Unfortunately, one of the things we Americans hold most dearly, the education of our youth, has since last March been at best topsy-turvy. When in-school learning was paused back then, many students, thinking it would be but a few days, reacted jubilantly like it was a “snow day.” Reality, however, quickly set in as it became obvious this situation was like getting to eat fast food (“not fast food, good food served quickly,” “Seinfeld,” 1993, “The Chicken Roaster”) every day, like working at a fast food joint rapidly tires the palate, as the glitz and glamor of being home wears thin oh so fast.
Regarding official days off from school, as we memory-wander back to the days of yore when kids were “good,” “respectful” and “didn’t have problems” (the wonders of selective memory), the stand-alone stalwarts like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter for sure ring the proverbial bell. As for “ringing the bell,” by the way, although some “He-men” will ramble back to their younger days’ strength prowess at the Fourth of July carnival’s strongman game where their super strength powered the mallet with such force the bell at the top of the measured column signaled a local “Superman” was on the midway, the actual derivation of “ringing the bell” was hitting the metallic bull’s-eye at a shooting gallery.
And, yes, for the superhero fans, “He-Man” is indeed a fictional superhero and the flagship character of the sword and sorcery-themed Masters of the Universe franchise, begun in 1976. For “Little Rascals’” fans, although from a way-back time, the American comedy short series, which ran in various forms from 1922-1944, chronicling a group of poor neighborhood children and their adventures, “He-Man” will remind them of the “Little Rascals’” boys’ “He-Man Woman Haters Club.” Interestingly enough, even though that title today would be considered misogynistic, the strength of the series was its focus on regular children and the series actually broke new ground by portraying white and black children interacting as equals.
Granted, the titans of holidays mentioned above for sure ruled our memory caches, but for those of us of the hunting stripe, no other time off from school comes close to October’s MEA break. Okay, just to clarify some stuff, this classic fall break is not actually time off for the kids or staff. They are simply days when school is not in session. To background, the annual MEA professional development conference for teachers, held on the third Thursday and Friday in October, dates back, in some form, to 1861 and the state’s teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, hosts the event. Also, lest you have been or might be inclined to show your Minnesota “rube” to those not from Minnesota, this time-honored tradition isn’t a thing in most other states. Something similar, in scale and function, only makes school calendars in Wisconsin, North Dakota and New Jersey. It’s kind of like the Midwest’s “hot dish” and the rest of the country’s “casserole” thing.
Aside from the traditional last regular season high school football game (before the advent of playoffs), MEA has been a virtual cornucopia (“horn of plenty”) for grouse and duck hunting and tending deer hunting country. Sure, the memories of raked leaf piles to jump into and crab apples to harvest or steal might bounce into our memories like a lively SuperBall, but back in those simpler times when fall fishing was left to the few die-hards who didn’t hunt, for those of us who call the great northland outdoors home away from home, it was all woods and water, ducking water, that is, and not geese, by the way, as just a few decades ago, our majestic and quite prevalent Canadian Geese were just that – Canadian, seen here in the northland as mostly high pencil lines snowbirding South.
As for grouse (back in the day called “partridge”), many northern Minnesota blue jean-clad, brown canvas-coated kids with grandpa’s “kicks like a mule” 16 gauge single-shot shotguns became “Nimrods” upon bagging their first grouse when September’s colorful leafy smother came to rest in a Corn Flake carpet about the time MEA arrived. As an FYI, “Nimrod” is described in Genesis 10:8–12 as “The first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.”
For many of us, those partridge hunts were but mere byproducts of deer camp and country tending. In the good old days before metal and Taj Mahal deer stands and ATVs, the old deer hunting “He-Men” used simple hand-tools to slap together six-foot (maximum height pre-1980s) scaffolds of whatever sturdy natural wood they could find. After the tag-along, go-fer kids did their due diligence of deer country chores, their reward was an electrifying sneak down a clover-filled logging road or the edge of a cutover filled with little “buggy-whip” popples (even then kids were mystified as to what a “buggy-whip” was). Ask kids about their first grouse and chances are it was right along this same scenario. They will also most definitely remember learning how to clean grouse by stepping on the wings and pulling up the legs – and the taste of a butter-fried “old pat” in a cast iron pan.
For duck hunters, though, MEA is and always will be hallowed time. Sure, the early season puddle ducks hold a special place in a waterfowler’s heart. It is a given that opening day is always a hunter’s fairy-tale, filled with great colors, wide-eyed dogs and kids anticipating that magic visitation of ducks over decoys, but for dyed-in-the-wool duck hunters, MEA is the beginning of the astonishing ancient mystery of the migration, when clouds of gyrating ring-necked ducks tear air as they jet into smoky gold tamarack rimmed potholes or yellow-brown wild-rice beds whose stalks are like irresistible magic wands to them.
Do the “northerns” always come on MEA? No. Do duck hunters care? Not in the least. It’s the going, the childlike sense that anything is possible that draw us. It’s the soft lapping of little waves against our decoys, the easy whoosh of a predawn wind just getting started, the hush of it all, the peace, the thinking about nothing. It is the soothing sense that the world had given us a day off. It is the same unfettered solitude we felt the first time we climbed into a hammock and watched cotton candy clouds roll by on a great blue lake of a sky. It is as simple as lying down on an old big truck inner tube and not even considering jumping on it or as extraordinary as remembering how our mothers kissed our cheeks after bedtime prayers and how we contently closed our eyes knowing we were protected and loved.
Best MEA memories? There are so, so many. Personal. Specific. Heartwarming. Thrilling memories. The list, like life itself, goes on and on, up and down. For most of us, however, it’s really not what happened or where we were or what we did, it’s about who we were with. What we shared. That joy of being with someone who made us feel special. Loved. Appreciated. Understood. Not lonely. Not alone.
We will leave you with a touching tale of a well-intended husband who while under the influence of heavy guilt for going duck hunting during the MEA break and leaving his understanding bride with their three young kids decided to do something magnanimous.
His plan? Because his life partner had always been partial to Minnesota’s fall and its kaleidoscope of fall colors, especially the fallen leaf carpets that grace our forests, he decided on the snide (without consulting her) to buy her a huge new living room carpet rug in the just hit the market “woodsy camo” pattern. How did that go over? Unfortunately, like the proverbial lead balloon (Led Zeppelin, of course), not well. When the store guys delivered said woodsy carpet rug, well, let’s just say she took one appalled look and sent the surprise rug and the delivery guys a-packing. Her comment to her hubby when he got home? Something to the effect that she appreciated the effort, but already had enough camo garments and gear laying around the house! Fortunately for our well-intentioned hubby, the store owner had another buyer take it off his hands…for his deer shack!
Nik and Rod Dimich of Dimich Outdoors are on Mercury Marine’s and Ray’s Sport & Marine’s pro staffs. Rod is also a pro-staffer for L&M Supply. To contact Dimich Outdoors, please email: email@example.com. Kristin Dimich contributes to this column.