My nerves felt a little jittery, I wasn’t sure if it was the coffee or my baseline anxiety wearing through my usual coping mechanisms. While on the early morning drive to the stream, scenarios run through my head for the morning. Should I go upstream or downstream? How far should I hike in? I planned to fish a tail water stream that I’ve fished a few times. Each previous trip tested my skills and my patience. Instead of feeling relaxed or excited, I was nervous.
The stream has a relatively low gradient and storms several years ago blew pine trees that once lined the banks into the channel. The blow downs interrupted the flow of the river, inducing deposition of sand bars and forcing water around the exposed root balls, eroding the adjacent banks. It’s a bit of a mess for a wading angler, but for a trout there are lots of hiding areas amongst the downed limbs and branches.
Following the advice of my late friend, Skip, I waded carefully attempting to minimize disturbances to the water and I methodologically worked along the fallen trees with a dry dropper rig. After a few casts I was able to get into a rhythm with my leader, rolling out the fly with good accuracy at my targets. Fooling fall fish and creek chubs proved to be easy, but finding some trout was a challenge that escaped me. I wanted to catch a fish for Skip, I was putting some extra pressure on myself.
I didn’t catch a trout. I got the skunk. Heading to the car, I was wondering what I did wrong. Was I getting poor drifts? Was I spooking too many fish? Did I pick the wrong flies? What was missing? I thought through all the choices I made and all the actions I took.
Over the rest of the day, I replayed moments in my head from fishing. I was beating myself up, as I do with just about everything. I tried to repeat the “It’s just good to get out and enjoy nature” mantra, but today my mind was having none of it. I was disappointed and at least a little dejected.
In the afternoon, after the morning fishing, I visited the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery with my wife and in-laws. The cemetery was incredibly well maintained and designed with the solemn respect a National Cemetery deserves. Rows upon rows of white headstones filled many of the fields, I got chills and felt the depth of the sacrifice of all these families for service to our country. I have never served the public in the military or through any civil service, but I appreciate those who serve. My respect for those people who generously give their time and their lives to create opportunity and safety for others grows each day.
Over 1.1 million United States soldiers gave their lives in defense of our country. Their sacrifices made it possible for the choices I can make, for the choices I am able to provide to my children. We can select any career we like, follow any course of study, live nearly anywhere we want, and we can use our time for most anything we can imagine. I often get stuck in my own head, worrying about things I have no control over or things that are insignificant overall in life, like if I caught a fish today. Seeing the tombstones, I was reminded to be appreciative of being granted those choices and hoping those choices will carry on in the future.
Politicians and judges can change laws and policies for and against our beliefs. But we were granted the ability to choose our representatives and change the course of history through the sacrifices of those who came before us. Many people in many places are never given that power. It is not a perfect world or a perfect country, sometimes we get the skunk or even worse. But we have the power to choose our direction. Thank you to those who sacrificed themselves to give me that choice.
Happy Independence Day!