TOUGH TO SHAKE
Updated: Jul 10
There are few things in my life that I regret. That’s not to say there aren’t choices I’ve made that I would probably not make again if given the chance. I just find regret to be generally defeating, and thus try to avoid it.
But there is one regret I can’t shake.
I pretty much abandoned my love for fishing from 1990 to 2000…and hunting till 2004. When I say abandoned, I mean I completely. Poof. Gone. I lost touch with one of the most important elements of who I am – my love of the outdoors and being out in it. And the worst part? During those years I lived in places like Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Germany and England. Crap.
I went into the Army right out of high school. Once I got my feet under me, I realized a level of freedom most 18 year olds probably shouldn’t. Needless to say, beer, partying all night, fights and not giving too much of a damn about anyone but myself pretty much took over.
I think back to Germany. I remember one afternoon that my buddies and I had been at a beer fest in the small town we were stationed in. Wandering our singing, loud, drunk-American way back to the barracks, I noticed we were crossing a bridge, so I stopped, leaned over the stone wall and got a look at the river flowing below.
The water was captivating. Window clear with a gold-brown pebbled bottom. And there were fish holding in the current. Browns, just downstream from the shadow of the bridge. Effortless and almost perfectly still. Their thin shadows the only thing belying their camouflage.
I’m not sure what I was thinking at that moment, but I can tell you that it never crossed my mind to have my parents send my fishing gear across the big pond. Never crossed my mind that I should be finding an entry point to wade in and cast. Never crossed my mind that these fish are the original strain that spawned the population of Browns my dad and I fished for in our Upstate NY lakes and streams. I exhaled and let my chest settle into the wall. I was content to stay, beer-and-summer-sun-buzzed, till the day I died. Then one of my buddies poured the rest of his beer off the bridge. The fish spooked. We moved on.
By the time I moved back home and started college, my priorities were a little better. A little. Beer and partying, yes. But I traded late nights and fights for lacrosse, classes and a girlfriend. I was a Conservation major to start, and the outdoors was making a bit of a comeback in my life. I took classes in wildlife biology, North American fisheries, woodlot management…I even had a class dedicated entirely to the Whitetail deer – an animal that I chased with my dad since I was 14 and could draw a bow. I went with a half dozen classmates on a three-day trip to the Adirondaks. We used two-man saws and axes and cleared 16 miles of marked trails of trees downed by the ice storm of 1991.
But the comeback fell short in spite of all these outdoor influences. My time and attention stayed focused on partying and lacrosse, classes and girlfriend. Even after my she and I split, I had finished my degree and drove my truck to Texas State University in San Marcos to finish my undergrad degree, my tackle box, poles, and hunting gear were left to keep making nice with dust and cobwebs in my parent’s garage. Yes, I know. Texas…for Pete’s sake.
My then girlfriend, now wife, and I were married in 2000. We moved to Manassas, Virginia the day after our wedding for my grad school. We lived in a farm house in the sticks for six months before we found an in-law apartment in the downstairs of a house on a private lake in Falls Church. It was January. One newlywed couple + one primo apartment on a lake. We were pregnant with our first within hours after moving in (conservative estimate).
When Spring broke a couple months later, I found a fishing pole and old tackle box while poking around in the shed, walked to the water and cast an old jitterbug toward some lilly pads down the shore. Two cast later the line had a birds-nest tangle that swallowed the entire reel and I had to quit…but the fishing fog had started to lift. It wasn’t until my parents had come down for a visit, and my dad and went to an L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School to spend some time together and learn how to fly fish, that the fog left the water completely.
I felt like I had just woke up from a long nap…the kind of nap that leaves you feeling worse than you felt before you closed your eyes. I learned more in the next six months about fishing than I had learned in the previous 30+ years. Suddenly, there wasn’t a body of water that I didn’t look at without thinking I bet there’s fish in there, or look at those blow-downs, or I could get a fly under that ledge. The world was one big fishing season. Fishing even found its way into my Masters thesis. And while I didn’t get back into hunting until we moved back home, the time I spent on the water had me more than ready to get back into the woods when that time came.
Maybe regret, in the end, isn’t what I should feel about missing all that time and opportunity during those years. If things had been different, I wouldn’t have the perspective I have now. Besides, there’s one hell of a lot of water on this planet I haven’t covered yet to lament the small amount I’ve missed. Maybe it’s OK to shake this one.