I spent the day yesterday in Washington, DC to soak in some sights on this Memorial Day weekend. From the glory of the World War II Memorial, to the spectacle of Rolling Thunder, here are some of my favorite images.
History was never a strong subject for me in school. It just didn’t interest me. I liked science, and have always been curious about the natural world around me. But, I thought, I had no use for history.
It wasn’t until, oh, around age 40 that I found myself seeking out books about history to read recreationally. The brilliant HBO series Band of Brothers single-handedly sparked an appreciation and fascination of the immense efforts and sacrifices made during World War II. When the series was over, I hungered for more. I started by reading the book by Stephen Ambrose upon which the series was based. And then, having discovered for the first time a teacher who brought history to life for me, I craved and read more Ambrose.
While preparing for a half-work, half-fishing trip to Montana several years ago, I purchased Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. For some reason at that time, and on two more attempts in the years to follow, the book just didn’t grab me. But a few months ago, as I began making plans for a September return trip to Montana, I picked up the book again. This time, like a trout finally taking a fly after having refused numerous similar presentations, the story hooked me. I was enthralled. I decided then to add the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls and some other spots along the Lewis and Clark Trail to my itinerary.
As I looked on a map, plotting a course that combined new places I wanted to see and fish like Yellowstone with places of historical interest, it occurred to me that they are the same places. It turns out I do have a use for history. The natural world I love so dearly has a fascinating fabric of American history woven through it. The cutthroat trout I’ve caught before in the cold, clear waters of western Montana have some of the same genetic material as the cutthroats first described to science in the expedition journals of Meriwether Lewis. And while the expedition did not enter what is now Yellowstone National Park, Lewis and Clark did explore the Yellowstone River. And this September I may stand near where they once stood, looking out over terrain virtually unchanged in 200 years.
But it is not unchanged by chance, it literally took an act of Congress to preserve such a place. In March, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act of Dedication, and Yellowstone, America’s first national park, was born.
Today, individuals and organizations work tirelessly to protect these special resources. And the threats against them are real. The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout is in grave danger due to the illegal introduction of invasive, non-native lake trout into Yellowstone Lake 20 years ago, and Trout Unlimited, along with the Yellowstone Park Foundation is aggressively attempting to reverse the near total decimation of the Yellowstone Cutthroat.
But I can’t just sit back and observe these efforts and hope they go well. There is more at stake than just being able to hold up a cutthroat trout and say, “Oncorhynchus clarkii, named after William Clark. Neat!” As a fly fisherman, a lover of the outdoors, a fervent – albeit recent – student of history, an outdoor writer and blogger and a regular visitor to our national parks and waterways, I have a responsibility as a steward of these resources.
It’s not for me to say what others should do. But as I enjoy my recreational pursuits, both here in Virginia and across this great land, I will try harder to do my part, to stay informed about the preservation and conservation efforts concerning natural treasures like the Yellowstone Cutthroat, and to support organizations like Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Simms and the Outdoor Blogger Network, whose efforts both on the ground and in the arena of public awareness are a true act of dedication. I encourage my friends and readers to do the same.
This is my favorite photograph of my Mother. In it, she is not looking at the camera. She is not even aware of the camera. Her face is almost entirely hidden, in fact. But those who knew her well would be able to see the smile in her cheek. I’ve given this some thought, the photographing of people not as they look toward me, toward the interruption of a moment that is my camera, my attention. But how much more meaningful it can be to capture a person as they look out into their world. In this image, we are lucky enough to see the source of the smile: my father.
It’s easy for me to imagine the moment captured here. A couple of friends in the back, open road ahead, his car freshly tuned and purring (of this I am certain), driving to a picnic and toward a bright but unknown future. Sure, I know how the story ends, and I know it ends far sooner than they could have imagined. But it seems a worthwhile exercise to look through their eyes and just enjoy this moment with them. Young people in love on a warm day with the top down. This was a good moment. Who knows, maybe in difficult times ahead this instant came to mind and brought a smile.
But it’s this smile in the picture that intrigues me. It’s not for the camera, or at a family gathering, or amid small talk at the office water cooler. It’s a smile, pure as can be, at the man she’s about to marry, at the man with whom she will soon have children, at the man who is now watching the road. The smile isn’t even for him. It just is. And I almost feel guilty for spying on it.
My mother, who outlived my father by nearly thirty years, died five years ago today. A few years earlier, I had written something for her as a Mother’s Day gift. She called me, crying, and said it was the best gift I had ever given her. By the next time I visited, she had gotten it framed and it was hanging in her bedroom. So it meant a lot to both of us, and with Mother’s Day nearly upon us, I want to share it with you. What started as a gift, is now a tribute. I call it, “Flying.”
I recently held a hummingbird in my hand. He had accidentally flown into a window and fallen, unconscious, on the ground in front of a busy doorway. He looked like nothing, upside down, his white belly close to the color of the concrete beneath. But something made me look closer, and when I picked him up he moved a bit.
I moved him away from the human traffic, and sat on a nearby bench. Alive. Stunned, but with no visible injuries. His eyes opened, and I gave him the opportunity to fly from my open hand. He politely declined, and with an invisible gesture asked for a little more time to gather his wits. I assured him – by holding my hands in a way that he was protected and secure, but could leave if he chose to – that this was now the most important thing in my day, and if he needed all day he could have it.
So we sat there. Him clearing cobwebs and me just thinking, how lucky for me to have the opportunity to hold a hummingbird in my hands. How lucky for him that I came along.
