Thanks, Dad! Memories of an Outdoor Childhood

by Mike Hensley, Green River Project Director

Dad on high alert ©Mike Hensley
Dad on high alert ©Mike Hensley

When Father’s Day comes around each year, my thoughts about my own Dad always  seem to wander back to when I was a little kid, going out for a day afield or on the water with him.  Our outdoor adventures were never to any fancy hunting lodges or to exotic fishing locales at the far ends of the Earth.  Rather, we often found ourselves mere minutes from our home in the southern Indiana countryside.  Fishing for bluegills from a tiny ten foot jon boat, searching for squirrels in the bottomland hardwoods, kicking up rabbits and the occasional quail from old fallow farmland and abandoned orchards – these were the kinds of adventures that drove my dreams as a youngster.

One day we spent a few hours gathering crawfish from a little unnamed stream, and then more fun ensued that afternoon when we returned home for some real culinary adventures as we figured out how to boil the critters and eat them properly.  That probably took place almost 40 years ago, yet I still have the most distinct memory of seeing a big crawfish clinging tenaciously to a vertical rock ledge as I figured out how to grab it while avoiding being pinched by a pair of big claws with colorful tips on them.

Dad1
©Mike Hensley

Fast forward forty years, and my Dad and I still occasionally hunt and fish together.  Not nearly as often as we should, I know, and the fault for that is wholly my own as I allow work and all the other “demands of life” to get in the way more often than they should.  But on the positive side of things, even though my father is now in his mid 70’s, he still feels that stirring in his veins whenever the frosts of November bring thoughts of hunting for deer to mind.  Just last year, I watched as my Dad (who has always been a hunter who firmly kept both of his feet on the ground) carefully climbed his way into a ladder stand for an afternoon of deer hunting.  I held my breath as he made his way up into the tree, and admonished him to be careful and to stay awake, and not fall out of the tree lest he and I both incur Mom’s wrath!  Neither of us took a deer that afternoon, but it was another memory that was written into the scrapbook of my mind.  As I walked away from the deer stand, I snapped a quick photo of Dad sitting up there, peaceful and watchful already.

Looking back at my own life, I can say without hesitation that the best gift my Dad ever gave me was to instill in me a love of nature, and an appreciation for so many natural marvels that are oftentimes beautiful and wondrous beyond comprehensive.  For the last fifteen years, I’ve been blessed to work in the field of conservation, first for the Florida Park Service, and now for The Nature Conservancy.  This type of work is truly what I feel I’ve been called to do, and I know if my father had not taken the time to introduce me to the outdoors, my life would likely be very different today. Thanks, Dad!