Ethan's First Fisher in 2003 that made his mother mighty proud
Jack and Ethan with a Grey Fox taken in 2004
The Yazinski's First Day Catch for the 2004 Season
The Trapping Judge
By Mel Liston - Strafford, New Hampshire
John J.Yazinski was born in northeastern Pennsylvania the youngest of four brothers, he would always have plenty of cloths to wear as the hand me downs were the rule verses 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 Jones’s 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 youth, there was much that could go wrong. The brothers were encouraged to participate in school sports and excel in study, both at 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 own 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, a trapper, or a fisherman. Lots of the High School kids had their own rifles and shotguns which they brought to school in the trunk of their car so they could go hunting right 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 gun metal. 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 Lure. At age ten when Jackie went along with mom or dad to get the groceries, they often came home with a Fur-Fish-Game 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 trapper’s 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. 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 so that as much time as could be found was 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 trapline. Jack wondered about wildcats, fisher, mink, otter, beaver, fox, and coyote. What would it take to harvest these animals, 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 which 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 trapline. Immediately after college, adult life set in quickly. By this I mean employment in northeastern Pennsylvania, marriage, plus all the associated obligations which makes the requirements of a seven day per week trapline 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 trapline. Equipment was purchased, 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 trapline was put on hold while the next phase of Jack’s life and career began to take shape and unfold for this 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, and then 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 all things you have to put your time in. Bottom pay and extremely long hours working as low man in the legal staff proceeded 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 named Stones Throw Farm, as Mt. Ascutney 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 a son they named Ethan, was born. 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; 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.
As his father had done for him Jack passed on the enforced passion for reading to Ethan. The old trapping magazines and collection of trapping manuals were soon being well read, the questions about furbearing animals and the traps hanging in the shed were becoming the norm. The Yazinski farm developed so that they now raised grass fed beef cattle and organic vegetables for their own table. Ethan exhibited signs of gratification when helping with the chores and participating in the process of providing for the family. The surplus vegetables were marketed by Ethan in his farm stand at the local farmers market. 75 of the 100 acres on the farm were managed as a multipurpose woodlot. Timber stand improvement, annual firewood harvest, and wildlife habitat development are all aspects of the plan. The hunters/gathers in this family looked forwards to an increased harvest of a renewable resources including natural and organically grown wild game meat for the table. As the encouraged wildlife species numbers increased so did the predator population which prey on them. It was beginning to look as if their efforts at improving the habitat to encourage certain species were becoming futile as a result of predation. The ability to manage the predator species was missing and all knew that regular trapping was the solution. Young Ethan was adamantly a wanna be trapper and was increasingly persistent that he and Dad must trap together. Jack kept telling his boy that they would trap together but the someday down the road appeared increasingly unlikely as constant responsibilities in the legal career seemed to make that eventuality ever more distant. Jack had done as many fathers unknowingly do, so that now the dreams he passionately kept alive for himself had become the passion of an adoring son who absorbed them as his own. Now the dedicated and responsible family man must look closely and realistically at the timing of his entry into the trapping tradition for the apex of powerful forces were coming together for maximum potential. Never again would the father find a situation and opportunity such as now presented itself. The need to be a trapper for multiple reasons was now increasing sharply in priority. The analytical mind of a judge was finishing up the final deliberation before determining that a trapline with his son was the correct and appropriate verdict. Many parents never find a way to realize a lost or delayed dream, but in this case the father would be rescued and shown the way by his son.
Jack had been appointed a District Court Judge by Governor Jean Shaheen in 2001. Much of the case load is dealing with juvenile issues, fascinating and rewarding work but always challenging. Most of the youth before the bench are born with two strikes against them and now facing a fast ball pitch. Almost without exception these are youth without a solid parent or adult mentor in their life, few can site instances of activities they enjoy together with a parent. When asked how they spend their time, most at risk youth say they just hang out or play video games. The kids before the bench have been involved with drugs, shoplifting, assaults, or burglary and very often will have to be placed outside the home in an institutional setting for one or two years. With over a thousand such troubled youth coming before Jack the Judge, and their background stories so painfully similar, Jack the father has much to compare and measure in his own story and that of his son Ethan. The opportunity for a father and son to bond through a common love and interest for outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, and trapping provides benefits which are measurable and significant. The practice of the hunter/gatherer family group and the opportunities to bond and mentor is a growth and maturity process which is as old as the human spirit, it has only recently been deigned to a significant portion of the modern population, and the consequence of its loss is evident in a growing population of troubled youth who are without purpose or goal. Jack can see the loss of affection, purpose, and hope in the face of troubled youth and knows the difference that is evident in his and other involved youth who beam when fishing, have pride in outdoor skills learned, and have purpose when contributing wild game for the family table. What a difference it could have made if only these other youth had a parent or adult mentor who would spend time with them enjoying a natural outdoor pursuit, learning about life, laughing and knowing they are loved, building confidence. Yes Ethan, your dad will take the time to run a trapline with you so that you may both have that experience together, so the old man may be a boy once again, and the boy may grow into a fine young man.
