way. Grant had come upon the grave many years before and visited it every time he came to this place. No visit to the old Peterson farm felt complete without a few minutes of silent respect paid at the place where Laura slept.

From the beginning, Grant had felt her as a presence in these woods, lending some elegiac tone to his own presence there. At times, some lines from Thomas Gray echoed in his mind. At other times he simply felt certain Laura was looking kindly upon his roaming where she had roamed and didn’t think him an intruder.

After a while he put his hat back on and continued his slow pace down the lane. This brought him to the house. When he’d first begun hunting here, it was no longer occupied and hadn’t been since. Now it was teetering toward collapse under the weight of time and exposure to the elements and mindless vandalism. Grant had sometimes taken shelter there from rain. Once he’d shared the long, bare, dusty front room with a grouse that apparently had wandered in for the same reason. Grant sat quietly on the floor at one end and watched the bird pace nervously at the other, bobbing its head and keeping a watchful eye. In the end they had struck a truce, though the bird barreled out through the open front door the moment the rain subsided.

Today, he didn’t approach, preferring to remember the old place as it once had been.

The house faced a broad pasture, now much overgrown, that sloped south to the creek. The original path was obscured by the remnants of summer grass, but Grant knew the way. He slanted southwest, toward the bridge and the bird he wanted to find.

The Bridge Bird was something of a legend among the few who hunted this place, always referred to in the capital letters that denoted a given name. The far end of the old timber span was screened by a narrow band of alder and brush that opened to the uphill woods beyond. It was a tiny piece of cover but ideal for a single grouse, and one was all Grant had ever found there. But one always was there, and Grant had often wondered how many generations had supplied the residents.

The Bridge Bird was thought to be especially cunning, able to elude any opportunity for a clear shot. Clear shots indeed were rare, but the reason had more to do with the environment than with any ubergrouse sensibility. Unless a hunter wanted to wade the creek either upstream or down, the bridge was the only access. The difficulty of negotiating the first few yards of cover and the ruffed grouse’s natural wariness gave the bird a clear advantage. It knew that some potential danger was at hand well before a hunter set foot upon the bridge and had only to scurry to the open side and take wing. Grant had heard more of them there than he’d ever seen.

Whether by sheer chance or the vagaries of fate, he had killed two or three Bridge Birds during the 30 years he’d spent trying to thwart their chances of a safe escape, and despite a grossly lopsided average, each one had been worth all the effort. To Grant, one Bridge Bird was as satisfying, or more, than daily limits taken under less trying conditions. The Bridge Bird lived somewhere deep in his soul.

Moving as quietly as he could through the grass, Grant gained the near side of the bridge. Like everything around him, it spoke the consequences of age. The timbers and crosspieces were rotting, and the downstream side tipped lower than the other. But it was solid enough to support a crossing, and Grant stepped softly in his rubber-bottomed boots.

The creek ran glossy, deep and dark, fed by spill from an old beaver pond. Grant knew the water was cold enough to support trout, but he had never cast a fly upon it. At any time of year, this was a place for birds.

He stopped at the end of the bridge, dropped two cartridges into his gun, closed the action and cocked both hammers. He had traversed many an alder-brake without enjoying the trip; this one was no different. Holding his gun high in one hand and using the other to fend away the branches while still using them for support, he moved the first few yards with neither mishap nor an unexpected flush. But in this covert the unexpected could be depended upon.

Free of the alder tangle, Grant stopped and waited. The silence alone could sometimes prompt a grouse to flush, like any other ground-dwelling gamebird. Nothing. After a minute or two he pushed into the brush, moving slowly, feeling flutters and pangs in his chest and a familiar pain beginning to gather in his lower back. Too long on your feet, my lad, he thought, and kept moving ahead.

He was nearly out of the brush when the Bridge Bird lost its nerve and hammered up from the edge, angling right to left, into the open. It was a shot Grant seldom missed. He swung up the flight line, passed the bird, lifted his leading hand and fired into the treetops.

It felt like a fitting salute to the place and the time and the many birds that had given him the slip.

Back across the bridge, he hobbled up the slope and found a sunlit tree to lean against as he sat in the grass underneath. He dug out his pipe and tobacco pouch, filled the old briar and set it alight. Exhaling plumes of fragrant smoke like fumes from a censer, he sat for a long time looking at the bridge covert, hoping that as many generations of birds to come would find it, as had the many that came before.

At length he struggled to his feet and set off back up the hill. He would stop to have a look at the old house and pay a respect at Laura’s grave. Then he would make his way down the lane and along the road, knowing beyond all certainty that he would never see this place again.

