Michael Pearce

You can't buy happiness

Willow poles, kite string, a cork bobber and worms from a garden at work in the Flint Hills.
Willow poles, kite string, a cork bobber and worms from a garden at work in the Flint Hills. The Wichita Eagle

GREENWOOD COUNTY — American parents annually spend many millions for their children's entertainment.

For seven hours last Sunday, Konner Jaso had about as much fun as a 7-year-old can have.

The cost?

Excluding fuel it was about a dime.

I didn't have to twist Konner's thin arms to get him to help with a project to see if kids could still be entertained basically for free.

He reminds me of kids of my generation. He'd rather play outside with his dog than inside with about anything.

Konner has the patience to play with a toy truck for hours.

Given very limited access to television and computers by his mother, Michelle Ewert, he excels at finding creative ways to keep himself entertained.

Actually, Konner gave me the idea for a "fishing for free" trip last summer.

A longtime friend of the family, Michelle said she wanted her son to learn as many outdoors skills as possible.

It was their first lesson in bass fishing.

I was handing out rods to mother and child when Konner announced he'd brought his own.

He proudly produced a twig of about two feet to which he'd tied dental floss. A tiny staple, with its bottom pried open, was his hook.

Ever since, we've been planning the most simplistic fishing trip possible.

So last Sunday we cut willow branches for poles. From my garage I brought old kite string for fishing line and wine corks for floats. A length of old wire was for making hooks.

Bait was worms from the garden.

Konner wouldn't have been more excited if we were taking off in a $50,000 bass boat rigged with the best equipment.

We were almost an hour late getting to the stream because the prairie is just too much for a boy to simply pass by.

On a tall ridge with a many-miles view, he picked his mom a bouquet of wild flowers.

Plants of all sizes and colors caught his eyes. Those with threatening leaves or thorns managed closer inspection and tentative touching.

I'd never really considered the Flint Hills to be fine hurdling grounds, but Konner ran and jumped over assorted forbs and low brush time after time.

During the walk to the fishing hole, we investigated the skeletal remains of a dead cow and waded through clouds of skittering minnows in shallow water.

Streamside, the willow poles, kite string, wine corks and worms worked well.

My wire hooks, however, were a bit big for the tiny mouths of green sunfish.

(I think I could have re-shaped them to work. Better yet would have been the thinner wire of big paperclips.)

After a few missed chances, I tied ultra-cheap fish hooks — hence the cost of a few cents — to the white lines.

Within seconds, Konner had his hands on a writhing sunfish of about eight inches.

And from then on the fishing action was good at the clear little pool at the bend in the pristine stream.

Sometimes it seemed Konner or Michelle's corks sank the instant they hit the water, the action was so fast.

Because it was longer and lighter, I eventually handed Konner a long graphite cane pole.

When the last of the corks came untied, I affixed a foam version.

The concept was still the same, as was the fishing success.

When he wasn't fishing, Konner was all over the stream bank, hands exploring the shallows like those of a raccoon.

Treasures were toted to his mom more times than could be counted.

There's now much more rock near the opposite shore, thanks to many skipped rocks when the fishing was done.

Konner was still wading the shallows when I had the pick-up loaded, chasing minnows in the twilight with a homemade net, and showing his mother driftwood that looked like letters.

As I watched, I thought how he had gotten more exercise that day than some his age will get in weeks.

He also learned some things about nature that his fellow second-grade classmates may never learn.

An already tight bond between child and parent became even tighter through the shared adventure.

Next year, American parents will again be spending millions of dollars for their children's entertainment.

I think they'd be doing their kids a bigger favor by spending a few more hours with them outdoors.

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