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OUTDOORS COLUMN: As close as I could come

Herald Outdoors Columnist

Herald Outdoors Columnist

Possessing very little of either, I find it wise not to enter into conversations pertaining to politics or religion. Thus, I don’t, as a rule, regularly hang out with politicians or preachers.

With one exception.

There is one fond acquaintance of mine, a brother outdoor writer, who is also an ordained minister. If you know outdoor writers like I do, you realize this is no mean feat and should be looked upon with rapt admiration.

Like me, my friend Rev enjoys a variety of outdoor pursuits and has, some say, a knack for putting those activities into words. Unlike me, he has that special quality I admire in most preachers. That is, a relationship with the “man upstairs” that moves him to faithfully walk a path that is a good deal straighter and narrower than the one trod by many of the rest of us.

I go fishing with Rev from time to time. He’s an accomplished angler. He’s also kind and compassionate.

And, oh, so patient. He always overlooks my too-frequent abuse of the spoken word and the fact that the evils of chewing tobacco sometimes includes my inadvertently spitting a misdirected stream of viscous fluid onto his otherwise immaculate Docksider moccasins.

One of my most memorable fishing trips with Rev took place years ago. It was the day he offered himself as a living sacrifice to the god of profanity that too many of us are wont to follow. That day he believed, bless his heart, that he deserved the wrath of that vulgar blue-vocabulary deity.

That spring morning, Rev and I were happily engaged in the noble act of decimating a sizable spawning bed of Lake Seminole shellcrackers. It was one of those days when the fish virtually begged to be hauled aboard and unceremoniously relegated to the confines of our ice chest. Only occasionally would we miss a hook-up or allow a fat redear to come off. On these occasions, Rev would come as close as I’ve ever heard to the use of off-color lingo.

“You dratted rascal!” he would scold the offending fish.

“Ah, ah, ah,” I’d caution with a wagging finger. “Watch yourself, Rev.”

“And you, sir, are a double-dratted rascal,” he’d opine, grinning that good-natured grin of his.

As the day progressed, one fish after another came to hand while the occasional “dratted rascal” made good his escape. Ah, yes. Good weather, good friends, and the main ingredient of three or four fish dinners at our feet. All was right with the world.

Or so it seemed.

There was a tug on my line, the tug all anglers hope for but seldom expect, that conveyed the message, “Big Fish.” My bait had just been engulfed by a spectacular panfish, one an angler runs across rarely, only by luck. The old patriarch shellcracker was obviously well above two pounds. Two and a half, quite likely. Three? Maybe.

Making my ultralight spinning reel scream mightily, the fish made his final run toward Rev’s end of the boat and the parson reached down to expertly flip my prize into captivity. I caught my breath and grabbed my camera. Here, I was certain, was magazine cover-shot material. Not to mention bragging-class décor for my den wall.

With a writer/photographer’s instinct, Rev struck a photogenic pose, holding rod and fish as though in the act of bringing the quarry over the gunwale. As I framed my first shot, the fish wriggled, unexpectedly taking him by surprise. Rev lost his grip and I watched open-mouthed as the lake reclaimed my treasure.

We sat there a moment, silent, looking intently at each other.

Then Rev sincerely said, “Cuss me, Bob. I mean, really cuss me. I know you want to and I know I deserve it. Go ahead. It’ll make us both feel better.”

Yes, no doubt I wanted to, and I believe I could have let loose with every nasty epithet in my vocabulary only to have Rev bow humbly and take every word of it. Afterward, he’d still be my friend, too. He’s that kind of man.

Perhaps that’s what motivated the “cussing” I eventually chose to deliver. With all the vehemence I could muster, I looked the preacher dead in the eye and muttered, “You’re a clumsy, triple-dratted rascal!”

“That the worst you can do?”

“Don’t push it,” I replied. “Pass me those triple-dratted worms!”