A Night Walk and A New Squirrel Pocket.

I don't know why I put my camera through this, but can you make out the deer?

It has been a long week, my friends, and thought that I might get some reprieve from life’s responsibilities by going for a little night walk, letting the light of the nearly full Thunder Moon and the faint luminesce of the Milky Way impart their gifts into me through the pores of my skin – if it could make it past the Deep Woods Off, that is. And I truly hope it did. I really cannot wait for the end of mosquito season, even with the knowledge that the little bloodsuckers need their time to do whatever it is they are supposed to do. They seem very out of control this year.

Critters have been scrathing at the top of this bolete.

But before I was enveloped in darkness, surrounded by the sounds of a summer night – the chirping of various things; crickets, cicadas and tree frogs – a walk under the trees was made along game trails, hoping to find mushrooms I have never found before – chantrelles and king boletes. There was no luck to be had on that front (the mushroom pictured was not a king bolete in my opinion – the stem was not bulbous), yet there is time before late fall sets in. So there is still a chance of finding a specimen or two. That is if I have a mind to concentrate on mushrooms instead of the hunting seasons fast approaching. The soon-to-be Hunting Moon brings with it squirrel season, and an early duck season. Then the deer bow season starts, followed by the rest of the duck season. Then trapping starts. In between all of this, the brown trout will be spawning, giving me a good shot at netting a larger one – my personal best only being 16-17 inches long! One of my favorite critters that Nature has devised.

I guess my pack will be stuffed to capacity real soon!

This wasn't the only clump of shagbark hickories on this hillside.

In the fading daylight, I found a real nice pocket for squirrel hunting, most of the squirrels I saw were greys. This hillside has a generous share of hickory, oak, and locust. Just a ton of mast. And some very playful chickadees! Squeaking and flitting from oak twig to oak twig, raining small acorns down on this intruder. Thank goodness their territory didn’t include the stands of shagbark hickories I found! This hillside is very easy to get to, and should be a great spot to walk my kids into during the darkness just before dawn. This makes five good pockets I can use for putting squirrels in the freezer. I should start stocking up on barbeque sauce.

A critter crossroads.

Also, though it’s too soon to tell, I may have found a decent stand for this late muzzleloader deer season. That is if I can come by a rifle this year like I did last, thanks to a very good friend. It is kind of hard to describe this spot. It seems to be a crossroads of well worn paths that come and go between features that deer visit. A field to the north, a stream to the east, a stand of cedars to bed under to the south, and mast trees all round. Looks good to me anyway, but I’ll have to keep tabs on it as the year progresses. And who’s to say I will make it out come deer season? I cannot make that promise to myself or to you. But I do have the squirrels and ducks and trout covered, so there, at least, is the making of an awesome fall already.

Until I can write again (which will be soon – I have most of next week off and plan on going trout fishing at least once) –

Take care –

Casey

P.S. The pics I have been taking lately have not turned out well, but I did get a good BEER shot this past Monday. And it is highly recommended by this beer drinker. Also, Oktoberfest will be here soon, and Sam Adams made a high quality one last year. So I’m recommending that already, too.

A guzzler, I assure you.

Mason finds a chunk of sandstone with a hole being worn into it.

Sometimes I wonder what I will feel responsible for as I’m nearing my deathbed (a good many years off, hopefully!), and look back at life. For some folks, it may be the sins they feel they have committed and are not sure they have been forgiven of. For others, they may look back and feel that they have contributed good things to the world around them; either their work was important or their children were able to become doctors or ambassadors or whatever.

Photo of thistle flower by Mason.

Being the father of four children, and someone who does a significant amount of wondering, sometimes I flash-forward and ponder what marks my children may make upon the world. I can dream big of them! Then reality and teenage years come along and make a mess of all that. But as long as they become HAPPY people, I’ll think that is contribution enough. That seems a hard enough accomplishment these days. And so far, so good, I think with the one who has left the nest, and a couple more getting ready within the next few years.

My last kid, who is only ten, is going to turn out alright, too. As we made a morning hike this fine day, several pieces of pleasant and fantastic conversation came up, and I’ll relate two of them here as proof that he’ll be just fine and happy.

The path...

A trail we walked reminded him of the path Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippen had fell upon in the movie, The Fellowship Of The Ring. The path where they fall into mushrooms. My boy stops and looks ahead, points and says, “Dad this is like in the Lord Of The Rings!” As we look ahead and I agree with him, a wind comes up and leaves fall from the trees to the path and roll towards us. “See?” That’s my boy.