In the fall of 2002 Elliot Brown, a young trapper in the area, was tending his fisher line near the Yazinski farm. Elliot and Ethan became great friends. Elliot would stop by and show his catch. That was all she wrote, as Ethan would be delayed no longer. The conversation which settled the issue was decided before it took place, as if written on a biblical stone before time began. Everyone knew it was right, it was good, and it was time. Mom was not comfortable with the coyote that were increasingly emboldened and coming ever closer to the house, or the fisher tracks in the snow along the tree line. Nancy had become a close to the earth country farm lady and the idea of being a trapper’s wife and a trapper’s mom had a wholesome and enduring sound she embraced. Jack and Ethan both took the Trapper Education course given by New Hampshire Trappers Association Educational Director Mike Morrison in the spring of 2003 and were certified to become licensed trappers. Finally the old traps hanging on the shed wall would come down and be put to service. It was great fun for the father and son trapping partners with there first trapline having both water and land opportunities, they stayed in Sullivan county mostly on their own property and abutting farms along the Connecticut River. Mom was so emotionally thrilled when her son came running into the house with his first trapped fisher in his arms, so proud and happy for both her boys. Ethan and Jack did all the fur handling for their catch and one of the buildings on the farm is now officially the fur shed. It was tough to let go of that first years catch as both father and son would go to the fur shed often and look at their collection of fur, remembering much from their quality time together. Eventually the fur must go to be utilized for its utility purpose which underlies its value as a renewable resource. The catch was entrusted to the local fur buyer Bill Bailey and shipped to the Fur Harvesters Auction in Canada. One of Ethan’s fisher pelts in that collection sold for $47 which was the highest price paid for a fisher at that auction. The trapping Yazinski partners have two years experience to their credit and an invaluable life experience between a father and son. As with all trappers they are readying equipment, gaining permission to expand their trapline, and otherwise preparing in the off season for their third season. Most likely this father and son will trap together until Ethan is off to make his way in the world, then I would not be surprised to see that Jack continues to trap alone, as the momentum and lifestyle will now be his.
Because Jack is in the legal profession the circles in which he travels are different from many or most trappers. Occasionally trapping will come up in conversation or the experiences of the trapper will come out. Jack has no problem expressing the value and necessity of trapping in the modern era. In his own words;
“I live on land that has been farmed since before the Revolutionary War. We have coyotes, grey and red fox, mink, beaver, fisher, raccoons, and muskrats. Some die every year, all will die at some point. That is a fact of our existence. We harvest a sustainable amount. We manage our land in a way that enhances wildlife that includes controlling their population. I believe that will always need to be done and that trapping and hunting are the most ethical and humane ways. I have read volumes about the ethics and morality of trapping. I have resolved this question for myself on an intellectual and spiritual basis. As long as our wildlife biologists believe that they need trapping as a management tool, I will continue to trap.”
It is true that many suffer in silence due to their disconnection from an active part in the natural world. Millions of years of genetic predisposition are challenged every day as we make our way in a modern world with most of the realities of survival and connection to the ecosystems masked by technology. As we move ever further away from lifestyles which provide opportunities for togetherness, mentoring, and development of positive aspects by example, young and old alike will suffer from the loss of something they have never known. The Honorable John J.Yazinski has seen this play out in far to many of our at risk youth and chooses hunting, trapping, and fishing as the means to connect with his son and mentor those qualities which will instill meaning, confidence, purpose and love into the bond between a father and his son. I say, “Jack is the Judge, so you be the Jury.”