As we settle into the winter doldrums, there is more free time to settle back and recover from a season spent outdoors. Though there are some opportunities for outdoor recreation in mid-winter, the majority of outdoor enthusiasts are considerably less busy during January, February and March.

With the spare moments comes time to think and plan. As we read outdoor magazines, view television programs and attend sport shows, most of us begin to formulate ideas for the upcoming year. Sadly, this blueprint is often identical to the plan from previous years, aside from a new layer of dust and the splatter marks from a thousand shattered dreams.

This begins happening every year at this time when I begin having lengthy discussions about fishing with my friends, something to which we devote far less time to during the warmer months. We sit around and chat until the talk concludes with a declaration that we are all going to spend more time fishing during the upcoming year. Having made this same speech every January for the past three decades, I began to realize that my fishing time has not noticeably increased. If it had in proportion to the length of time spent jawing, I would currently be spending 600 days a year on the water

This vow to spend more time outdoors is also applied to hiking, camping, backpacking, scuba diving, paddling, mountain biking and every other sport that hasn't been practiced in the last three months. Hunting is never included in these discussions, probably because the memorabilia from hunting season is still molding in the bottom of my closet and makes its olfactory presence known if you take an especially deep whiff. Big plans and wild dreams for the shooting season will usually wait until a special session in August.

My family is fully aware of this temporary madness and tries to make some accommodation though the effort is pointless. The warning sign of this impending self-deception is the statement “You know what we ought to do?” When Yours Truly begins a sentence with this phrase at the dinner table, my long-suffering wife gets a faraway look in her eye and a pained grimace on her face.

I then begin an explanation of my latest scheme involving the outdoors, accompanied by the usual wild hand gestures and absurd justifications. At this point, my wife usually just starts clearing the dishes and silently nodding her head, not in agreement but simple appeasement. When my son was young, this was the point where he’d pipe in with delight. I eventually learned that when a thirteen-year-old boy offers practical advice on your plans, it can be a warning sign that the idea might be a bit half-baked, or very interesting, or both. Note that “interesting” as used in the previous sentence means the contemplated activity will likely involve law enforcement, the intensive care unit or a local mortuary.

It can be humorous to watch the reactions of those not used to these fits of spontaneous planning. After nearly 30 years, my sister-in-law still rolls her eyes completely out of her head and onto the floor when I try to convince my brother to participate in some new outdoor expedition. I find this amusing as he had never even been seriously maimed on one of these trips and all of the charges were dropped from the biscuit incident in West Virginia. I now try to refrain from these discussions in her presence as I am afraid her eyeballs will eventually get cat hair all over them when they roll under the television.

The sad thing is that of all these wonderful ideas, plans to visit certain places, fish more, learn a new skill or achieve a goal always seem to get put aside as the season starts. Our lofty ideas and goals of the preseason never get practiced until summer is all used up and cold weather is rapidly approaching. Looking back, it seems that the weather was never perfect, the bugs were too bad, the temperature was not right or the water too cold or dirty or clear or low or high or too something to carry out our planned adventure. More insidious is the fact that we plan too much, trying to force ten pounds of living into a five-pound sack of reality. Thus we never accomplish anything we had set out to do, ending up in the same old rut; a well-worn groove in our life spent playing in the same outdoor places.

Perhaps the trick is to make no plans whatsoever and then react as opportunities present themselves. By staying loose and flexible as daily life unfolds, you can jump into situations that might not otherwise be available if your outdoor calendar were already full. 

In other words, “You know what we ought to do?”