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The Trapping Judge, Part 1
By Mel Liston*

John J. Yazinski was born in northeastern Pennsylvania, the youngest of four brothers. He would always have plenty of clothes to wear as the hand-me-downs were the rule versus the exception. Mom had her hands full at home while Dad did all he could to afford the basic needs of the family. There was always plenty of food on the table to keep the boys growing, and the Doctor came to the house when someone got sick, but keeping up with the Joneses was a race they never entered. Both parents worked very hard yet they never lost sight of their overriding goal, which was to provide a loving and caring environment for their boys to grow up in. John was always called Jackie when growing up until sometime in High School when Jack became increasingly more common. The sixties and early seventies was a turbulent era for many youngsters, as there was much that could go wrong. The brothers were encouraged to participate in school sports and excel in their studies, both of which Jackie did very well. Dad was determined that his boys should all be college educated and one way he hoped to insure their future in academia was to encourage a passion for reading. Each son was required to read books and report to Dad on the content and meaning. To fully engage his student sons, each was allowed to pick his subject matter. The expense of a growing library was always affordable in a family that valued knowledge as food for the mind and brought it into the home along with the groceries.

The rural area in which Jackie grew up offered considerable opportunity for participation in the outdoor woodsy activities which were widely practiced and enjoyed back then by a significant portion of the community. Nearly everyone was a hunter, trapper, or fisherman. Many of the High School boys had their own rifles and shotguns that were regularly brought to school in the trunk of an automobile or behind the seat of a truck. It was important to save time when heading for the woods to go hunting immediately after the last class of the day. It was acceptable to ask and receive permission to bring a firearm into the industrial arts building to refinish the stock or re-blue the gunmetal. Those students who were on the High School shooting team were allowed to store their target rifles in the closet of their respective home room classes. Kids skipped school to go hunting, and the first day of deer season was always an official school holiday, as few would show up anyway. It seemed that the whole world was on hold while the majority of the male population was gone hunting.

Jackie did so want to experience and participate in the outdoor rural heritage and its right of passage. Yet Dad, in spite of all his superb and enduring qualities was not the outdoor woodsy type, nor did an appropriate uncle or other mentor materialize. Athletic sports and academic study would have to suffice while the bulk of Jackie's real interest in the great outdoors remained repressed just below the surface. The passion for reading fully developed with the obsessive desire to learn all about adventurers like Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, or the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, Indians, Hunting, Trapping, and Woods Lore. At the age of ten, when Jackie went along with mom or dad to get the groceries, they often came home with an outdoor fishing, hunting, or trapping magazine and extra flashlight batteries. Jackie would tent up in bed at night and read about his favorite outdoor subjects before drifting away into a world of hunting for food or sport and trapping fur in the mystical back country. Visions of a remote trappers cabin, dogsleds in the Yukon, and Rendezvous at the Green River Valley in Wyoming were final thoughts as the book or magazine slowly settled where it would be found in the morning. The genetic predisposition to be a hunter/gatherer was strong and growing.

The desire to be connected to the outdoors grew, as Jackie became Jack to his circle of friends who were all into hunting and fishing. Just as soon as Jack was old enough to purchase a hunting license in Pennsylvania, he bought his first deer rifle with the money he earned and saved from a newspaper route. Hunting with his buddies instilled a passion for the sport with as much time as available devoted to the outdoor endeavors. In the back of Jack's mind was etched the awareness of yet another type of hunting even more specialized and reserved for a smaller community of woodsmen. Jack yearned to experience the challenge of a trap line. Jack wondered about wildcats, fisher, mink, otter, beaver, fox, and coyote. What would it take to harvest these animals, and could he learn to do it? What would a collection of tanned fur look like hanging in the bedroom?

One day while fishing a small stream, Jack happened upon a mink trapper tending his line. The young man was so full of questions that he engaged the old trapper like a man in the desert who had just found the water hole that shall save his life. No old trapper can resist a youth who thirsts for the mysteries held within his experience. A thousand questions later the solitary trapper walked up the bank and was gone on about his business. The vision of the old trapper would remain forever in the minds eye of a young man who would bide his time for the day when he too might cut such a path.

Soon Jack would be off to college where he would occasionally get a chance to hunt or tag along on another's trap line. Immediately after college, adult life quickly set in. By this I mean employment in northeastern Pennsylvania, marriage, plus all the associated obligations, which makes the requirements of a seven-day per week trap line difficult or impossible. In spite of the obstacles, the ways and means were carved out, so that by 1984 the stage was setting for Jack's first farm country trap line. Equipment was purchased and readied, landowner permission for a limited first season was lined up, and all was ready in the summer for the approaching fall season. However, an opportunity presented itself for another life goal, and the trap line was put on hold once again while the next phase of Jack's life and career began to take shape and unfold for the young married couple. It was back to the books again, this time for a legal degree. Jack and his wife Nancy moved lock, stock, and boxed up trapping equipment to New Hampshire so Jack could attend Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord. Husband and wife pulled together to make the education possible, further balancing family needs against professional requirements during the tough years while breaking into the legal profession in the Claremont and Hanover area. As in most things you have to put your time in. Bottom pay and extremely long hours working as low man in the legal staff preceded the time when Jack's experience could justify his own firm in 1990. Jack and Nancy now settled into a rural lifestyle provided on the 100-acre country property they named Stones Throw Farm. Ascutney Mountain looms across the Connecticut River in Vermont, seemingly a stones-throw away. Jack began to find a little time for hunting and fishing. In 1992 their only child was born, a son they named Ethan. Jack put infant Ethan in a pack frame and hauled him along when canoeing and fishing. As soon as Ethan developed sufficient dexterity he became a fisherman and shortly thereafter developed skill with a fly rod. Target practice and firearm safety were started as soon as Ethan was interested and ready. It was not long before the son was tagging along with his dad during the hunting season. Jack and Ethan were great outdoor buddies, bonded just that much more than many a father and son who do not share such a common passion.

Jack's repressed desire to be a trapper always lingered just below the surface, and he had maintained his interest over the years with occasional trapping magazine subscriptions and trips to the shed to look at the never utilized traps from 1984 hanging on the wall. Jack would spend idle moments in the presence of his trap collection visualizing himself as a trapper. As many caring and responsible parents know, it is often difficult to justify or rationalize a hobby or interest that does not contribute to the family financially or involve the family for quality time together. Jack would continue to bide his time, not really knowing if his opportunity to trap would ever really materialize.

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*Mel Liston, from Strafford, New Hampshire is a freelance writer, Trapper Education Instructor, Director for the New Hampshire Trappers Association and a member of the National Trappers Association and the Fur Takers of America.

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