If our title sounds familiar, it’s because it reminds us of the timeless song, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” from what many call the greatest movie ever made, the 1939 “Wizard of Oz.”
With music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Yip Harburg, in addition to Dorothy and friends winding their way to the Emerald City and the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the song is essentially about how navigating “good paths” (courses of action) will lead to corresponding “good” things. The duo also created “Over the Rainbow,” considered the best movie song of all time.
As well as making Grand Rapids’ favorite daughter Judy Garland (Frances Ethel Gumm) universally famous and a forever film and musical icon, the film explores many of the story lines and themes author L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) developed in his 14-novel “Oz” series. Most notable among these are respect, reputation, perseverance, home, friendship good vs. evil, disappointment, the power of dreams, hopes and plans and how power can devastate when unchecked.
If the wheels on your remembrance buses are turning after hearing the word “road,” it is probably due to the fact you have been tugged back to Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” or Yogi Berra’s famed “Yogism,” “When you get to the fork in the road, take it!” Rock/blues music fans, “road” might even have the melody and lyrics from Ray Charles 1960 #1 song, “Hit the Road, Jack” bull-rushing (sorry, it’s football season) your minds and country fans might be reminded of the Willie Nelson’s classic 1980 “road” song, “On the Road Again.” Still others will hear Jackson Browne’s tribute to the roadies who make the shows possible, the 1977 “The Load Out - Stay” song and its moving thank you to those who work in the shadows, “Now the seats are all empty/Let the roadies take the stage.” The “Stay” addition, as many of you well know, is a stroke of musical genius as it brought back Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ 1960 much covered doo-wop recording.
For our woods and water purposes, however, especially at this time of year when we put on our far-walking boots, canvas pants and splashes of legal orange to chase the grouse (partridge), “roads” take on a whole new gist. After all, who among the chosen few who have hunted the ruffed grouse has not at one time or another relished sneaking a logging road’s heavy morning dew or windless dusk for a chance at old “pat”?
Back in the day, before wonderful-to-watch-work dogs and the new-fangled “dogs” that require gasoline as opposed to dog food, most of us cut our eye-teeth traipsing logging (tote) roads trying to waylay a wily grouse for the dinner table where it was and still is a fare that we who toil in “Everyman” shadows are able to gather. Although not as haughty as “pheasant under glass,” those of us who have dined on the hefty ruffed grouse will pit it any day against the “haute cuisine” labeled pheasant. Because it is an indigenous (native to) bird, the amazing, twisting, heart-thumping producing partridge holds more allure to we northern upland game hunters than any imported bird (pheasants came from China and East Asia and they didn’t fly here) that has been described as the “hoitiest of toity cuisine.”
What is more, we don’t have to present our cooked grouse with a glass dome, it can be simply dished up via any plate available, whether at a camp, tent or home. If the pheasant under glass represents wealth or extravagance, then our old pat stands for those of us who are partial to venison rather than Japanese Kobe beef that can fetch up to $200 a pound and instead of the very high buck and “acquired-tasting” salt-laden (to cover the taste?) caviar, we prefer crappies.
Dating back to the days of logging yore when rugged, hardworking “jacks” felled the mighty white pine to today when modern lumbermen scrape out livings as they battle the elements and enormous equipment costs, our logging or tote roads have been pathways to not only an astonishing historical, but captivating natural world. Whether it be a rusted spike from a long-ago forest railway, a heavy chain or simply a dump-discarded snuff jar, these treasured finds will open pathways to the past.
Additionally, walking these after-logging roads can lead to the discovery of wildlife tracks, scats and a plethora of flora, ranging from varying types of ferns to wildflowers and a vast assortment of conifer and deciduous trees. As an FYI, the most common coniferous trees are white spruce, balsam fir and the pines (jack pine, red pine and white pine). These are usually mixed with deciduous trees such as paper birch, quaking aspen or red maple.
While hunting logging roads or just taking a nature walk, take note (even journal in a notebook) of what our fascinating forests offer. Gather some leaves for a “leaf rub” or just garner whatever trips your fancy, whether it be a full acorn, acorn caps or varying pine cones. If the logging road you travel this fall is from the olden days, look for moss-ridden giant white pine stumps or notice how the road was sculptured flat to accommodate sleighs or mini-railroads. Marvel at the ingenuity of our late 19th and early 20th Century workers. Then, take time to remember how those passed-on family and friends eked out livings with the most basic of tools and technology.
If you hunt grouse in the early green smother, be careful. Bring a compass. Also, tread lightly as knee-high ferns can cover lurking stumps and logs and underbrush waiting in ambush. And, when you get to Yogi’s “fork in the road,” chronicle which direction you went, then come back the same way.
Finally, remember Calvin’s wise words from Bill Watterson’s (who memorably once said, “Most of us get old without growing up”) iconic cartoon strip, “Calvin and Hobbes” (1985-1995), “There’s treasure everywhere!”
Nik and Rod Dimich are on the pro staffs of Mercury Marine and Ray’s Sport & Marine in Grand Rapids, Minn. Rod is also a pro-staffer for L&M Supply. To contact Dimich Outdoors, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Kristin Dimich contributes to this column.