If you’ve been reading the Outdoors column for any amount of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that my father, James Kundreskas, wrote this section of the newspaper for many years.
He was also published in other venues like Field and Stream and Coastal Fisherman. He once penned a weekly column in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
While his main responsibilities in life were taking care of his family and being a great father, he always found time to enjoy the outdoors. He learned to fish and hunt as a boy in Pennsylvania at the feet of his Uncle Tom, and he did his best to pass those cherished traditions on to both me and my sister, Jody.
All aspects of the natural environment were fascinating to him — geology, weather, astronomy, gardening. You name it and he had an interest.
Growing up, we had hundreds of books in the house and they all focused on nature, the Earth, science and the outdoors. I think if he had had his way, my father would have liked to have been an astronaut. He did a quick stint in the Air Force during Vietnam, but colorblindness robbed him of any opportunity to pursue that line of work.
The Outdoors column was a way for my father to share his passion — spending time outside — with others. He cared deeply about all people. In fact, it could be said that he could make friends with a rock.
He was Charles County’s most beloved band teacher, known as Mr. K to the thousands of kids he taught over a career that spanned more than 30 years. For my entire childhood, anywhere we went people would always seek out my father to say hello. It was a little bit like being related to a minor celebrity.
While most kids got to enjoy his jovial demeanor, funny jokes and kindness for just 30 minutes once a week in band class, I was so, so lucky to have Mr. K as my father.
His parenting and advice over the years, more than anything else, have been a guiding light to me in my adult years, helping me achieve success and find happiness in a world that constantly challenges us to figure out what’s most important and stay focused on the things that matter.
When my father died unexpectedly in 2015, it was a shock I thought I would never recover from. We spoke on the phone almost daily for most of my life, traded emails and texts and shared an obsession for the weather that kept us in near-constant contact once he retired from teaching. His passing left a void in me that I will always feel.
A few months after my father’s funeral, Paul Watson, the sports editor of Southern Maryland Newspapers, offered me the opportunity to continue my father’s column. In honesty, it had been too difficult to open the newspaper and not see my father’s words.
I jumped at the chance to keep my father’s legacy alive. It felt like it was a sign from above.
During one of the hardest moments of my life, when I was a plebe at the U.S. Naval Academy, I wondered if I had the strength to get through another day. At night, I’d go to my open window (Bancroft Hall had no air conditioning back then) and stare up at the stars in the sky.
I wasn’t able to talk to my father on the phone that summer, but he told me that when we were apart, I could look up at the stars and know he’s looking at the same exact stars and thinking of me, that I was not alone, that he would be with me always.
I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to write his column and, in a way, say a final goodbye to my father.
The Outdoors column gave me another chance to feel a connection to him and deal with the pain and grief of his passing. While my father is no longer looking up at the stars, he’s now a part of that cosmic dust, looking down on me. And I’m sure he’s smiling.
As this is my last column, I’d like to thank Paul Watson, my editor, for both giving me the opportunity to write and the freedom to discover and develop my own voice; all the folks who contributed to the Reel Report each week from April to October, including Ken Lamb, Ken Penrod, Andy Andrzejewski, Dennis Fleming and Eric Packard; Phil Zalesak and the men and women of Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association (now Southern Maryland Recreational Fishing Organization) for their dedication to protecting the rights of recreational fishermen and inspiring a new generation of anglers; all the readers who took the time to send me encouraging letters and emails; and most of all my husband and children.
While this column is ending, the adventure isn’t.