It was the second Friday of February of 1988, the 12th, when the first weekly “Open Season” column appeared in The Standard-Times. It was 30 years ago this weekend, and it seems like it was yesterday. Sometimes however … it feels so far away. I was 28 then, and my son, Josh, wasn’t even born yet. He’s now 29. My daughter, Jillian, is 27. I’m 58.
If I may boast a bit, I always met the deadline and never missed a week in the last three decades. I’m proud of it, sort of like the ‘perfect attendance’ pin in school. When I started, my column was written on a typewriter and hand-delivered to the newspaper office, downtown. It was long before today’s computer technology where my column now is emailed with the click of a button. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,” kept me from my appointed delivery. The show must go on.
During those early years, when my children were young, most every Wednesday began with a trip downtown to hand-in my column, followed by a visit to Our Lady’s Chapel and a stop at the Peanut Store, ending up at my mom’s, the kids’ Grammy, so they could give her the goodies they got for her at the Peanut Store.
Assuredly, there were times when I didn’t feel like writing the column or schlepping two pieces of paper across town, but old proverbs that my grandmother instilled in me, egged me on, much like her wooden spoon. “When a job has once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done” and “a job worth doing is worth doing well.” So the show went on; 1,560 times to be exact.
In December, I had decided to retire and pass the torch to some young outdoorsman or woman who could compensate for elementary writing skills with an eagerness to communicate outdoor news, a passion to promote and defend the field sports with rod and gun, and a fondness for bragging about hunters, fishermen and women, telling their epic tales and sharing a few of his or her own. I figured that when I reached the 30-year benchmark this weekend, it would be a good time to “exit, stage right” and bid adieu on a high note. I like milestones, round numbers and high notes.
It would be spectacular news to some and give them reason to dance in the streets, yet disappointing to others. I began to write my swan song, a farewell to my adoring fans and some not-so-adoring readers. But — like a squirrel crossing a road — I changed my mind back and forth and have chosen to stay another five or 10 years. Twenty maybe? I don’t believe 30. I resolved to please the ones who would’ve been disappointed and to further irritate those who would’ve "cut a rug" upon my departure.
It’s an honorable role, writing about the great outdoors and shooting sports, and it’s nice when hunters, fishermen and shooting enthusiasts tell me they like my column. I appreciate that, very much. One of my favorite comments is from those who say they are either too old to fish and hunt anymore or don’t have time to, so they “live vicariously” through my stories. Another favorite is, “I never hunted or fished, but I love to read your stories.” I also like it when they say I made them laugh with one of my humor pieces.
There are of course, negative comments from readers who think I stink, along with my prose. Yet, they continue to read, so I win. I know I’ll never please all of the people all of the time, not even all of the hunters, fishers and shooters. Some have wished me dead, and that’s OK too as I just consider the source and I smirk, smugly. It doesn’t make them special. They’re not the first angry haters and won’t be the last. On occasion, their wish has almost come true. Hunting and fishing is often thrilling and adventurous, but even when exercising caution, it’s not without perils. You can get caught in it. More so, if you stretch limits. Mother Nature can be harsh and unrelenting. She also can be punishing and vindictive. It’s not for delicate snowflakes.
You want to live vicariously? Hold onto your life jackets. Take the time Bill Robbins and I went waterfowling one late November day some years ago. It looked promising with cloudy skies and a light breeze. We launched the small, 12-foot boat in the early afternoon and crossed Little Bay in Fairhaven to the protected cove on the far north-easterly shore. We set up a blind and tossed out the decoys in anticipation of some good gunning during the evening flight. Sheltered in the calmness of the lee, we were unaware of how bad a storm was brewing out in the bay. At dark, we collected the decoys and tossed them onto the bottom of the boat.
When we got into the open bay, the wind was howling fiercely, it began to rain and waves slammed into the side of the boat and washed over the gunwale. The sea was furious. We scrambled to get our life jackets on. The night was black, the rain and salt spray were blinding and I aimed for the far-off light at the boat ramp. It seemed like a world away. Things were grim and a grave feeling of doom tightened like a knot in the pit of my stomach.
As we pushed against the merciless storm, the boat became sluggish. It felt heavy and unresponsive. I looked down to discover the water in the boat was level with the seats. Decoys floated all around us and some were washed overboard. There was too much weight in the stern so I yelled over the roar of the wind and the motor for Bill to move forward. He did, but too far and the bow took a nose dive. We took on more water. “Bail, Bill! Bail!” And bail he did, but it seemed like for every bucket he bailed, we took in two as the boat continued to sink lower in the water while we slowly made headway.
Like a star from the Heavens, the light at the ramp began to shine bigger, brighter. We were almost there. About 30 yards from shore, we were nearly sunk. I cut the motor and the waves shoved us in. The boat hit the ramp and we climbed out. Standing in the surf, we were thankful to be alive. As we drove home, Bill stated simply, “All’s well that ends well.”
I've had a few more close calls over the years, some on the ground and from above with tree stands and small planes, but most of them on the water. Lou Hambly and I nearly had to abandon ship one raw day in May when the boat engine caught fire. The engine died and black smoke began billowing from under the engine cover. With Lou at the ready with the fire extinguisher, I lifted the cover to find the battery cable and wires in flames. Lou put it out just before it caught the fiberglass on fire.
Several involved ice fishing with Farell Plank, while others embroiled more of those capers on stormy seas. During such harrowing escapades, after reaching safe harbor following a hellacious ride, we would always turn toward the sky, shake a white-knuckled fist and exclaim, “Is that all you got!”
The most recent was this fall when we were checking lobster pots. The marine forecast predicted winds at 15–20 mph. They were 30. It was rough, but not dreadful, until it happened. I thought we were clear of the line from the last pot we checked, but the outboard motor caught it. The line wrapped around the prop, stalling the engine. The prop hadn’t cut the line and we were still tethered to the pot, dead in the water. Instead of the pot dragging along the bottom, it lodged against a rock, anchoring us stern-to the heavy sea, and waves came flooding over the shallow transom.
Farell worked to free the line with the boat hook. I pulled my knife and went to cut it but couldn’t reach. I had only served to add more weight in the stern, making the situation worse. “I’ll get it,” he yelled. I went to the tip of the raised bow platform to help lift the stern. The lower deck was full of water and the boat was sinking as waves continued to flood in. I was preparing to dive in and cut the line just before Farell, a tall man who was up to his knees in seawater, grabbed a bucket and started bailing. As he gained on it, the stern lifted some and I got off the bow to take over bailing as Farell worked to free the line. Finally, we were loose. Saved the pot, too. That was a close one.
I started the engine and as we headed back to the security of the landing, I said, “You know how we shake our fists at the sky and yell ‘is that all you got!’? Let’s not say that anymore.”
Do I have 20 more years of communicating outdoor news, promoting and defending the field sports with rod and gun, bragging about hunters and fishermen, telling their tales and sharing a few of my own? Maybe. I don’t believe 30, but stay tuned. “God watches over children and fools.”
Marc Folco is the outdoor writer for The Standard-Times. Contact him at email@example.com or through OpenSeasonSpecialties.com