I am constantly amazed by the connections of life among people and nature, animals, histories and experiences. This week I was reminded of my admiration for the way our world is connected in two different ways. Each of those ways connects my love of fly fishing to others in the world around me that impact my life tremendously.
The first connection is through trying to pass on the love of the outdoors through fishing to others. Last year, my daughter and I participated in the City Catch event with the Maryland Trout Unlimited chapter. City Catch began in the 1970’s as an idea of Jim Gracie, whom I wrote about in my Heroes blog. Jim dreamed of improvements to water quality in the Baltimore area watersheds that would be enough to support fishing for the residents of the City. The stocking program of the Maryland Trout Unlimited chapter, rod and reel donations from Tochterman’s Fly Shop, and efforts from dozens of volunteers have created a wonderful event, introducing 70-100 youth to trout fishing in Baltimore City each year.
Due to the Coronavirus disease, City Catch 2020 was unfortunately canceled. It would have occurred yesterday. Last year my daughter and I volunteered and had a great time. Samiah and I, along with my friends Brian and Mark, were partnered with four young men and helped them catch several trout each. Their excitement was fun and rewarding to see. I was looking forward to helping again this year. I appreciate helping connect others to fishing and the outdoors, especially kids who may not often be given chances to fish or spend time outside in nature. I am missing the event this weekend and am reminded of my admiration for the accomplishments and passion of my departed friend, Jim Gracie.
The other connection involves an incredible “small world” story. In October of 2012, Dr. Robert E. Mason of Baltimore, MD passed away after a very full life of 95 years. I never knew Dr. Mason. I had not known of Dr. Mason until this week, but his impact on my life has been tremendous.
On Monday, I had a meeting with a co-worker, Rebecca Harris. We are working on some water quality efforts for Maryland together. Near the end of our call, I mentioned to Rebecca that I have missed fly fishing during the shelter in place order. I told her I had become an avid fly fisherman in the past few years, and through fishing and tying flies I found a hobby and sport that I love.
Rebecca mentioned to me that her grandfather loved fly fishing and fly tying. She told me she would send me a photo of the fly her grandfather had become fond of later in his life. The fly used a coffee bean that has a small saw cut and is glued on a hook with legs to resemble a beetle. Rebecca and her father, every so often, will tie the coffee bean fly and fish together on Spruce Creek in Pennsylvania. She was so happy to say that she caught a fish on the coffee bean fly!
After our call, Rebecca sent me an email with a photo of the fly her grandfather made and a link to his obituary. Dr. Mason was a great doctor who accomplished many wonderful things and had a tremendous sense of honor. A true patriot, he enlisted in the Army the day after the attack at Pearl Harbor and later landed on Omaha beach and helped to establish a field hospital. In addition to fly fishing, he was an avid hiker, skier, and traveler. Dr. Mason had another amazing accomplishment: he invented the Cardiac stress test.
When I read about his accomplishments I was struck by the connections again. Four years ago I began to occasionally have chest pains which resulted in several frantic trips to the emergency room and trips to a Cardiologist for many tests. It was scary, not knowing what was going on and feeling like my life was much more fragile than I had realized. Going through a series of many different tests and getting various inconclusive results led to me taking a cardiac stress test.
The results of the stress test combined with my symptoms encouraged the Cardiologist to send me for a cardiac catheterization test. While at Johns Hopkins, where Dr. Mason practiced cardiology, my doctor gave me the catheterization procedure and determined I had a 90% blockage of the right coronary artery. The blockage required immediate attention and they installed a stent in my artery. I had to change my diet and how I took care of myself. My wife was terrified, alone in a waiting room after an hour and half for a procedure we thought would take 45 minutes. I was scared too, and I needed to change my life, which I largely have.
After reading the obituary of Dr. Mason, all those feelings came flooding back to me. This man and his innovations in 1965 helped me to still be here today. Without that test, I likely would have had a very damaging heart attack and potentially could have died. I felt very grateful for Dr. Mason and for Rebecca for sharing her grandfather’s story. And I am grateful for the connections in life and those that I have discovered through fly fishing. To continue the complete “small world” story of these two connecting moments of my life this week, I discovered a connection between Dr. Mason and the City Catch as I was doing some research for writing this blog. In an article describing the City Catch event in 2015 on the Baltimore Sun, one of the Trout Unlimited board members and City Catch volunteers quoted in the article was Ben Legg, who is Dr. Mason’s step son. The connections in life continually amaze me. Thank you Jim Gracie and thank you Dr. Robert Mason.