“Turn left at the oak tree, then pass the green house and turn right at the corn field.” That is how my friends in high school gave directions to my house. I grew up in the house my mom grew up in, about a half mile down a dirt road behind a small farm. In a largely suburban area outside of Annapolis, MD, my house and surroundings were different from my classmates. Behind my house was a large park, which had been a large family farm until the family sold a portion of the land to the County when I was 4 years old. My playground was an undeveloped, naturalizing park.
When I was 12-13, I started to have the courage and freedom to explore the park. I found a hole in a fence and squeezed myself through. Climbing through the fence was climbing into a new world. I would go a little further each time I explored in the park. Eventually I found a pond. It was an old farm pond, named Bunks Pond. My friends, Dave and Tim, would often come with me to the pond. We tried to catch frogs at the edge of the pond and would hide in the bamboo on the far side of the pond pretending to be in the army or ninjas. We started to learn more and gain interest in fishing. We began to catch bluegill on bread balls in the pond. After using some birthday money, I bought and tried a spinner bait and caught a pickerel. I was ecstatic. My time at the pond helped my interest in the environment, wetlands and streams grow.
One of my first jobs was helping my father surveying with his company. I learned the basics of surveying and I observed how development projects are laid out and impact the existing features of the landscape. I loved working outside, I appreciated the problem solving of geometry and I liked learning about how things were built. I was shocked by how the construction of housing and commercial developments completely reshaped the land, wiping out all the features of a property to create something new and something completely foreign. It was a great learning space and shocked me into wanting to protect the environment. I also picked up how to work my way through brambles without getting torn to shreds, how to drive a hub or rebar quickly into the ground, and how to quickly cut down brush with a brush hook. It was a great learning experience.
I built a desire to learn to protect streams, lakes and wetlands and for understanding how land use and engineering impact our environment. I went to college to learn more about biology, ecology, physics, and engineering. I was lucky enough to have summer internships with the Environmental Center at The Anne Arundel Community College. Dr. Steve Ailstock led efforts at the Center and taught me about harvesting and processing seed for wetland and submerged aquatic vegetation. He and his team showed me how wetlands help filter dirty water and reduce flooding. I helped him build a wastewater treatment wetland system in Louisiana and continued my learning of the functions of natural systems. He further pushed my mind to explore environmental restoration as a future career.
This week I was asked how I got started in my career and “how I started a fire in my belly” about environmental restoration work. I remembered steps along my life and some of the moments that challenged me to expand and find my path. My fire comes from my desire for my actions to make a difference in the world. I want the world to be better because I’m in it and for the work that I do. There are many moments when life feels like a grind and the fire in my belly keeps me going.
The fire has led me to fly fishing and writing. Along my path, I’ve been left breadcrumbs from different mentors and influences that have connected me to moving forward and learning more, getting more connected. I have always struggled with feeling connected and communicating well with people about how I emotionally feel. Sometimes I get stuck in my mind and start doubting my own story. The fire in my belly helps me to try and improve. Fly fishing has helped get back to spending time outside and provided a way to heal myself from the grind and pressure of life.
This past week, my work took me to northern New Jersey, and I researched trout streams in the area prior to visiting the site. I completed a site assessment to develop a proposal to complete a restoration project and I was able to visit Shannon’s Fly and Tackle Shop in Califon, New Jersey. The shop manager was knowledgeable and helpful, and the shop has a great old school feel.
I visited the Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area. It is stunning, one of the prettiest places I have fished. My experiences have been limited to the Mid-Atlantic area, so I have many amazing places to fish out west in my future. However, the South Branch of the Raritan River is a beautiful stream through the gorge area. I had two hours to fish, so I fished quickly through a small reach. I caught several great fish and I hooked and lost a monster. More than anything, I was struck by the setting and how I was lucky that my path takes me fishing.
Fishing this week helped me to remember being back in Kinder Park at the pond. It reminded me of the fire in my belly and the long path of my life. It helped me to look forward to my path continuing, including the blog and writing about my experiences. Sara Sheridan wrote, “Writers are a product of where we come from but by looking at alternatives to culture in which we live, we can find ways to change and hopefully improve it.” Her quote helped me to own that being a writer is a part of my life’s journey and I’m excited to continue to explore writing. I do not know where my path will lead, but I’m appreciating where I’ve been and where I am now. Wherever I go, the fire will be in my belly, a fly rod will be in my hand, and I’ll have my notebook to write my thoughts and feelings.