MINNEAPOLIS — Concern about the republic is widespread. But in Minnesota, where water still flows in summer and freezes in winter, and where wild critters rise and fall in abundance but nonetheless are ever-present, along with wild lands and the wild times they afford, indications are the future is bright.
Such optimism, perhaps ironically, is founded in the Star Tribune’s obituaries, which regularly publish, usually on Sundays, photos of citizens, recently deceased, holding fish. How often this occurs — and it does, regularly — is to me a barometer of the health of this state and its people, and the good times that accrue to them here, outdoors.
On some Sundays, three such Minnesotans are celebrated, along with snapshots of them holding memorable catches of walleyes, northerns, bass or panfish. Such photographic trifectas are rare. But two is not uncommon, as was the case this past Sunday, when announcements appeared noting the passing of Cliff “Buddy” Buland, 65, of Bloomington, and Gary “Gib” Comstock, also 65, of Minneapolis.
Buland’s announcement was accompanied by a photo of him on Lake Mille Lacs, smiling while holding a 22-inch walleye. Comstock’s obituary photo showed him proudly displaying a Leech Lake northern pike.
I called Buddy Buland’s brother, Jimmy Buland.
“Our parents bought 10 acres by Outing in 1966,” he said. “At first we built a 10x16 cabin, which we stayed in for two years. Eventually we ended up with a 10x50-foot trailer with a 12x24-foot addition, which we still have. It’s great. As kids we fished up there. Also duck hunted. Deer hunted. Grouse hunted. Picked wild plums. Picked blueberries. And we had a campfire pit in the back where we grilled anything you could think of: chicken, pork, ribs; everything.”
Buddy, who worked at the Bureau of Engraving in the Twin Cities, had three passions in his life, his brother said: fishing, duck hunting and deer hunting. He hunted the latter with a bow when he was young, but switched to a rifle with age.
When he was diagnosed with colon cancer about a year ago, Buddy had one request. “He told his doctor, ‘I want to be able to see at least one more deer season,’ “ Jimmy said.
Jimmy, with Buddy’s son, Chris, made that happen, driving Buddy to the Outing cabin early last November. Buddy wasn’t well enough to hunt, so Jimmy cared for him, while Chris hunted, killing a buck.
“Then on Sunday night of opening weekend, we made a big dinner and all of our good friends and fellow deer hunters from up there who knew Buddy came over to see him. We sat out back by the fire like we always did. He really loved it.”
Buddy Buland died on Christmas Eve. His survivors, his obituary noted, include “his beloved dog Belle,” a Labrador mix.
Gary Comstock’s obituary photo highlighted a northern pike only because his family couldn’t find a suitable image of him with a walleye, his brother, Mark Comstock, said.
“Gary — the family called him ‘Gib’ — loved all hunting and fishing and conservation,” Mark said. “But mostly he was a duck hunter.”
Their father — Eldon, aka “Ice” — was a World War II dive-bomber pilot who later owned his own plane. In the 1960s, while flying a Beechcraft Bonanza over Leech Lake, he saw a point of land he thought would be good for hunting bluebills, and bought it.
“Sometimes we would have seven or eight guys hunting that point,” Mark said. “Ducks would come over and Gary would yell, ‘Don’t shoot the hens!’”
A civil engineer who graduated from Edina High School and Montana State University, Gary always fished with a fly rod. His dad gave each of his kids — Gary, Mark and three other sons, along with two daughters — fly rods when they were young, marking each with different colored tape.
“The rest of us switched to trolling or spinning rods as we grew up, but not Gary,” Mark said. “It didn’t matter if he fished in 6 feet of water or 30, he used his fly rod.”
An inveterate commuter to the Leech Lake cabin, Gary, upon arrival, would tinker with his tractor or otherwise pass the good time. “He was the guy who followed all the rules and wanted to do what was best for the environment,” Mark said. “He was very intelligent. He knew everything. I don’t know what we will do this summer and fall without him. There will be a huge void.”
Gary Comstock died suddenly, of heart failure, Jan. 20. A celebration of his life was held Sunday at the Dan Patch American Legion Post in Savage.
“We had Gary’s fly rod there, on display,” Mark said. “No one wore suits.”