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Aprils past

Of time and many rivers

SOMETIMES, ON A DAY in early April, when a soft breeze stirs among the spring beauties, and red winged blackbirds call from the fencerows, it’s as though time rewinds for a moment to my boyhood.

When spring peepers were in full throttle and little streams rippled awake from winter sleep, I was drawn to the woods and fields. 

Native river cane was plentiful then along many creeks and branches where I grew up, and I could spend hours looking for game trails in the canebrakes and tracks in the soft mud along stream banks. A hollow sycamore along a wooded stream had a doorway just large enough for me to squeeze into, and farther downstream, a crevice in a big rock above a wet-weather spring was home to spotted salamanders. I knew where wild mallards nested and where red foxes had dens. 

Stories I’d read over the winter in outdoor magazines and boys’ adventure books—with names like Forest Patrol and Wildlife Cameraman—had my imagination working overtime by spring. They were tales about guys who spent their lives in the woods and marshes, who drove old Jeeps and lived in cabins well off the beaten path. It sounded good to a boy of 12, but wouldn’t have worked so well later with a wife and four kids. So I eventually wound up babysitting a bunch of words and stringing them together in little stories that often flow from such life memories as those of Aprils past.

Among the highlights of many Aprils as I’ve grown older has been the annual white bass run, during which white bass make their spring spawning migration from several of Kentucky’s lakes into river tributaries.

My longtime best friend, Ron Bland of Shelby County, and I always began looking forward to the white bass run long before winter was over. Ron would oil up his fishing reels and string them with new line in January, and I’d try to find a reel that worked.

We marked calendar dates when the run began each year and kept a close eye on the redbud trees, which usually bloom about when the white bass start their migration and the water temperature reaches 55 degrees. 

Ron passed away in November 2021, and I haven’t had much interest in fishing since his leaving. It’s just not as much fun without him around. 

We often went separate ways on the river and rarely kept any fish, but we always swapped stories when the day was over—sometimes about seeing an eagle or an osprey, beaver cuttings, snakes or river otters. I once saw a chipmunk swim right past me when I was standing nearly hip-deep in the river. It swam from the far bank, maybe 20 yards, and several more right past me, before scampering out on the other side. I don’t know if Ron believed the story, but it’s true.

I wonder if that chipmunk will swim the river again this spring, when the redbuds bloom. 

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