People And Relationships

Craig Robbins, left, is pictured with Tim Martenson.

It seems to me that the more years that I walk this great earth the more I have a tendency to think of the past. Some would say the older you get, the past is harder to remember, while others would say, life, as a whole, takes on a new perspective once you realize that you have walked more steps then you will in the future.

Either way, experience is a great teacher.

In my younger years, my Dad and I would have what I realize now as a typical relationship, where we many times were on the total opposite end of how things should be done and how they shouldn’t be done. It wasn’t until my own children were of that special age that I fully understood how smart and insightful my Dad actually was.

For whatever reason, whether it be experience, time, just plain old-fashion wisdom or, as an old friend used to say, “been there done that,” the more years we walk on this earth, the more we begin to understand the importance of the little things.

With hunting season just around the corner, I was going through a few of my old ramblings and discovered something: I was, and still am, driven in my pursuit of anything that swims below the water surface or strolls around woodlots.

This drive, while it has cost me personally over the years has given me a perspective of things that I believe I would never have had unless I had cast a line or sat in the tree on a fall morning.

Having spent more than 20 years sharing my ramblings with folks, I often get asked what is the single most important thing I have learned through this crazy life. Recently, while the pat answer is true, it has a new twist to it.

The folks that we met each and every day all have a story. Sometimes the story is a difficult one to hear. Other times it can be interesting, while others will want to make you think. What I have learned is that by listening one can gain knowledge that may not seem important currently, but down the road could be life changing.

Many years ago, when I was cutting my teeth, so to speak, in the outdoors, I met a man that would change my life. The first meeting all started with a nervous knock on the door. See, I was still wet behind the ears and was looking for hunting ground. I know I fumbled through some practiced speech about asking to hunt and I’m sure I mentioned my folks had just purchased their “dream home” just up the will that butted up against a pretty large parcel of land that looked like a pretty good hunting area which he owned.

Our first conversation was held on his front porch. Little did I know that would be the first of hundreds over the next four decades held on that very porch. Some would be funny while others would be insightful or serious, but they always were held on that same porch.

Like most things in life, little did I know that the first conversation would lead to a lifetime of memories not only for myself but also for my entire family and special old friend on his family farm.

Another chance meeting that would affect me and my loved ones happened sitting over a goose hunt. During this particular hunt, a land owner that I had leased with, sat on the board of a private club that had a pond that was overrun with geese. Always being willing to help and in kind kill some geese, I was up to the task.

To make a long story longer, a hunting partner of mine brought this guy who loved hunting geese. As it goes with goose hunting, there is some down time, especially when hunting a small piece of water tucked back into the woods.

Who would know that on that particular day almost 30 years ago that I would meet a friend that would play a major factor in not only my life but loved ones?

As the seasons went on, I would call him the “Guide’s Guide,” because he actually had been there, done that. His knowledge of anything of fur and feathers was unsurpassed. At the time, it was a catchy play on words, but as seasons rolled by, one could not have come up with a better nickname.

Having hunted everything in the state one could imagine, hunting in northern country for moose, bear and caribou, traveling to the dark continent several times, he had knowledge. The trick I soon learned was getting it out of him in a way I could understand.

The hours chasing geese, then ducks rolled into spring and fall turkeys, whitetail deer and across the border to chase bears. Through all this time I learned that was more important to the proud father and grandfather, proud husband than a grumpy old man.

The Guide’s Guide shared more knowledge of the outdoors with me in one day than most folks could learn in a lifetime, I knew I was blessed then and even more so now. He always said, “It’s the little things that make a huge difference.” While I’m sure I thought at the time he was talking about the proper way to lay out a goose spread, I have learned it was also about life

From making fun of my rowing ability on Conewango Creek, to dancing in the duck blind, to some hard rock song he couldn’t get out of his head, to me scolding him for his itchy trigger finger, to road hunting for spring turkeys, each and every one of these adventures I was able to share with the Guide’s Guide were priceless.

The long road trips between sport shows and hunting hot spots, the down-home, old-school wisdom that I was able to soak in were again life changing. The phone calls or in recent years text messages — few and far between-because I couldn’t understand them — has helped me understand my own children’s frustration with texts.

The stories could fill these pages for months but this isn’t about one man, it’s about how two men who never met affected each other in their final days.

Back to the porch. He would always wave to any vehicle that drove by. “Who was that?,” I would ask. “I don’t just feel like waving,” he would say. His wife was having health issues the past few years and it was hard on him, but her passing was harder for many reasons. They had been together for several decades, built a great life on the family land, which helped raise three successful, great sons. The past few visits I noticed something had changed. I wasn’t sure if the years were catching up. Heck, at 93 it could be anything. Even though he was still active, working on the house, mowing the yard and the fields, time was playing catchup.

During a late-season duck hunt four years ago, the Guide’s Guide wasn’t the same. He never wanted to fuss or say anything about his health, because he wouldn’t do anything to fix it any ways; hence his stubborn Swede side coming out. It was only a matter of weeks when he was fighting the fight of his life battling cancer.

The fight was long and hard for the Guide’s Guide. The first hunting season of the battle was a little bit different hunting with him, because the roles had switched. Now I was in charge of the hunts. Armed with orders from home and where he wasn’t supposed to go by himself, well, I’m sure you can imagine that didn’t work out so well. The first deer season after his treatments started was also the last time he hunted “honey hole.” As luck would have it, his “itchy trigger finger “came into play.

When two worlds meet it can be a good or bad thing and in this case it was a great thing. During a front-porch conversation I mentioned that I had a good friend who was fighting cancer and asked if I could get him out back to do a little hunting. The answer was a hearty, “Yes.”

The following spring we spent a few hours in a pop-up blind in the Little Woods overlooking a field watching hens and jakes for the better part of the morning. The only thing that got raised that morning on what was going to be his final spring turkey hunt were coffee cups and, of course, jokes and stories. By this point walking any distance was difficult for the Guide’s Guide. At one point on the stroll back, we stopped to rest and he mentioned this would be a good spot to kill a deer. Only a few months later he hunted for the last time and shot a mature doe in that very spot.

We lost Tim Martenson the very next year, after a battle that he never gave up on. We were not able to share a blind that season. While we tried, he just couldn’t find the strength to get out. Having just visited him a week earlier with “girlfriend” (that is what he called my daughter) on the ride home I knew it wouldn’t be long. On Dec. 21 I woke to a voice message from his wife, saying Tim had passed, I still have that message.

His passing has left a gaping hole in my soul, as I know it has for his family and friends. Not a day goes by that I feel I need to call him about the flock of geese I found or the huge buck on a trail camera I got or just to hear his voice.

I shared this story on the front porch a few months after and Leroy was glad to hear that the McCray farm was able to produce Tim’s last deer.

It was another Saturday morning phone call that got my heart racing this past week. It was from my mom and she said the fire department was at McCray’s. Leroy was found on the floor unresponsive. LeRoy joined his bride, Betty, early the following morning.

Two men that didn’t know each other but, in the end, affected each other in ways that few can appreciate.

Tim, it has taken me months to speak of you on these pages, but rest assured that I think of you often. I think of the times you and Art are trading stories and chasing deer together once again.

LeRoy, while I’m probably sure you never strived to, but you touched people’s lives in a way that few could, rest assured you did.

What do I enjoy most about hunting and fishing? People and relationships.


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