The second bit happened whenever we came upon stretches of the trail that were rocky. He has always seemed to like rocks, and is always picking them up and asking about them. Unfortunately, I am no good with rocks. Flora and fauna has always appealed to this walker. But I promised him the next time we make it to the book store that we would buy a rocks and minerals field guide. I would like to learn more about those myself.

On a mission...

He spots a red object off the trail, yet not quite in the woods. “Aha!” he says. But he seems disappointed when he finds that is a mushroom. “I thought it was a sunstone. Have you ever found one?”

I told him that I had never heard of a sunstone before.

“It’s in the wizard book,” he says and gives me a look. By this he means our Wand Maker’s Guide Book, and what it says about sunstones is that if one is embedded in your wand, the power of the wand will be enhanced.

I hope he finds one some day. He has a wand of oak that we carved awhile back, and oak is used for protection. I’ll find a way to embed that rock for all the enhanced protection it can afford. Got me a wizard in the making.

Here are more photos of our walk this morning. I hope you enjoy them!

Until I can write again – peace and take care.

Your friend –

Casey

Woodland sunflower.

Indian pipe. The pine woods are full of them.

A brown snake! I love snakes.

This spider web looked like a CD hanging in the middle of the air, or maybe it was a time warp vortex!

I only had one one mushroom pic that looked good. Damn it.

The trail I walked in the Countryside Round, marked in red.

A couple of hours were available to me yesterday morning, so I was up with the sun and on a trail just as the sun crested the hills to the east. Four or five miles (I haven’t put a string to it) were walked up and down hills, through woods and fields, and along waterways. Along with the excersize, I wanted to see how the woods had fared through the Heat Moon, as the Thunder Moon starts tomorrow.

A young maple showing the signs of enduring a rough year.

And it does look like the Heat Moon, in cohorts with all of the rain the woods have received this year, has taken a bit of a toll. The top of the forest canopy still looks pretty healthy, as does the forest floor, which is still flush with green. But the mid-story level of the woods is showing signs of fatigue. Rust is appearing on the leaves of the smaller trees, some of the staghorn sumac leaves are turning red, and the walnut tree leaves are fading to a pale yellow and falling in quantity when a stronger gust of wind finds them. Of course, being a human, I can witness all this “life is fading in the woods” and try to put a dramatic tone to it. But I’m sure the woods, after all these millenia, is quite expecting this fading, and really couldn’t do without it.

Sure has me thinking of fall and the hunting seasons! Squirrel season starts in less than a month, and an early duck season starts a few weeks after that…That will be some life and death drama – literally.

What used to be a road provided part of the trail.

But back to the walking! And a question!

Have you a piece of the land that you consider “adopted” by you? By this I mean do you have an area that you know like the back of your hand, and know intimately? Where the stands of birches and cottonwoods are, where each oak or hickory tree is located, what kinds of wild fruit trees and berry bushes provide for the critters and possibly yourself, where the sources of water run, and where the major animal trails lead from and to and why, what woodland wildflowers show themselves in the early springtime?

Some of the road is a bit more overgrown, and part of the trail is not road at all, so it wasn't all this easy!

This area has all the makings of an “El Dorado” for this particular walker. I love the trails and the land surrounding and between them. Provisions of the best sort could be had here. From game meat (deer, squirrel, turkey, rabbit, raccoon, and groundhog sign were all present this day) to fruit and vegetable foodstuffs (wild plums, blackberries, sumac shoots, mast trees, and I remember a wild apple tree that a friend and I found morel mushrooms under two years ago, right off this trail!). Very tempting, yes….And a lake to provide fish is not far away.

That is really all I can write to you for now, as two pieces of less than good news are affecting lives of this family for the next few days, weeks and months, and my mind is sure to be a little discombobulated for a bit. But – I’m sure it will all make me take to the trails more than usual to help work it all out, so at least that is something.

Until I can write again, peace and take care!

Your friend,

Casey

P.S. Here are a couple more photos taken during my walk. I hope you enjoy them!

One of the last flowering weeds before fall - goldenrod.

The greens are not so green anymore.

Sumac red - bring it on!

Ripened wild plums. And something has been enjoying them. See that matted-down grass below them?

A stand of cottonwoods and birches. These are my favorite trees, as their leaves seem to be waving Hello! to you in the slightest of breezes.

Small puffball mushrooms in the trail.

Kaitlyn and I Texas-rigged some plastic worms - they were hitting them on the fall.

Just a quick note to whom it may concern –

I am a damn lucky man. Fortunate beyond belief in almost every regard, and very grateful for it. When I can sit on the grass beside a pond writing in my journal, listening to green frogs and bullfrogs, watching barn swallows skim surface of the water, and enjoy the company of a new kitten, I consider life pretty good.

