"The Old-Timer called. You're supposed to call him back," said my wife, Kathy, when I arrived home from work.
I returned the call within a few minutes.
"Bobby, let's go for a drive," The Old-Timer said. "It's February and I'm really bored."
It was just another path on the long journey with The Old-Timer, an anonymous outdoors sage in the Coulee Region.
Born and raised in La Crosse, he was a fountain of outdoors knowledge. When his wife, Nettie, died, he became even more restless, wanting to do more outdoors things or just shooting the "bull," when we fished, hunted, trapped, hiked or simply drove around the Greater La Crosse Area.
I remember The Old-Timer sharing many stories as we traveled along the Great River Road or around our favorite hunting and fishing haunts in February.
"Turn here. Turn there. Slow down," he would command. "Geez, how are we going to see anything when you are driving so fast?"
Well, I'm not a fast driver as Kathy often reminds me. But, to The Old-Timer, I didn't drive his preferred speed... SLOW AS A TURTLE!
"Hey, when Nettie and I went for drives, she always carried a notepad. We recorded everything we saw - dead or alive," The Old-Timer said, pulling out a raggedy old notebook. "You'd be surprised what you can learn from roadkills. They tell you a lot about what the wildlife populations will be like in the fall."
One thing The Old-Timer really enjoyed was counting the deer on Goose Island. We would spend more than an hour driving around the island, often counting more than 100 deer back then.
Whenever The Old-Timer called, I was more than happy to oblige. Heck, it was always another story and a few more photos, although he wouldn't allow pics of his face.
One of The Old-Timer's favorite places was the late (Friendly Farmer) Tom Pralle's farm in Holmen, where we hunted and picked berries.
I worked at Leonard Pralle's (Tom's dad) farm on the outskirts of La Crosse during high school. Maybe you remember Pralle's vegetable stand, on HWY 16 in the sixties. Leonard and his wife, Charlotte, owned all the land where Valley View Mall is situated. Their farmhouse, barn and utility buildings were where CrosseRoads Center is now located.
Tom, a pharmacist, eventually bought a farm in northeast La Crosse County. My best friend, "Texas" Terry Stuart and I have hunted there for more than 20 years.
Getting back to the story, The Old-Timer was my best old friend back then. He taught me a great deal. We did so many things together. I was privileged to be his pal, when he dearly needed someone to fill the void Nettie left behind.
Whether it was spreading his arms around the big, old cottonwood tree at Pralle's farm in Holmen, photographing wildlife, picking mushrooms, digging ginseng, dragging deer out of the woods, hooking turtles, hunting snakes, retrieving ducks and geese, or pulling trout from a stream, we shared great times.
The Old-Timer, my dad and Ol' Tom Muetze gave me an outdoors education no one can come close to duplicating. All three are gone, but certainly not forgotten.