April 2006

Outdoors With Bubba

stripers caught with anchovy bait

TWIN STRIPERS -- Mark Gustaveson and Cody Thomas from Page, Ariz., are shown with twin 5-pound stripers caught with anchovy bait near Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell on March 14.

Iím Keeping ĎEm All

Photo and Story by Jerry "Bubba" Puckett

I was visiting some of the folks down at the Senior Center here in Page the other day, and one of the ladies mentioned that the last cold snap of the season had felt pretty good, that she enjoyed snuggling in under a big fluffy comforter. Her comments reminded me of a snuggling in evening and I told her this story.

When you mentioned cold weather and snuggling in it, this brought back a special memory. It was coming on evening, and our new baby son and my wife had been home from the hospital for only about a week.

The new baby boy was doing his "ragged-out baby thing" and his mom was pretty used up too, or as used up as she ever got, when Clayton (three-year-old brother) and I decided that the thing for us men to do was to take immediate action ó so we did.

We ran away from home for a menís night out, a night of cooking out over a campfire and fishing in the high country. We threw a few things into the old 4x4 Chevy and beat a hasty retreat for Lake X in the dark timber at about 9,000 feet above sea level.

We set up the fishing poles, and Clayton managed to catch a 2-pound trout before I even got the campfire built. On the menu for that cool evening was an epicurean delight - Dinty Moore al fresco with a toasted marshmallow chaser, prepared over the guttering flames of a cozy campfire.

The sommelier suggested a full-bodied Diet Coke for me and milk for Clayton, served in a Tommy Tippy-Cup.

Clayton caught a couple more nice-sized trout before we called it a night and climbed into the back of the truck to set about snuggling into my well-insulated, oversized sleeping bag. Man, that warm bag was going to feel good ó it was early spring in the high country so it was well below freezing long before bedtime.

Oh, and there wasnít a squalling little brother for miles in any direction. Life was good. Did I mention that there was but one of those big, roomy sleeping bags?

That was the case; Clayton and I were firmly packed into what I had earlier thought to be more than a commodiously sized sleeping bag. We had been lying there wedged into the bag for what felt like eternity when a very tiny voice, emanating from somewhere in the area of my left armpit said, "Dad, why did we only bring one sleeping bag?"

As I recall, I stumbled through some really lame explanation about the need to conserve heat in the high country which, while undeniably a true statement, I believe he instantly recognized for what it was ó one of those little white lies that buddies occasionally tell their buddies, secure in the knowledge that theyíll never be called to task for having done so.

Apparently satisfied that no straight answer was forthcoming, Clayton promptly fell into the deep and untroubled sleep that is the just due of any hard working and successful fisherman. As I had caught nothing, I was left to consider my foolhardiness while I inspected the inner roof of the camper shell.

A lot later, but with great care, I worked my wrist out of the confines of the bag to verify that, as I suspected, I had been considering my idiocy for three hours. This, I offer, is a load of considering, even for a man of my talents.

"Clayton?" Silence. "Clayton?" Silence. "Clayton, wake up; itís morning and time to get up and go home."

He peeked out of the bag, his breath fogging heavily in the crisp, cold air. "Dad," he asked, "why is it so dark here in the morning? Itís not this dark at home, is it?"

"Well, son, up here in the high country it takes the sun a lot longer to arrive, so letís get on up and head for home."

He gave me the "look" but didnít utter a peep about the ridiculous statements Iíd made. So, without further incident, we made our triumphant homecoming a little over an hour later, complete with a grand entrance ó Clayton led the way, trying not to drag the freshly cleaned trout on the sidewalk or do himself great bodily harm by grinning too broadly. He had single handedly brought home trout for the familyís breakfast!

And his mom, Lord love her, went on and on about the beautiful trout and set about fixing us a big breakfast of fresh trout and eggs. The dishes werenít even cleared before Clayton said he was going to take just a little nap ó heíd noticed it was pretty dark in the morning there at home, as well.

When I crawled into bed and set the alarm, work time in about three hours, my wife and I lay there and giggled into the wee hours of the morning as I recounted the details of our adventure.

Thinking back, I realize that Iíve still got the truck, still got the bag, sort of still have the son although these days heís a college grad and a school teacher, and Iíve still got the wife ó and Iím damn sure keeping Ďem all. The truck took me and brought me home and does to this day on outings to the field.

That big, thick sleeping bag kept me warm, albeit a bit on the snug side wedged in two-up with a young son. My son Clayton enriched my life and gave me memories enough to last a lifetime.

And my wife, she fixed her two men trout breakfast at midnight without a hint of complaint. Yes sir, Iím damn sure keeping Ďem all.