Don't know it's name...we just met!

But last night I also was able to watch kids (my own) – a brother, sister, and a cousin – sit on a dock and catch bluegill after bluegill, throw them back and thread on halves of nightcrawlers, whisper, talk and laugh about whatever. Throws it from “Life is good” territory into “I must be this close heaven right now.” And to hit the pillow with a gigantic smile on my face! If only that could happen every night.

Until I can write again – Peace and take care! And enjoy a couple of more photos from last evening.

Your friend –

Casey

Mason is doing a good job of taking his own fish off the hook - he's learning how to grab the spiny buggers!

Carlye with her first bluegill of the night.

Oh yeah - Kaitlyn gets in on the bass action!

The sun sets on another evening spent fishing an Iowa farm pond. Priceless.

Stand up pretty, Bella!

Busy, busy. That’s what having four kids will do for you. But as far as everything else goes, being so busy really is a small price to pay for what kids can mean for you. But all that needs to be left to a better writer, one who knows the right words and can articulate them poetically. For now, let’s just say that this father has been busy! I may have mentioned that already.

A skulking Bella, who should be bouncing with jubilation!

This past weekend my second daughter, the first being old enough to be out on her own and is doing pretty well I’m proud to say, showed her dog, an American cocker spaniel in the chocolate variety (we love chocolate have you noticed?) at the county fair. All those classes and no Grand or Reserve Champion ribbons were earned. But that’s fine. Bella, who is the dog, is turning into a pretty nice lap dog. Something Trapper really never could be at any stage of his warp-speed, hyperactive, marsh-muck reeking existence. And it seems he went from being a puppy to being 100 pounds in three blinks of an eye. The poor lad. And speaking of lads, my oldest boy has just finished up his detassling job and is doing a bit of summer school this week. Something called Gateway Academy that provides hands-on instruction focused on engineering technologies. I have taught him well that he should strive to be more than a “factory wrench” the same as me. Pile all this on top of mowing and gardening and work, finding a few hours to spend on a river or creek, or walking under the trees, can seem a desperate dream. How I wish a river ran through my backyard…

There is a deep, strong current here - despite how it appears.

But Sunday afternoon, I was able to eek out a couple of hours to get away, so I gave a try at meeting some smallmouth bass face-to-face. I picked a stretch of the Volga River not far from me that my family and I have caught several smallmouth out of, and many of those being between 14-16 inches long. Which is pretty good for this little river. As I didn’t have any of my kids with me, I took a more daring route upstream. I scrambled along the outside bend, against a steep hillside, trying to get at holes that couldn’t be reached otherwise because of the strong current. I first tied on a Mepps Black Fury to pull through the slack currents behind large rocks, and to no avail. So I then tied on a jig, a 2-inch Sassy Shad, in silver-grey, to probe the deeper water near mid-stream, and that is when I started to see fish. First a small rock bass followed my offering up to my feet, and a bit later I hooked into a smallmouth, about 8 inches long. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the creature as it came off the hook just as I was going to put my thumb in it’s mouth. Good for him, though.

This is a smallie I caught in this stretch of river in May. Just felt I needed to put a fish pic in here!

I got as far upstream as I was going to go and decided to take a rest. You would think after hundreds or thousands of years that the large limestone rocks that line this riverbank would have found a place to settle, but I’m here to tell you that may of them still are not lodged into a place very solidly. So to give my ankles a break and to write some notes in my journal, I perched on a huge rock right along the bank. As I was admiring the quiet strength of the river’s current in front of me, a favorite quote came to mind, which I don’t have memorized but was able to look up when I got home :

“Sometimes, if you stand on a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away…you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.” – Winnie the Pooh.

At least there was scenery.

Pooh is very right, of course, but the question I wanted answered was, “Where are all the fish?” The floods the past couple of years have probably scoured out new holes that I haven’t found yet, and it was mid-afternoon. Maybe a try should be given as the sun sets behind the hills and the skies turn darker with the evening… And the smallmouth come up from the depths to raid the rock and sand bars for minnows and crayfish…And the fisherman who doesn’t stop trying until the stars provide his light, wondering what kind of critters are swimming through the water and against his legs…This is the guy who I’ll bet gets some decent smallmouth right about now. That should be me this coming Friday night.

…Because I tied on a crawdad crankbait and only had one smack at it on the way back to the car. Yep, late in the evening needs a try.

Until I can write again! –

Your friend –

Casey

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