Thursday, April 16, 2015


A sense of distant familiarity filled the brisk mountain air as my brother, Phillip, and I sliced a path through it with boots and fly rods, following rocky switchbacks and clambering over fallen trees along a footpath aimed at an intimate Blue Ridge hollow.  Irrigating the gorge 1,000 feet below was a favorite and well-known brook trout stream, but our sense of adventure was renewed, our minds overtaken by anticipation, as our feet treaded a course to a foreign stretch.  Fishing together has been rare since the pursuit of a college education relocated me 200 miles to the south, and so it seemed fitting to choose a venue of tradition for the day that we broke the fast.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Gurgling Appalachian Mountain water joined our downward venture when a narrow gut nuzzled the hillside trail.  An unnamed creek, a tributary beaded by lucid, globular pools, captured our passing fancy and required an impromptu plying with flies. 

    We split up.  Shortly, the modest trickle yielded a half dozen fiery-flanked brookies of respectable size, and I retired my preliminary efforts to the overlooking path, excited and ready to continue on to the main event.  Phillip was still fishing as I took a standing perch atop a rock mound to reflect and wait.

    A bluebird sky illuminated the forest floor, warming the ground and lighting diamonds on the riffles and runs of the brook trout’s home.  The warmth of spring tugged at young hardwoods, at the ground, drawing renewed life and its tell-tale buds of green from the ragged nooks of an otherwise harsh landscape.  There was not a road in sight, nor a human who was not diligently cracking away at a hungry trout.

    The air is stimulating and humbling in such places, tucked away in the folds of the developing world.  For a moment, I was comfortably engulfed by the emotions of wilderness, the unstudied potential of new water, and the impression that their influence was unrestrained. 

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Yet, I know too much.  As Aldo Leopold explained, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”  The water we were scheduled to meet by afternoon is plagued by the adverse effects of acid rain deposition, by no fault of the fragile brook trout or the caddisflies or the equally iconic black bears of the mountain setting, but by fault of humans in the adjacent, polluting, coal-producing region.  Regular water quality monitoring and treatment loan the native trout their health.

    Less than 24 hours prior, a press release landed in my inbox detailing the recently sealed fate of the Ozernaya River in Russia’s Kamchatka.  Gold was discovered in the headwaters of the river in 2004, and in 2013 plans to develop access roads and a road mine were made, stealing the “pristine” designation from the largest spring creek valley in the world.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate voted to support a budget resolution that would allow state governments to take over control, auction, or sell all federal public lands, except for national parks and monuments.  Sportsmen and women are undoubtedly the strongest advocates and defenders of our public lands.  Following the announcement that the number of Americans involved with hunting and fishing had dropped from approximately 40 million in 1991 to 34 million in 2006, this recent bout of immorality in the Senate is particularly ominous for the future of America’s outdoor heritage.

    On a more local level, New Mexicans are engaged in an ongoing, fist-clenched battle against Senate Bill 226, which threatens to eliminate their access to public waters.  Should the amendment, which contradicts the rights to public waters spelled out in the state’s constitution, be passed, New Mexicans will be stripped of their right to wade, float, or fish navigable, public waters which are bordered by private property.

    Incomparable and dwarfed in “ecological education” to Leopold, my foundational education mirrors his own.  I am an outdoorsman, and in reflecting upon the deeply personal relationship that I have with the outdoors I know one thing—that the stewardship and the quest for ecologically sustainable systems that I challenge my purpose in life with is a direct result of that foundational outdoor education, and that the future of our sports, our public lands, and our Earth rely upon the ongoing recruitment of such passions.

    Between the lines of the tense reports on issues that threaten the health of our environment and the access we currently enjoy to our woods and waters are the voices of sportsmen.  We know there are no “quick fixes” for these short-sighted, progress-guised adulterations, and understand our obligation to defend our natural resources tooth and nail against such baneful human activity.  Hope for the future resounds in those voices, united in a world of wounds.        

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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