Thursday, January 3, 2013

A New Year's Resolution

      Every year, after the Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations have died out, and I hang my empty Virginia Wildlife calendar on the wall, I find time to reflect upon what my year has entailed.  Only in doing this can a schedule be made for the coming year.
      To look back on 2012, I see many squirrel hunting trips, several months spent on the river, a week or two catching the spawning cycles on the local ponds, plenty of kayak fishing, and not enough deer hunting.  I remember trips to big waters that often ended fruitlessly, few trout fishing excursions, and not much variety.
      Sportsmen live a seasonal life, more so than the average person.  Spring speaks of spawning fish, summer offers lazy river days, fall beckons us to the woods, and winter is a time of reflection, preparation, and variation.  We count fish as we drift away on late, balmy summer nights, but as the leaves change, so does our mindset.  The nights grow longer and the air becomes crisper, while game and thoughts of backwoods living fill our minds.  It’s often hard to think ahead when we find ourselves in flux with the changing seasons.
      What’s more, within these seasons are small windows of opportunity.  Woodcock migrate south and hold in the bottomlands for only a short while, smallmouth are on beds in the early spring, weather is ideal for float trips at the same time, panfish spawn in the farm ponds later, trout stock up for the colder months in the early fall, squirrels are feeding on beech nuts in late September, and the deer rut in October.  A window missed makes for a sad story and a dull experience.
      The calendar aids with planning ahead and taking advantage of opportunities, and it is for this reason that I spend the first few days of the year with one in front of me, a pen in hand, and a nostalgic feeling that lingers in the morning of the new year.  I recall reverently all the great experiences I have had in previous years, checking the dates of photos or journal entries to collect accurate dates, and marking their occurrences with perfect accuracy.  Worthy of note is the week that the redbreast sunfish spawn in a local farm pond.  With my kayak and fly rod, I collected hundreds of stocky specimens, returning many, but keeping some for a celebratory fish fry.
      Next I think of my ambitions for the year.  My politically correct “New Year’s resolution” includes spending a week in the awakening woods as the gaunt dogwoods and fiery redbuds emerge amongst a sea of green; exploring Virginia’s backcountry carrying a tent in aimless search of shed antlers and spiritual rejuvenation; catching Appalachian brook trout on the surface in the few small wilderness ponds at dusk; capturing a mother bear and her cub on film in their lush green surroundings; spending the night on a riparian sandbar during duck season, fueled by the reaping of a day’s hunt; and dressing flies in a newly-constructed workshop in anticipation for the next year’s fishing.  Such aspirations are given the needed research and forethought at a time when snow and frozen rain seem to hinder the flow of time, and obligations are almost non-existent.
      The last elements that mark the calendar are preparation reminders.  A week in the wilderness requires camping gear and food; remote trout fishing involves good maps and ideal water conditions; wildlife photography demands research, scouting, and time; duck hunting calls for clean guns and a clean boat; and fly tying is made possible by available materials.  Lists must be made and money set aside.  Dates are decided upon and partners secured.  I take no chances on being unprepared for adventure.
      Adventure is never out of reach, but forethought is the developer of a latent experience.  This year, I will not pass up the opportunities I’ve missed in the past or pass by the adventures I have meant to have.  Upon all, I wish a happy and prolific new year, full of countless memorable adventures afield.    

*First published in The Rural Virginian

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