My warm-weather sleeping bag was ready to go up on the storage shelf, as was the pad that normally goes under the bag. The two-burner stove was cleaned and put in a box. Allergies had canceled my camping ticket for the year.
And as I hoisted the gear to its storage location, a small notebook fell from the bag and onto the floor. I recognized it as the diary-type spiral I often carried with me. Inside were pages of notes following my many camping excursions with various friends, including Joseph the Maven.
I have come to realize summer has a unique melody that encircles some of us like a subliminal, low-level hum.
Only summer carries the signaling of the redwing blackbird, sitting on stalks of cattails. Only summer offers a "missing-man formation" of flying insects bent on turning us into targets of opportunity. Only summer offers a cool lake to cure many of the societal ills collected in winter.
If spring is an appetizer, then summer is a five-course al fresco meal accompanied with the best of Napa Valley.
Each region of the Midwest houses its masters of perception and opinion. And those areas that carried over lifestyles from Europe seem to impact many people in ways that are claimed to be the best.
Take retired outdoor scribe Joseph, an excellent fly fisherman and decent all-around woodsman.
During the years I lived in Minnesota, I often would run into Joseph meandering through wooded tracts west of Duluth. There were times we sat around campfires sharing "cowboy coffee," and discussing fly patterns and how susceptible brook trout happened to be for any offering that appeared hairy and creepy-critter looking.
"Ya gotta give us Minnesotans a leg-up because we know good eatin' when we taste it, me boy," he instructed.
After a half-dozen years of listening to his blarney, I countered his diatribes once and accused him of wearing a set of farm-horse blinders.
"As much as I love the people in this state, you folks wouldn't know a good tasting fish even if it swam right into your mouth," I retorted.
He suddenly stopped chewing on his old pipe and locked his eyes on to mine.
"You must be talkin' about my beloved walleye pike," he bellowed.
Here we go again. I told him he hit the nail on the head.
"First of all, it's not a pike, but rather a member of the perch family," I shot back.
"Secondly, a lot of Minnesotans never had the pleasure of dining on fresh northern pike filets simply because they don't know the real score.
"And lastly," I continued, "a number of you gopher heads strongly believe an Iron Range Pasty is the original filet mignon." (A Pasty is a pastry stuffed with either potato or meat, and it was often hauled to the iron mines in worker's lunchboxes.)
Right then, Joseph pulled out a bottle of Aquavit and Glug, two Nordic versions of liquid, alcoholic inferno.
"Ya need a half-dozen belts of these elixirs so you can to see things more clearly," he said.
By the third cup, I was speaking in tongues and he laughed at my slurred sentences.
"You don't have a clue as to what you're blabbering about," Joseph shouted.
I continued with "it's too bad you don't have any halibut in Minnesota, 'cause if you did I'd wager my fishing boat as to how halibut is the number one taster."
"You may now call me Joe," he whispered after lifting his cup for the umpteenth time. "You've earned that right."
Even though he and his family treasured freshly caught walleye for the dinner table, he admitted he keeps returning to Alaska to catch barn-door halibut and bring hundreds of pounds back home.
And here it is, summer again. Joseph passed away in the winter while fishing on Leech Lake. When he was found, his rescuers discovered smoked walleye filets with Joe that he brought along.
Quite a fitting end to a grand old chap who loved spinning yarns and sipping his ancestral firewater.