Editors Note: This column is in honor of Mike Roberts, the Record-Journal’s long-time outdoors columnist who passed away Monday.
He called only two weeks ago.
“Hey, Kid. It’s Mike Roberts. Hey, listen, buddy, I’ve been thinking ...”
I imagine — no, I know — Mike did a lot of that on all those hunting treks, all those fishing trips.
All those hours in the great outdoors, so many of them solitary and silent, in deep woods or along a shoreline or in a boat upon the water.
Or on a bike. That’s my avenue into these “great outdoors of ours,” as Mike would say.
And that’s why I understood Mike, even though he was older and of another generation, and had far different hobbies and opinions, and wrote far too many run-on sentences for my taste.
But, in the big picture, I got Mike totally, knew exactly the Zen he felt in Nature and how he could remember every foot path no matter how many he blazed or how many years had passed since he’d last traveled their way.
On a hunt, on a ride, you are in it and you know it, the way a child knows his backyard and his neighborhood, every fence and every tree, every shortcut and every place where the puddles pool.
You don’t forget the details.
And you think. You think a whole lot.
So when Mike told me he was thinking about taking a break from the Woods ‘N’ Water column he had been writing for this publication for 41 years, I knew he was saying goodbye even though he didn’t want to because, man, that column had become like breathing.
We agreed he’d take a break for awhile. Maybe he’d come back, maybe he wouldn’t.
“You let me know, Mike.”
But you know what I knew above all about Mike Roberts? I knew Mike would keep writing his Woods ‘N’ Water column until the day he died.
I was off by two weeks.
Tough old son of a !
But I don’t mean that — the “son of a !” part — because Mike’s column about his mother Jean Roberts and how she made a wonderful second life for herself on Cape Cod was probably my favorite.
It was Mike’s best writing. Had nothing to do with hunting and only a little bit about fishing in the way “The Old Man and the Sea” is about fishing. It was mostly about a woman named Jean Roberts and how she enjoyed these great outdoors of ours and found her peace and place in it.
I bet Mike’s surfcasting or clamming with her already. Didn’t pass Go, didn’t collect $200. Just grabbed a rod or rake off the porch and joined her where the surf meets the shore.
You think of all those folks Mike knew and who passed before him — his parents Jean and Big Mike, his brothers Pete and Dave, his son Keith, his “adopted” grandson Jordan Davila, the kid with the heart of a lion, hunting buddies, fishing buddies — and you know Mike’s got a lot of catching up to do, a lot of new trails to blaze, a lot of new stories to tell.
They just won’t be popping into my in-box every Sunday night like clockwork.
The man was as constant as the sunrise.
And that’s how I’d like to think of Mike, the tough old son of a ! with the heart of a lamb. If he’s not surfcasting or clamming with his Mom, he’s up in a treestand, listening to a new world waking up around him, waiting to catch the silent slip of a buck or the randy gobble of a Tom.
Waiting, watching, thinking: The woods does wonders for that, be it in the clarity of morning light or the sad, glorious dissolution of sunset.
In the woods, you feel the coming of night before it arrives.
Mike knew. It had been a while since he’d been able to hunt. The passing of his kid brother Dave just a few months ago hit him hard and he wasn’t shy about saying so.
“Hey, listen, buddy, I’ve been thinking ...”
Me, too, Mike. These farewells are starting to add up.
My heart breaks for your Darlin’ Edna, who was a lot more funny than you, maybe even tougher, and unquestionably the person you admired most. She brought out your better angels, Mike, though they were always right there, not all that deep, under that tough ol’ hide.
Hey, drive safe with Jordan. Buckle him in, though he probably doesn’t need the raised seat anymore.
I’ll give your best to Red Bridge and all those Q-River and South Meriden haunts you could never forget no matter how much they changed.
Carpenter’s Dam? Doesn’t belong to me. I’m just passing through, same as you, trying to figure out not so much where to look, but how.
I’d say you saw better than most.
See ya, Mike, and God bless you and watch over you wherever you may be hunting and fishing in that great new heaven of yours.