Summer 2020, we hardly knew you.
Usually summer is packed with fishing and camping adventures that I delight in sharing on these pages. They are carefree times of joyful escape, often with friends and acquaintances who treasure fleeting moments away from the demands of their careers.
Although my tear sheets say differently, it doesn't seem like I did all that much this year. It went by in such a blur.
People remember exactly where they were and what they were doing during traumatic events, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On the last normal evening of 2020, I was at a pizza parlor in Little Rock with Ray Tucker of Little Rock watching the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team beat Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. The announcers wondered whether fans would be allowed to attend the rest of the tournament. They speculated that the NCAA Tournament would be played without fans attending.
The next day I was on Lake Ouachita interviewing Stephen Dunlap of Hot Springs about bass fishing from kayaks and kayak bass tournaments. On the water, the dominoes started falling. The SEC canceled the rest of its tournament. The rest of the conferences followed suit, as did the rest of the sports world.
Jason Yates, my boss, sent me a text message that said for the foreseeable future, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's sports section would be "All Outdoors, every page, every day. So get busy!"
Thank goodness he ended the text with "LOL."
Thereafter, covid-19 was an ominous undercurrent in every hunting and fishing story. Covering Arkansas Game and Fish Commission meetings in person is a big part of my job, and it produces a lot of copy. The commission now meets virtually. The give and take from the group meeting in person is gone, much to the public's detriment.
Bass tournaments continue without fans attending weigh-ins.
While fishing for white bass on Lake Maumelle, Joe Volpe and I lamented cancelling turkey hunts we'd planned to take together in Kansas and Nebraska after those two states suspended turkey hunting for non-residents. Volpe wondered whether the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission would close Arkansas' spring turkey season as well.
My spring turkey season started and ended in Oklahoma, which was not as restrictive to non-residents as some other states. I killed my Arkansas gobbler in Marion County hunting with Mike Stanley of Highland. Stanley, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, must shepherd his flock through the covid rapids via Zoom meetings. He counsels members of his flock through personal turmoil by phone instead of in person. That is so not his style, but he makes it work.
We nicknamed my gobbler "Corona Carl." We wore masks for the video. We looked ridiculous, and the masks made us difficult to understand, but that video will endure as a sign of the times.
I haven't fished with my usual companions since January. One member of our group, a retired dentist, provides free dental services to cancer patients. For their safety, he cannot risk exposure. Another member of our group, a bank manager, has spent the year overseeing his bank's transition to covid-19 protocols. Others who believe they are vulnerable to exposure won't fish until the threat of the virus passes.
I did a float fishing piece in May with Chris Minick on the Saline River that included a short video. An online commenter castigated us for not practicing social distancing.
Now it's the end of summer. The early Canada goose season starts Tuesday. Dove season starts Saturday. The early teal season opens Sept. 15. Then comes archery deer season, muzzleloader deer season, modern gun deer season and the first segment of duck season. The good times roll like water over a riffle, and yet covid-19 continues to foul the air like smoke from a raging tire fire.
Older hunters will stay away from deer and duck camps this year to avoid getting sick. People who are out of work or otherwise looking for healthy ways to pass the time will take up hunting. It will give us a temporary escape, but our world has changed.
One thing hasn't changed. Like always, we will all meet right here every Sunday and Thursday to swap stories and photos. It's a big tent, and newcomers are welcome.