My thoughts drifted back many, many years. Back to the house I grew up in, back to an injured bird in the gutter in front of that house, and back to my Mother. A shoebox, some paper towels, a lamp. It was exciting, I thought, to have part of the natural world sitting here in a box on the dining room table. I asked her how long before the bird would be better. She was a nurse, after all. Clearly she knew how to fix a bird.
I wanted to name it.
When she told me that she wasn’t confident the bird would get better (it wouldn’t), I remember instantly distancing myself emotionally. I felt like I had dodged a bullet by being moments away from deciding on a name.
My Mother, of course, saw instantly what I was doing and we had what stands now as my Earliest Remembered Meaningful Conversation. She asked, as a nurse, what would happen if she stopped caring about patients who were not getting better? Patients who were going to die? They needed her more than ever during those times.
I was young, I don’t recall how young. And I don’t recall the words she used to express and make me understand compassion. And Lord only knows how she made it be a part of me. But that’s how it is with these things. You can’t identify how your Mother makes you who you are, exactly. But you know that she did.
And so now, on Mother’s Day, I think about how at many other moments in my life my Mother taught me. Showed me. Shaped me. Held me, protected me, and gave me room to fly away. And I hope she knows that I noticed. That I remember. That the only thing I really forget is to thank her, and for that I am sorry.
As I get older, as we all get older, early memories fade, naturally. As a result, most of the characters in most of the books of my childhood are long forgotten. The exception has always been those of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, published the year I was born. Those illustrations, so often labeled as “grotesque,” were imprinted in my mind at a very young age and remain there still in vivid detail. I have no recollection, really, of the story. But I can clearly recall having dreams of these characters coming to life in my room. While the characters in my mind are in clear focus, their source is muddled. To me they are half memory, half dream, and whenever I see even a glimpse of a corner of a Sendak illustration, I am instantly transported to the utterly unique world he created. It was never grotesque to me, that world. The dreams were welcome, and the memories never fail to bring a smile. It may be that my early exposure to this particular art stirred my imagination so that I pursued art partially as a result of its impact. That’s impossible to say, certainly. But Where the Wild Things Are is an undeniable part of my childhood, and those characters — even if I don’t see them or think about them for years at a time — will always be a part of me. Rest in peace, Maurice. And, pardon the cliche, thanks for the memories.
I like it when the farrier comes out to our place. Something about being around iron and anvils and the tools and practices of old that I’m just drawn to. I don’t actually have to help or anything, since most of the barn duties can be found enumerated beneath “Laundry” and “Having conversations with banks or insurance companies” on the list of things that will simply go a lot more smoothly if I don’t get involved. So I am usually standing around yapping, watching the fire and the sparks and the hammering for some time before I think to myself, “Hey. This would be a neat activity to photograph, wouldn’t it?” By the time it occurred to me today, the fire and the sparks were gone, but I still got a few shots in. I never do sepia tone, but it seemed right for this subject matter. I hope you enjoy the images, and a special thanks to Steve and Rob for letting me poke a lens into their business.
This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge looks for that picture which is unfocused. “It may be completely intentional, or accidental. You might have thought about trashing it, but in the end it definitely conveys something.”
I took this photo the other day at the river behind our house. I like the results I can sometimes get when holding the (waterproof) camera at river level and just pointing and shooting. I can’t see what I’m doing, however, so a lot of those shots don’t come out. It would have been easy to trash this one, but I actually quite like it. My two Wirehaired Vizslas are visible on the far bank, and even though they are seriously out of focus, their image conveys something about them. Finn (left) is intently watching me, waiting to break his ‘stay’ at the slightest request of mine (real or perceived). Winnie, on the other hand, has in fact lost interest in me and is investigating a tree or a shadow or a bug or something.
Project Healing Waters held its sixth annual 2-Fly Tournament this past weekend and it was, as it always is, an amazing experience for all involved. Rose River Farm was declared PHW’s national home waters at last year’s event, and it’s a perfect venue for this quickly growing tradition.
Project Healing Waters “is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings,” says their mission statement. An unquestionably noble mission it is, and founder Ed Nicholson’s vision is made possible because countless volunteers and donors and corporations generously give time and money and equipment to support it.
This year’s event was the biggest and best yet! Please visit the PHW web site for more information or to make a donation to this cause that has changed the lives of so many men and women who have sacrificed so much. I hope you enjoy some of the sights from this year’s event…
A time lapse film of all the volunteers and anglers arriving early Sunday morning.
One of the participants’ daughters helping out.
The healing power of simply being in nature can not be understated.
I’ve met many great people through my involvement with PHW. Josh is a friend, a new doting father and one hell of a fly fisherman. You can read more about him and purchase amazing flies from him on his Dead Drift Flies web site.
Douglas Dear, in the foreground here welcoming the participants, works tirelessly all year long on this event and as Chairman of PHW’s board.
It’s hard to find anyone not in a great mood at this event!
Guides like Harold from Spring Creek Outfitters give freely of their time and expertise year after year to make sure the wounded servicemen and women get the very most from their experience.
Oh yeah, there are also some huge trout in the Rose River!
Sometimes captions just aren’t needed.
Choosing the right fly is tough when you only get to choose two for the entire day!
Measuring a catch.
Entertainment, food, logistics…so many people come through to put on an event like this.
Everywhere you turn, moments like this are unfolding. Josh used to play guitar before he lost his arm. So he and Russ teamed up to play a few songs.
We focus a lot on the wounded, and sometimes overlook the sacrifices, the painful adjustments the families of those wounded have to endure. God bless them all.