Mysteries of the outdoors revealed

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By Denny Murawska

(Posted Feb. 16, 2007, 10:45 a.m. Originally published in The Week Oct. 9, 2005)

Editor's note: This column recently won first place in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper contest for a weekly outddoor column.

Many schools offer programs in outdoor education. During these sojourns into nature, kids are instructed in orienteering, tree identification, forest resources and countless other activities that are meaningful and often fun. Having been involved in such trips for many years was a rewarding experience.

While it is true that teachers can convey a deeper appreciation of nature in their students through such expeditions, it is much more difficult to attempt this with a spouse.

On a recent trip up north to the Eagle River area, I decided to allow my dearly beloved Susan several opportunities to acquire a deeper rapport with some of the outdoor activities I am passionate about. Hunting with a bow, gun and scrounging for wild mushrooms were on the curriculum.

The mushroom hunting was fantastic.

On our first walk through the woods, I discovered a prize known as a "bear's tooth." This odd-looking mushroom is one of the most delicious of all edible fungi.

In a short time, Susan found an even larger one. Once she tasted the delicacy sautéed in butter, she agreed with all the authors of mushroom identification books that this was truly one of the best of the best. The wet and warm weather in the northern part of our state had left the woods full of goodies such as this waiting to be discovered. One morning, as if by magic, an entire flush of Boletus edulis popped up right in the back yard of her family cottage. It was as if some fairies had conjured them up just for us by magic. This prince of fungi is known as the King Bolete. It has almost as many names as there are European countries whose inhabitants relish it with a religious fervor. In all our miles of wandering, we never came upon another.

We collected enough to bring some back with us, to mix with wild rice for a gourmet treat beyond words.

So far, so good!

I could feel the bonds between us growing stronger. Now came the real tests. Would Sue be willing to sit in a blind on an archery hunt far into the woods?

How could she understand my fervor for this type of experience without actually being there?

I explained that it would involve two hours of silent sitting, waiting on a trail frequented by deer because of the abundance of acorns. Walking about the forest in pitch blackness is part of the thrill.

As luck would have it, as the sun sunk below the horizon, a doe poked her head up from a trail leading directly to our blind.

At 20 yards, she was wary. Susan remained motionless in her camo headgear that made her look more like a terrorist than she knew.

The doe stared directly at the blind, which she knew did not belong there, and was something new in her domain.

As alarmed whitetails are prone to do, she stomped her foot, showing her alarm and alerting other deer in the area that something seemed wrong. There was a 10 minute staring match as she tried to figure out what this new addition to her forest was.

She cautiously circled downwind of us and started blowing as she caught our scent. This series of snorts is the final warning to everything in the woods that there was a problem here. It is also that last thing a deer hunter wants to hear. It is followed by the flash of an upraised white tail as the deer bounds off into the thicket.

Unless you are the adrenaline-pumped hunter, I am not certain squatting in a camo tent for hours is terribly exciting. Yet, once again, I felt she at least understood the patience and focus it takes to become obsessed with this type of hunting.

Finally, it was time to instruct my honey in the art of pistol shooting. As a boy, I had the good fortune to learn this difficult skill in a logical progression. It started with throwing clods of dirt in mock "wars" with armies composed of other kids in our neighborhood. From the start, I showed a knack for hurling projectiles and hitting targets.

Yes, it was a dumb thing to do, but all the kids did it, so what was I to do? This quickly progressed to slingshoots, BB-guns, pea shooters and, finally, firearms. Since Susan did not have a lifetime of these prerequisites, I decided it was time to jump in the pond and start from the top.

My first concern was to provide hearing protection. Rather than waste an extravagant $2.39 on ear plugs, I brought along some toilet tissue.

Heck, it had always worked for me. Perhaps it is why I often respond to questions by asking "what?" I could tell my would-be pistolero was ready when I noticed about five inches of white paper sticking out from the sides of her head like the half-cocked ears of a poodle. I explained how to properly brace two hands on the grip of the gun and to take a wide stance.

I did not tell her the pistol was loaded with .357 magnum loads. This is not a beginner's round! Oh well, one has to start somewhere. The blast found my honey almost running away from this beast of a gun and shaking her hand up and down. While her hand position looked stable, I neglected to notice a finger just in front of the revolving chambers. You see, as one fires, a small amount of the blast is channeled out and onto anything in this area, resulting in a bruising powder burn.

In addition, she complained of a terrible ringing in her head. Those magnum loads can be a bit much for a petite lady that is somewhat of a featherweight.

Well, I apologized profusely, and went through the old story about how one has to get back upon the horse and try, try again. It took plenty of coaxing, but I showed her how "expert" marksmen sight in their guns. You need a rest that gives a bit, like a sandbag.

Since we had none, I improvised by wadding up her new parka on top of a Coleman cooler. Now she had a nice, stable rest. Kaboom! Kaboom! Two shots rang out, both missing the paper plate target at 10 yards. At this point, Susan mentioned in a trembling voice that she might be more inclined to enjoy this endeavor a bit more with a much smaller gun.

It was at that point we noticed that her off-white parka now had several powder burns of its own. Oops ! That was a $20 mistake on the part of her "mentor." He almost instantly agreed to replace the gun rest with one of equal value, or face some long moments alone in the forest for the next week.

These misadventures all ended on a happy note. By the end of the week, my able student was riddling her target with .38 special rounds. I noticed she had picked up a wing feather of a wild turkey found on one of our many walks, and held onto it like a prized ornament.

She marveled at the colors of the trees, now at their peak of splendor. In the somber peace of the deep woods, we both soaked in the cathedral-like world enveloping us.

What I had experienced so many times, she was now seeing with the eyes and heart of a child for the first time. In spite of her teacher's well-intentioned blunders, we had grown just a bit closer.

The author is a science teacher and lives in Genoa City. Contact him through his Web site at www.aa-taxidermy.com.

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