Every picture tells a story. Sometimes we see products or hear about an outdoor activity and it conjures memories of family tales or traditions. It's Family Stories Month and just about everyone has some kind of family memory they can share.
The other day I intercepted a Lodge Cast Iron Dinner Bell that an Associate was going to take back to the Camping Department. As I looked at the box, she started telling me how her grandparents had a farm with a dinner bell that her parents would ring when it was time to leave after a visit.
Holidays typically drive the most memories. Each year, in Santa's Wonderland, inevitably there are children who just aren't really in the mood, shall we say, to see Santa. Fear wins over and tears flow. That's when I launch into the story of how my mom and aunt waited 45 minutes in drizzle for my siblings and me to see Santa and I crumbled. At least five years old, my feet hit the brakes as soon as we were next in line. Wouldn't do it...you couldn't make me. Fortunately, they didn't force it, just shook their heads. I never did sit on Santa's lap.
It's trapping season in Iowa. As calls about supplies and stories of latest trappings circulate, I remember an oft told story from my dad about a special kind of trapping he did during the Great Depression. Even though it was spring gopher hunting, and we're on the cusp of winter, it reiterates the importance of trapping to wildlife and crop management, and to the economic well-being of trappers, even today.
He was a young boy in the rural Midwest and gopher trapping in the spring brought ten cents for each pair of gopher front feet, a grand amount of money in the early thirties and the throws of the Depression. After two or three weeks of trapping, the boys would walk the eight miles to the county seat to collect their money from the County Auditor's Office. However, to get to that point of reaping their rewards, they first had to do the work.
"Pocket gophers, with their long, sharp incisors and large-clawed, front feet, were pesky rodents. They dug their burrows and pushed up large mounds of dirt, which smothered the grass and hay and damaged mower sickles. Underground, they fed on the roots of the crops, causing a lot of damage, and some farmers would pay an additional five cents for each gopher caught in their fields.
"Trappers usually worked in pairs and had their own closely-guarded secrets on how to catch the wily gophers...as soon as the new mounds appeared, we established our trapline and had as many as twenty-five traps set. We would roll out of bed about six a.m., eat breakfast, and hurry to run our traps before going to school. After school we ran our traps and made new sets.
"Digging out the entrance to the main burrow and getting the one-ought steel trap set properly , in the right location, required a certain amount of skill and savvy. Then covering the burrow again, so no light would seep in, was an absolute necessity; failure to make a good set would tip off the gopher that danger lurked in the burrow. He would then proceed to skillfully pack dirt around the trap without getting caught. The dirt would be packed so tightly we would have a hard tie removing the trap. To be outwitted by a gopher and having a "clogged hole" was not only aggravating, but also a blow to our trapper's pride.
"There were even hazards in gopher trapping. One fellow got his finger nipped by a gopher as he reached into the burrow to clean out some loose dirt. Bull snakes slithered through the burrows on occasions. The most demoralizing times occurred when a polecat
(skunk) blundered into one of our traps. This caused MORE problems when we went on to school after killing and removing the polecat. Our entry into the school room would product a chorus of "pee-yews" and the teacher would promptly send us home for de-scenting. Our hands became chapped and might sore from digging in the dirt barehanded and then washing in a nearby stream or at the school pump."
My father would tell of the thrill of having money, of cockily sauntering around the square with the many coins jingling in their pockets, buying a 25-cent baseball, and 15 cents for a much-needed pair of shoes. After catching a movie, they would head out on the long trip home, hoping someone they knew would drive by and pick them up.
Tough work for what to us seems like pennies, but to them was golden. According to the National Trappers Association, that remains true today both monetarily and for our sustainability.
"Millions of North Americans depend on fur harvesting for their livelihood. These people have a vested interest in protecting the natural environment. Natural fur, used in coats and other garments, is a renewable resource.Nothing is wasted in the production of a wild fur garment. Furbearers provide food, organic fertilizer, medicines, and other biodegradable products."
Trapping, hunting, fishing...survival in the here and now, stories for years to come.