Saturday, April 13, 2024

Spring is a perfect time for new outdoor traditions

| May 21, 2020 1:00 AM

Leaving the toilet seat up, or eating the last half of a doughnut left in a box — family traditions come in all stripes.

I know a woman who reads the newspaper every morning when the coffee drips.

“My dad taught us to do that,” she says.

There’s no room for excuses when you stay informed, she says without even the slightest wag of a finger.

So, this spring I dragged from a garage box my mentor hat, a camouflage, golf-type ditty that I bought at a yard sale in North Dakota, woke my son from his deep sleep under posters of Michael Jordan and recon Marines, and hauled us both into the woods to sleep under a tree.

It’s a family tradition, I explained.

Don’t worry about the bears that are hungry from crawling out of a hole where they have slept most of the winter without a bite to eat, or the lions or wolves.

Just grab a stump, or a nice yellow pine, dig a small pit in the duff like a bucket seat and rest easy.

I’ll wake you if anything happens, I told him.

A man I know in Superior, Mont., was a pretty good tree sleeper, but he did it in the fall during elk season. He would shimmy up the side of a mountain in the dark, find a spot where he thought to find elk at sun up, and then dropped into sleep. Sometimes he woke to give a bleat from his cow call.

He did this until waking one morning in a patch of timber surrounded by wolves.

They had come for a meal.

He was disgruntled by this.

“Three of them, 10 yards away, and all I had was my bow,” he grimaced.

It didn’t keep him from sleeping outside, but he sought out a different elk hunting spot.

It’s the spring turkey season and getting in the woods early to hear the birds come off the roost tree is the best way to locate a flock.

It takes a few trips into the boonies, past farm fields, grazing ungulates, the slow crawl of smoke from rural chimneys and a coyote or two to find the best place to sleep.

For a back rest, I prefer Ponderosas, but a nice fir will do.

Firs are shadier, and because Poderosas like open slopes, you’re likely to get sun in your eyes when the flaming ball of heat cracks over the ridge.

You can’t have that. It wakes the best of us.

But, I like the big pines anyhow if a long-billed cap, or patch of ocean spray or syringa affords cover.

My son doesn’t have a preference yet.

He’ll take to a stump as easily as a nice yellow-barked pine, or a fir with a low-hanging limb to break up a silhouette.

Before long he’s emitting turkey purrs as good as any professional talker of Osceola hens.

Those early morning romps through woody dreamlands have their drawbacks though.

“Tom at 2 o’clock,” I hissed at him last week.

“Puuurrrrrrr,” he said back.

“Psst, it’s almost in your lap!”

Earlier, a wild tom looking for a wild hen clattered loudly between the boy and me as we intermittently purred and yelped through solid REM before we sensed something was amiss. Then we jumped to our feet like a twin Jack-in-the-box.

Tom! I yelped.

Dog gone! My son chipped back.

It sent the gobbler looking for hens less large, wild eyed or armed as it raced away through streams of sunshine and standing timber.

Don’t worry about it, I yawned, slumping back to the ground.

Sleeping in the woods has its travails, but there’s nothing like it to get eyelids fluttering on a gorgeous spring morning.

And besides, it’s becoming a family tradition.


Ralph Bartholdt writes about the Outdoors, and other things, for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached at