Thursday, January 12, 2017


It’s remarkable to me that the society that I’m familiar with has gone and made just about every holiday about getting things, and stolen the attention away from their real meanings and the personal relationships that make these times special. Maybe it’s just my individual perspective, but it seems a bit backwards.

Photo by Matt Reilly.

    Even our most family-oriented (might I say, wholesome?) holiday, Thanksgiving, which is confounded by no Easter baskets or Christmas gifts, and which is intended as a day of thanks for the bounty of life, is immediately followed by perhaps the greediest day of the year, Black Friday. The premise of Black Friday is not necessarily greedy. In fact, it’s the opposite—to provide shoppers good deals on items they wish to give as gifts for Christmas, a religious holiday hijacked by marketing and turned into an occasion of exceptional decadence.

     The cultural standard of Christmas presents as materialistic is, in my experience, so strong that even the idea of gifting “quality time” is seen as “cheap” or a cop-out by many, though too many of us don’t spend enough of it with the people who count. After all, to those ni your life you can be either a do-er or a be-er. You can do things—buy presents, support financially. Or you can be things—a cherished fishing buddy, friendly company in the deer woods. If you can guess anything from the tone of this article so far, you might guess I prefer the latter.

     Nevertheless, I made a Christmas list this year. Some of the things I got. Some I didn’t. But, on the eve of another college semester, as I write this, the ones I got are more than enough.

     On the top of my list was a musky—that long, mean, toothed fish of my most recent dreams that I have yet to lay a hand on. And that musky was to be, by its very elusiveness, a team effort, put in the boat by one of a handful of fishing friends with which I have the pleasure of floating with just a handful of times in a year. After all, musky fishing is mostly hanging out with friends in a boat freezing your butt off and smiling and talking about the good times. It’s admittedly a miserable time, at times, but a mighty fine retreat any day.

    I’m not a duck hunter, at least not by upbringing. I’ve been meaning to get my feet wet in the sport of waterfowling, though, and that inaugural trip was second on my Christmas list. A long-time school friend of mine and I have long been wanting to hunt together over winter break. He’s a neighbor, and yet it never seems to work out. There’s a river—a small one—not far from our homes that is floatable by canoe and that flows through public land. A jump-shoot of sorts was the medium for the meetup, and the ducks the added bonus. The cherry on top.

     I am an upland bird hunter by upbringing, though you wouldn’t guess it. The poor situation of upland species in Virginia is partially to blame, but I’ve been known to saunter through a few riverbottoms following a beloved setter on occasion with an eye for woodcock. I’d heard of a local resident population of the birds, not subject to the seasonal migrations of the “mainstream” population, and resolved to take my dad, a woodcock enthusiast who’s not fired a shotgun at one in some time, and our Irish setter, Maggie, out one day in search. That was wish number three.

    Friend, magazine editor, and fishing guide, Chris McCotter, the man who gave me my first ever magazine assignment, and a character I haven’t spent time with in several years, reconnected shortly before the holiday season, and made plans to fish Lake Anna, where he operates a guide service, over my winter break. It was, of course, tentative, as all outdoor plans are, and so I hoped Christmas would bring me that chance to rekindle a friendship and see a part of the state I’ve been missing.

    Truth be told, a few of these Christmas wishes weren’t granted, but they are still valuable to me. In this hour of my life, when free time is relatively abundant (some may say) but seasonally available, I’ve come to cherish moments with those I see rarely, and the novel outings that I know I’ll remember for a long time. Those gifts, in my mind, are what the “holiday season” is all about.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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