I have written before about how I cherish my relationships with my friends, many of which I have been friends with for most of my life. I was trading text messages with my friend Byron last week. He had come to Pennsylvania from Michigan to visit his parents and to avoid the tremendous flooding in Michigan. He is an emergency room doctor and has had a front row seat to the health struggles and tragedies, difficult hospital management, and political maneuvering of the Coronavirus Pandemic. He is one of the heroes helping those at greatest risk during this time. To add to all the stress of this situation amidst the human struggles in Michigan, his home was impacted from the flooding from the intense rainstorms in mid-May. Fortunately, he was not close to the failed dam in Midland, which was catastrophic. However, he lives near the Grand River, which flooded its banks and left his home and family in jeopardy.
Byron knew he and his family were in good health and that the need at the hospitals he works at was greatly reduced by the stay at home orders, so he temporarily moved his family out of harm’s way to Pennsylvania. His youngest son is an avid fisherman and loves fly fishing. So, while he was visiting with his parents, he took his son to fish in some of the local streams. Byron had a great time being out in nature and spending time with his son. He sent me pictures of the beautiful brook trout his son had caught. He and I traded several text messages and I learned where they had fished. A beautiful stream in southern Pennsylvania. I was hoping sometime I could visit that stream and have my chance to catch some brookies.
Yesterday I had some time to fish and decided I would try to retrace where they had gone. I found the stream and a good area to park and explored the area. It was beautiful just as his photos had shown, I decided to fish a dry dropper and work my way upstream. I haven’t fished many small streams and was quickly reminded how stealthy I needed to be and how aware of my casting space I must remain. After fine tuning my approach, I had success on both the brassie dropper and the elk hair caddis dry fly. The brookies were beautiful and the tight confines of the streamside vegetation helped my focus on my casting, wading, and stealth in approaching each run. As I worked my way upstream, I noticed several adjacent soft wetland areas that joined the stream, and in several areas, I saw footprints. I wish I would have photographed them. In the moment I was focused on photographing the stream and the fish I caught.
I left the stream after several hours and headed home. I texted my friend that I had followed in his footsteps, quite literally. He asked if I had seen his footprints and I had. At that point it registered to me how cool it was to have had a similar experience to him so close in time. I then realized I missed him more than I was previously aware. I also remembered how much I appreciate my time with him and his family, and I am so proud of how he has always given of himself to help others in need. He is brilliant and brave, exactly the type of person you want to be helping others during a health emergency.
My mind then wandered to the famous poem about footprints and how God carries us during periods of struggle in our lives. Many people are struggling currently and need all the divine and human support possible. I felt comfort in having traced the steps of my friend, who I admire, and feeling like I was being brought closer to him. I also was comforted in the feeling of spiritual support.
I then thought of the other steps I had followed in my desire to learn about fly fishing. The first steps that came to mind were those of Mike Evanko of the website and YouTube channel Wooly Bugged. Mike’s blog and videos follow different series of his fishing experiences, from steelhead to keystone select to brook trout streams of Pennsylvania. His videos and writing helped inspire my blog and helped teach me about fly fishing and exploring different streams. I felt like I was in an episode of Wooly Bugged at moments while I was hiking up this small channel and used lessons learned from his videos while I fished for the brook trout.
I also thought of the Lefty Kreh Trail. I have fished most often at the Gunpowder River and along the Lefty Kreh Trail. Following in the steps of one of the pioneers and great educators in fly fishing along that trail is a great feeling. I can’t remember if I was ever in Lefty’s presence, but I realized I’ve walked along the same trail he walked and was named after him. The history and connecting power of rivers and fishing settled into me even more.
Streams and rivers are the circulatory systems of our watersheds, bringing water and life to land around them. They also show the scars of how the land use changes around them. Over time, the rivers and streams have helped people navigate, provided food, irrigate land, generate electricity and power and find peaceful recreation. The streambanks have been walked by many people over many generations. Somehow, this text message exchange with my friend connected me to the enormity of how streams and rivers have impacted me and many others before me. I thought back to seeing those footprints and appreciated how they reminded me of my friend, my faith, my fortune of connecting to great resources, and my appreciation of the history, science, and functions of rivers and streams.
Thank you Byron, for all you are and all you do.