April has always been one of my favorite months. It's when the earth once again comes alive. Lakes shrug off their ice, ducks and songbirds return to the north and balmy evenings invigorate us with a new lease on life.
Spring days in April cast an enticing spell on me as a youth. I would stare out the windows of the classroom and think of the better world outside. I loved to play baseball, but not as much as I loved the woods in April. I never joined the school baseball team.
Whenever I think of past Aprils, I remember one particularly well. I've told the story many times, but it's a good one.
I had a soulmate in my love of the April outdoors. Though he lived some distance away, we went to the same church. More than once during services we slipped out the door and ran like escaped convicts into the woods, away from our parents, who worried about our standing with God. Later, we both gave two years of missionary service to our church, so I guess we did all right.
On one escape, we rummaged through my friend's grandfather's garage and discovered two fish spears. The tines were bent and far from sharp.
In the woods was a creek where fish spawned on rocky gravel bars. We approached the river bank as if we were sneaking up on the devil himself. In a pool a school of suckers milled back and forth. Breathlessly we parted the willows and got above them. The fish panicked and went to deeper water. We sat tight and, sure enough, the fish slowly moved back toward us. We raised our spears and on a whispered count of three we jabbed at fish.
Spearing suckers isn't hard, and we both impaled a fish and with yells of triumph tossed them up on the bank behind us. Suckers aren't very appealing, but we were excited nonetheless. My buddy knew a friend who could smoke them for us, and perhaps with some fresh fish we could win our parents forgiveness.
We laid down our fish and went back to the river. The school of suckers moved our way again. It was almost too easy. I had just speared another sucker when I heard, "Oh, oh."
I turned and saw an alarmed look on by buddy's face. On his spear wasn't a sucker, but a walleye. Of course spearing a walleye was illegal, and our excitement deflated like a balloon. Suddenly we weren't mere church skippers, but real criminals who could be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
We had committed a crime, on the Sabbath no less, and it was up to us to right our wrong doing. We decided to sneak home and clean the darn thing before anyone knew better.
Our arrogant attitudes were long gone as we carried the fish through the woods. Every tree seemed to hide an angry game warden, waiting to handcuff and haul us off to jail. Subdued and frightened, we got safely home and cleaned the deceased walleye behind the garage. We stowed the spears, put the suckers in a pail and sneaked the walleye fillets into the freezer.
As usual, we got a stern warning about breaking the Sabbath. That was okay with us; we were just glad we weren't behind bars. We had learned a lesson about spearing fish.
But skipping outside on a sunny April afternoon? I still haven't quite learned how to overcome that temptation.
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