When I worked at a residential school in the Berkshires, we had many students who were from the urban areas of Maryland and New York. When respites and holidays came, a lot of them went back to their home states for vacation. Some went by bus and some flew accompanied by staff. I always volunteered to fly the Baltimore area students from Bradley Airport to Baltimore/Washington International Airport. It’s a short flight, less than an hour, and I enjoyed flying. Once the students made it safely to their destination and were reunited with parents or social workers, we had a few hours in between flights to have a nice meal in an airport restaurant. The school gave us travel money for meals – we just had to bring a receipt back to the systems manager. The seafood in these Baltimore area restaurants was superb and fresh because the airport was close to the ocean, so it became a pleasant ritual.
When I would go to bed at night as a young boy, I would sometimes imagine that my mattress was a houseboat or a raft drifting down a river taking me on a grand adventure as I drifted off to sleep. I have always been partial to the water. Fishing, boating, and swimming are a part of who I am. I have owned canoes, kayaks, and rowboats, but there is something about the size and comfort of those motorized docks called pontoon boats that I love. Perhaps my current affection for them has something to do with the houseboat and raft fantasies left over from my youth. Or maybe it’s the fact that they are covered with a Bimini-style canvas canopy and have comfortable sofa-like chairs. It could be because there is room to walk around and visit with friends and family on them while listening to music on an awesome sound system. In reality it’s probably all of the above – pontoon boats are a terrific way to enjoy the water and the great outdoors.
The smoking of food is one of the oldest methods of preserving known to man. It was probably discovered by accident when one of our ancestors left their fish too close to the fire and found out it stayed edible for a long time. The drying action of the smoke naturally preserves the meat and in older times it was one of the only ways to preserve food besides drying or salting it.
It was two decades or so ago when I found myself working at a small residential treatment center and school for behaviorally challenged kids. The coed center was operated every day, 24/7 including holidays, and the students’ ages ranged from six to twenty years. It was a diverse group, and every major religion was represented in the population. Most of the kids came from an inner city somewhere but they had different backgrounds and presented different problems.
My grandmother’s bread recipe was epic, easy to make, and filled her house with a wonderful aroma. She would make bread almost every day, and did so until just before she passed at 93 years old. Friends and relatives stopped by at all times of day to have her famous bread, toasted and served with her fresh coffee along with charming conversation. Grandma was a great cook and a beautiful person – a nice combination. She would have been tickled that we still use her recipe. She made large batches of her bread because of the high demand, but following is a smaller, foolproof version that can be made as is or stuffed with the fillings of your choice.
Recently as I was sitting on my deck, listening to the crickets and other creatures sing their night songs, I was reminded of the nights that I spent in my childhood home in Connecticut. At the time we didn’t know we were the baby boomers but we did know there were tons of kids of all ages around the neighborhood and we all sort of knew each other. There was a little league field and a playground across the street from my house and we would play ball and hang around like kids do. We would stay out until our parents yelled for us or the streetlights came on, and then we would go home and watch one of the three channels we got on our black-and-white TV. It was a simple, carefree time.
Most of us are familiar with Charlie Brown’s iconic Kite-Eating Tree. It’s a normal tree until poor Charlie Brown breaks out his springtime kite and manages to launch it into the air, only to have it nabbed by the branches of this evil tree. A cartoon you say . . . a fanciful creature of the imagination? I think not! Not only are these trees real, but there appears to be a variety of the same species currently in existence. Almost all fishermen have encountered the infamous Tackle-Eating Tree at some point and experienced the heartbreak of lost fishing tackle that it has devoured.
Big John, all six feet five inches of him, loved to come here to the Berkshires from Provincetown (a beautiful seaside town on the very tip of the Cape) to fish for trout and hunt deer. My friend Bruce and I would meet him at 20 Railroad Street in Great Barrington whenever he was in town. We would start quietly telling fishing stories, but after a few shots of ouzo (Greek aperitif we fondly referred to as paint thinner of the gods) the stories became, how should I say . . . embellished and loud, accompanied by raucous laughter. He appreciated our suggestions about the best places to hunt and fish in the area, but it was after I got him permission to hunt at the Jug End resort where I was chef that he invited us to go tuna fishing with him in Provincetown. Bruce and I had fished P-town before but it was for striped bass, cod, and bluefish, never for giant tuna. Mind you, this was decades before the “Wicked Tuna” TV show, so we didn’t know what to expect.
Bruce and I took a car trip to Florida in late April 1984. We loaded Bruce’s 12-year-old Buick with all of our luggage and fishing equipment, and took turns driving the 1,200 miles to the small duplex we had rented right on Daytona Beach. The owner of the duplex was an old friend and he arranged for us to stay in the empty, unrented half of the building . . . and when he said empty he meant it. There was nothing but four walls. Luckily there were beautiful, modern hotels on either side of us and they never missed the big comfortable lounge chairs that we used for beds. Sometimes we even slept right on the beach, listening to the ocean crashing onto the shore. We didn’t have a lot of money, just enough for the necessities (beer, gas, and bait), so we kept some of the fish we caught for dinner and some of them we traded for blankets and pillows from a local race car driver. All in all we were comfortable, tanned, and self-sufficient during our three-week stay.
A few years ago I sustained a back injury that left me in a wheelchair almost full time, and while it has hampered me somewhat, it has also given me an opportunity to try new things. One of these new things is gardening, but not in the traditional sense. I adapted my own method by growing very hot peppers (and other things like cukes and peas, but mostly hot peppers) in containers on an old-fashioned picnic table so I can reach them from my wheelchair. I also grow tomato plants along my wheelchair ramp. I do well with them.
I bought the little grey canoe for fifty dollars. It had a dull, lifeless finish, and it was bent and dented in many places with a half dozen bullet holes that had been repaired with some kind of fiberglass. The seats had been removed and replaced with strips of sheet metal, pop-riveted to the frame. All in all it was a rather ugly and uncomfortable way to travel, but it obviously had history. A history the strange little man I bought it from did not want to share, but I bought it anyway when he gave me a broken paddle to sweeten the deal.
Many of us have heard about a gentleman called The Dog Whisperer. You may also have heard of The Horse Whisperer. But I bet I’m the only guy who knows The Fish Whisperer!
I met Bruce when I moved to the little town of Amenia, New York, to take a job as a chef at a local restaurant. He was a bartender, and over a couple of shared cocktails I learned that he liked to fish as much as I did. We became fast friends and enjoyed each other’s sick sense of humor. We also liked the fact that all the pubs stayed open until 4:00 in the morning, but it made it hard to get up early to fish so as a result we became experts at afternoon fishing. We figured that there had to be fish on the same schedule as us, and those were the fish we would concentrate on.
Once, while on vacation, I tried to explain the sport of ice fishing to a native Floridian who had never even seen a single snowflake. I could tell by his blank, uncomprehending look as I spoke that he thought that the Pina Colada I was drinking was going to my head in the 90◦F south Florida heat. I couldn’t really blame him; the more I tried to explain it, the stranger it sounded even to me!
When I lived in rural New York several decades ago I stumbled upon a pond right across the street from my rented house. It had been created by a series of beaver dams; they had stopped the waters of a small creek that in turn had flooded the shower basin. It was surrounded by brush and trees but the beavers had cleared some of the bigger trees, leaving open spaces. A deer trail wound its way around the perimeter. The first time I saw it I wondered if this little body of water held any fish. I thought that maybe some bass or sunfish lived under its shallow, weedy surface.