CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Memory is a funny thing. At times I can hardly remember what I ate for breakfast two hours ago, and at other times I recall tiny details from seemingly trivial events decades in the past.
One of those memories got triggered just this morning, when I spied a gray squirrel gathering beechnuts from a tree near my workshop. Suddenly I was 13 years old again, bouncing down the school bus steps, so excited I could hardly contain myself.
At long last, I was going hunting!
A friend, Larry Campbell, had invited me to go squirrel hunting with him as soon as we got home from school. Larry was several years older than I, and had taken on the unenviable task of introducing a geeky, bookish mama's boy to the joys of the outdoors.
Larry was there when I caught my first fish, a chub, from the creek behind his house. He took me on my first 5-mile hike, and he told me the obligatory ghost stories during my first overnight campout.
I wanted to go hunting, too, but didn't own a gun. My parents remedied that with the Christmas gift of a poke-stock 20-gauge shotgun a few months after I turned 12. They told me I could go hunting the following fall, a couple of months after my 13th birthday.
Like all good mentors, Larry made sure I was ready by holding a target-practice session a few days before the hunt. He knew I was deadly with a BB gun, but he wanted to make sure I could handle a shotgun's recoil.
I must have passed, because he said we'd go hunting after school later that week.
The hike to Larry's secret hunting spot took about an hour. When we finally arrived, in a shallow cove just below a ridge, he pointed to a large oak.
"That's your spot," he whispered. "I'll be on the other side of the cove, about 100 yards up that way."
It takes a few minutes for the woods to return to normal after humans move in. I leaned back against the tree and scanned the treetops for signs of movement. Heeding Larry's advice, I kept my head still and moved only my eyes.
Birds started chirping. A chipmunk scampered across a fallen log.