My third cup of coffee did not seem near as good as the first. I looked into the murky depths of the mug and hoped for some help there. You know, the clouds in my coffee thing?
There were none to be found, and I continued to look at the blank computer screen. Just then the machine dinged, telling me I had received two emails. One was a somewhat terse note from the editors asking (for the third time) where was the column for this week, and the other was some very nice words from a reader.
This was just what I needed! A distraction! I love distractions!
The reader went on with glowing words (which I read three times) about my "Guns & Cornbread" column and how helpful it had been to him and his family. That's when it hit me. It was time for another edition of Letters to the Outdoors Writer! The readers had pulled me from the depths of the writer's abyss once again. I ransacked the office, found the mailbag, and started going through the hundreds well, dozens . OK, several of the letters there.
Here are a few with my responses.
Dear Outdoors Writer,
All the guys at the plant where I work are talking about going trout fishing this spring. It has been a long winter, and they are all excited about getting out on the streams. I have been thinking of joining them, but I have never been fishing and don't understand a lot of what they talk about. They seem to go on about different baits for trout. They say they use things like corn, cheese and something called PowerBait to catch trout. I thought you used artificial lures like dry flies or maybe an earthworm.
Confused in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Don't feel bad. The world of different baits for trout is kind of like the Wild West - anything goes. Most people fish for stocked trout, fresh from the hatchery, so corn, cheese, salmon eggs and commercially made bait like PowerBait are on the menu. All of these will catch trout, and the good thing is you can use them for a snack on the stream if you get hungry. I would be careful with the salmon eggs, though.
Dear Guy in the Paper who writes about hunting too much,
You seem to write a lot about hunting and eating innocent animals, like squirrels. How can you shoot cute little squirrels and eat them? I think you are probably a terrible person.
Miffed in Cool Ridge, West Virginia
Good question. First, as to how I hunt them, sometimes we still hunt them, but I prefer to hunt squirrels with a dog because it's more fun. As for eating them, parboiled and then fried in your favorite breading, they are hard to beat, better than chicken. Lately I have been adding some Yum Yum Sauce for dipping. You raise the question about squirrels being innocent. I'm unsure on this - if squirrels, or any animals, are innocent. Some of the behavior I have seen from various wildlife would lead you to question it. As to me being a terrible person, the jury is still out, but it doesn't look good.
Dear Outdoors Writer with questionable grammar,
My husband and I are both English teachers and have a son who is 8 years old. Neither one of us hunt or fish, but we do occasionally enjoy your column. Our son has recently become fascinated with fishing. It is all he talks about, and he's constantly asking for us to take him to the lake. Is this something we should encourage? How would we go about teaching him?
Stumped in Pulaski, Virginia
Just to be blunt about it, I would not encourage this for any young boy, or girl for that matter. Fishing, as with some other outdoors activities, can lead to any number of undesirable traits in children. Chief among them is, of course, lying. It is almost impossible to become a good fisherman without turning out to be a pathological liar. You may start out lying just to protect your favorite fishing holes, but it will soon lead to fibbing about the size, weight, and number of fish caught (or not caught). It is a horrible cycle that perpetuates itself.
If you decide to not listen to me and let him start fishing, the teaching is easy. Drop him off at the lake with a pole, (fishing rod) some hooks and sinkers, and a tomato can to put worms in. You might give him a dull pocketknife and some Band-Aids. Nature will take over and he will emerge a fisherman, or not. It is a beautiful thing to witness. You mentioned the grammar thing, I do apologize. I really meant to spend more time in school learning better grammar and spelling but found it took too much time away from fishing, catching bait, shooting, hunting and trapping muskrats.
Dear Snobby Outdoors Writer,
You seem to talk a lot about eating potted meat, Vienna sausages and other delicacies like Little Debbie cakes. What have you got against Spam?
Wondering in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania
I have nothing at all against Spam and enjoy it often. Spam, as you know, is a great delicacy, and while the other food groups you mention are good, they are not on the same culinary plane as a delicious pan of fried Spam.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.