The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 20, 2013

Summer is time for reflection

By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald

— This past week, summer arrived and brought to our neck of the woods hot and humid temperatures. The hazy and lazy days of summer lead into long evenings when the sun is slow to retreat behind the mountains. When the day’s heat loses its grip and the cool evening air settles in, the lightning bugs flash in the canopy of the trees and the bullfrogs croak to each other from their waterside hideouts. It’s in that transitional time of a summer day, when we humans slow down and the night creatures awaken from their siestas, when life’s reflections can easily slip into our memories.

Every summer of my youth, my brother and I would spend a week with our grandparents. Most often the weather would be hot and humid, causing towering clouds to build in the sky and thunder to be heard in the distance. Like clockwork, the afternoon winds would shift, bringing a downpour to the parched ground, and the storm would exit as quickly as it arrived, leaving mud puddles and more humidity behind.

Having two boys visit your house, bouncing off the walls to do something besides sweat and watch grandma cook, was cause for a plan. Perhaps it was his rural upbringing, his passion for the sporting lifestyle or his time in the Army that gave him the talent of planning; I am not sure. But what I am sure of is that he was a master at plans. He could lay out an itinerary for us boys that caused so much excitement we found it hard to sleep the night before.

His plan to beat the heat and chill the rambunctious behavior of two adolescent grandchildren was to take us camping. He had done his homework and found a shady patch of ground resting beside a deep hole in the creek. Above and below the hole of water were ankle-deep riffles. With a glorious setting before us, he crafted daily activities to keep us cool and our minds occupied. We would catch crawdads in the riffles in the morning, swim in the heat of the day, run a trotline across the pool in the evening and listen and learn the sounds of night animals while feeling the warmth and protection from a campfire at night.

We were so waterlogged and beat from his prearranged activities that we fell into our cots and slept peacefully through the night. In the sleepy morning hours, we would awake to the smell of bacon being fried and toast crisping from the embers left smoldering in the fire ring.

Once our bodies were refueled, he took the enthusiasm of a new day to teach us important skills he felt were needed to prosper in the outdoors. All the previous days’ worth of activities were used as stepping stones in our education. For example, he had let us swim in the creek’s pool as practice and to gauge our skill. Once he felt comfortable with our swimming ability, we learned to paddle a canoe in a straight line without tipping it over. Once we mastered that, he taught us to run a trotline, and, using the bait we caught in the riffles, we had fish to learn how to scale, fillet and cook for supper.

It’s in that transitional time of a summer day, when we humans slow down and the night creatures awaken from their siestas, when life’s reflections can easily slip into our memories. Mine are generally of him and his passion for the arts of outdoor pursuits.

It’s summertime — when the living and memories come easy.