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Sports Saturday

Contemplation over action outdoors: I find I need time alone and away more than I need an activity

More and more, I find contemplation is more important to me in the outdoors than activity.

Palmisano Park, with the second best view of downtown Chicago, was a perfect place to sit and contemplate life Thursday. Credit: Dale Bowman
Palmisano Park, with the second best view of downtown Chicago, was a perfect place to sit and contemplate life Thursday.
Dale Bowman

About 15 years ago, when Dad still moved around easily, I found a sitting spot for him while deer hunting, then circled a couple miles on a Pennsylvania mountain and pushed five deer past him.

I didn’t hear a shot, though I knew the deer were within range for a good marksman like him.

When I reached him, I asked, in a huffy tone, why he hadn’t shot and he just shrugged. I finally asked if he had loaded his rifle. When he said he wasn’t sure, I was pissed. He ignored my snit, then motioned for me to go to my evening spot.

In the years since, I understand his savoring moments in the woods and just sitting there, uncaring if the gun is even loaded.

Being older probably helps in that regard. Having my chest split open for a triple bypass in January really heightened that. There’s something profoundly both humiliating and humanizing about my wife having to do such mundane things as putting my socks on for several weeks.

It really hit home Sunday when I was “squirrel hunting” at Iroquois County State Wildlife Area. I really didn’t give a damn if I shot at a squirrel or not, but truly enjoyed sharing the morning coming down with wildlife.

I brought it up with Dad on Monday. Since Mom died, he and I have long phone conversations on Mondays. He just turned 93 and he cracked, “That’s what happens when you get older.”

Maybe, it’s getting older.

I prefer to think it’s getting smarter and more honest about what truly matters in my outdoor life.

That struck me even more Sunday when news side at the Sun-Times published a longer story on my top-10 fishing spots around Chicago. I did a public list for a general audience. My personal list shares some spots, such as the South Rocks at Montrose Harbor where I learned to fish Chicago from reading the late John Spehn in the Sun-Times in the 1980s, and the Kankakee River State Park.

A boat speeds back in May toward Montrose Harbor in the middle of the best view of downtown Chicago from the south side of Montrose. Credit: Dale Bowman
A boat speeds back in May toward Montrose Harbor in the middle of the best view of downtown Chicago from the south side of Montrose.
Dale Bowman

Long-time reader Ed J. Schmitt posted in response, “Thank you for leaving out Mazonia. It needs to go back to being a hidden gem.”

On my personal list, Mazonia SFWA would rank in my top three and Schmitt, who also loves fishing at Mazonia, understands. Though I think he values the fishing more than I do. For me, Mazonia is a great place to disappear and clear my head.

One appeal of Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area is the isolation there, as seen in a dawn in 2020, shortly after COVID closings were lifted. Credit: Dale Bowman
One appeal of Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area is the isolation there, as seen in a dawn in 2020, shortly after COVID closings were lifted.
Dale Bowman

Tom Palmisano wondered why I hadn’t included Palmisano Park, one of my favorite spots in Chicago. The catch-and-release fishing is good there, but not why I love it. If nearby, I stop and hike to the top of the hill to savor the second best view of downtown Chicago and to relax.

Maybe part of it is that I have caught some memorable fish—a 30-pound-plus flathead catfish from the Rock River and a 34-pound muskie from Kinkaid Lake—and lost a lifetime fish when I finessed a 100-pound-plus tarpon from under a dock on the west side of Florida, only to have it break off with an unstoppable charge under the boat.

Another part may be that I had two chances to shoot my dream buck, which I had followed for months while holed up in a mountain cabin pretending to write a hard-boiled Mennonite detective novel, but I missed both shots.

In the spring, I wander odd paths at Kankakee River SP, pretending to look for morel mushrooms. I’m really just feeling the progression of spring in my bones and guts, savoring being alone.

More and more, time alone to mull life is what I most value in the outdoors.

Kankakee River State Park is a place to get away and consider life, either on the water or land. Credit: Dale Bowman
Kankakee River State Park is a place to get away and consider life, either on the water or land.
Dale Bowman