The phrase "four-letter word" has a bad reputation, for obvious reasons. But there are good four-letter words, too. Here are a few four-letter verbs for outdoor lovers to keep in mind as fall begins.
Hunt - Shorter, cooler days mean a variety of hunting seasons are about to open. Waterfowl, small game, and white-tailed deer keep hunters busy until the end of the year.
But it's not just about the actual hunts. Many hunters "shop" in the fall. It's a time for new guns, scopes, and tree stands. Outdoor store such as Cabela's love the fall. Parking lots become seas of SUVs and pick-up trucks as business booms.
And between shopping trips and actual hunting, hunters "plan." They scout their favorite locations looking for signs of wildlife activity. Their ultimate goal is to "fill" the freezer with fresh meat.
Fish - Though some may consider fishing a warm weather activity, many anglers enjoy their passion year-round. A trip to the east coast finds many charter captains make daily off shore trips. The Great Lakes remain busy even in mid-winter after the water freezes. Ice-fishing is not for everyone, but for some it's almost a way of life. And as long as mild weather persists, streams and smaller lakes get plenty of visitors.
Bird - Fall migration is second only to spring migration for those who like to bird. In recent weeks, flocks of nighthawks filled the sky as they foraged food to fuel their southbound journeys. Skeins of ducks and geese head south in familiar "V" formations. And hawk watches at places like Cape May, N.J. and Hawk Mountain, Pa., have become annual rites of passage for many.
Swim - It may seem odd to suggest swimming as a fall activity, but large bodies of water are heat sinks. Water cools slowly so when air temperatures cool, water is often a warmer place to be. I'm writing this from the Jersey shore, where the ocean temperature is warmer than the air. Just be sure to keep a towel handy because the ever-present sea breeze quickly chills a wet body.
Wade - If swimming in the fall seems a bit extreme, wading can be just as fun. Just yesterday, as I waded in the surf at Sea Isle City, I watched an osprey fish for about 30 minutes and identified four species of gulls (laughing, ring-billed, herring, and greater black-back), two shore birds (a semipalmated plover and sanderlings), and a common tern. And as I birded while wading, a few brave souls "surfed."
Boat - Fall is also a great time to boat in a canoe or kayak. Wildlife is usually more tolerant of watchers on the water than watchers on land. Just be sure that everyone always wears a PFD (personal flotation device).
Walk/hike - Against a backdrop of fall colors, it's hard to beat a brisk walk in the woods. You invariably get a peek or two at some interesting wildlife, and if you do it with a purpose, call it a "hike."
Camp/gaze - One of my favorite fall activities is to camp by a fire in our hayfield and gaze at the night sky. When our daughters were little girls, my wife and I did this at least a few times each fall. We'd roast hot dogs and marshmallows, watch for shooting stars, learn a few constellations, and tell scary stories. Before we fell asleep, we'd often hear a hooting great horned owl and maybe a few yipping coyotes. These remain some of my favorite family memories.
Plan - Finally, fall can be a great time to plan for the future. Where to spend the upcoming holidays is always an important decision. Do the girls come home or do we travel to them?
My wife and I also like to plan our next big trip. We have several long road trips under our belts, and we're itching to do another. Our first was Pennsylvania to Arizona, then Michigan to British Columbia, and West Virginia to North Dakota. We reminisce about these trips often, so it's time to plan another. Maybe we'll hit the road in 2013.
To outdoor enthusiasts, it's four-letter words that can make life worth living.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, West Virginia 26033.