Sidetracks

Back maybe 50 years ago when Gary Oberg lived in Rochester, he would meet with buddies at Grandma’s Kitchen for morning coffee.

Besides the coffee, the stories would flow, including a lot about hunting and fishing locally as well as in northern Minnesota and Canada. Now, Oberg has turned many of those stories into a book, “Sidetracks: 40 True Stories of Hunting and Fishing on Paths Less Traveled." Its publisher is Rose City Press, that he owns. Trina Holt helped with editing.

It’s getting noticed. It’s getting great reviews from Amazon and “has become an Amazon bestseller in the Sports Hunting and Sports Fishing categories,” according to Oberg's publicist, Joan Holman. It was at one point No. 1 in its category on Amazon, but was down to No. 53 later in November.

Don’t expect any Hemingway-like outdoors stories like “Big Two-Hearted River.” Oberg is no Hemingway (nor are any other writers today) but then, Hemingway never wrote about trying to butcher a not-quite-dead hog in a Rochester garage. That is one of the most unusual stories in the book.

Another tells of his how Oberg took his new bride deer hunting and she shot a big buck. But it ran, and when she found it, a man said he had shot it, and “proved” it by a lie. They tracked the guy down but he refused to give them the deer. It’s not a warm-fuzzy story, but it’s an experience that's part of hunting.

His “Ode to Duct Tape” is one that just about anyone outdoors for too long can relate to easily, because the near magic tape fixed a banged-up outboard motor.

Oberg said he lived here in the mid-1960s and again in the late 1960s working for Rochester Datronics and IBM. After that, he worked for other firms until founding his own, called Spectralytics. Oberg, 77, now lives in western Minnesota where he was born.

The book also isn’t a how-to (five new ways to bag a trophy buck) nor a travelogue (how to hunt moose in Canada).

Instead, Oberg writes as if he was regaling his buddies with one of his stories over coffee at Grandma’s. His stories are more relaxed, almost conversational. They have an odd habit in picking you up and taking you along on the trips, wondering what in heaven's name will go wrong next, because you will also get the idea that bad luck followed Oberg everywhere. It seems he’s always running into lousy waitresses, misguided fishing guides, a moose that died far from an easy portage, storms, ice, motor-busting rocks and bad roads.

But then, those kinds of stories are the best stories, the ones you remember. If everything goes right, it’s ho-hum. But when you’re lucky to get a buddy into a cabin before hypothermia killed him, it’s memorable.

His credo was always look for side roads -- places not heavily visited. Here’s how he explained it in the opening chapter of the book: “Sidetracks are full of rewards and prizes but only for those who are willing to face risks and endure discomfort. I’ve found this to be true not only for fishing and hunting, but for life in general. If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”

In an interview, Oberg said he tried to add some kind of lesson at the end of his stories. Some are about being sure to always enjoy the beauty of the outdoors, some more mundane, such as knowing where you’re pointing your firearm.

He said he told his stories a lot and people began to tell him he should write a book. The aim is to “write a story for my friends to read and laugh at.” He agreed he had more than his share of mishaps, but “you have to look for the best in everything.” He believes more hunters and anglers can relate to both his pratfalls and near-death times.

When people are done, he hopes they learn more about the outdoors. “I guess I love the outdoors because it really is God’s creation,” he said. “You can really find God in the outdoors; it’s inspiring for me.”

John Weiss, a longtime Post Bulletin staff writer, is now a freelance writer in Rochester. He is the author of "Backroads," a collection of his Post Bulletin columns.

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