Here's a positive story out of Scotland, where a teacher…
Last week I learned how easily we can forget the inherent value of simply getting kids into the wild, while letting go of the need for things to be ideal or some grand adventure. Nature offers her own rewards, regardless of how we try to make our time with her into something more.
This all began when I was asked to take my wife’s young cousin, a fly-fishing nut (yay!) from Alberta, on a fishing excursion during his family’s visit to Surrey, south of Vancovuer.
We had just one day. He wanted to fish a stream. Desperately. For anything.
I mulled over the options, considering the time of year, where the fishing might be good, trying to minimize travel time and so on. I pored over fishing reports and guide books and maps. As is my ridiculous nature, I put pressure on myself to make this some grand, memorable fishing adventure.
Considering the parameters (mid-July, short travel time, getting in and out of Surrey in stifling traffic and so on), my choices were limited. In the the end, I chose the Vedder River, about an hour east of Vancouver. The Vedder was between salmon runs and might provide some quiet fishing for its small population of resident rainbow trout.
So Luke, along with his little brother Jake, little sister Marika and mom Margo, met me along Highway 1 for our Vedder adventure. We arrived to find the water in good shape and the banks empty of their usual hordes of salmon anglers.
At our first stop, Luke and I tried wet and dry flies while Mom, Jake and Marika explored the bank. With no fishing success, we packed up and headed downstream. As we followed a trail to scout some pools, Jake fell and jammed a stick into his calf. This required a trip to Chilliwack General Hospital with his Mom while Luke, Marika and I ate a picnic lunch and then found a nice stretch of water near the Fish and Game club.
Here we encountered small fish eager to take dry flies, which made Luke happy and me relieved. I handed the rod to nine-year-old Marika and sat back to watch the fun. The fish were close, so she could make short, easy casts and coax trout after trout to a #14 caddis. She smiled and giggled for most of the next two hours.
These were the beautiful moments. Luke yelling when a fish rose to his fly. Marika shrieking with wide eyes and a smile as big as the day. A warm sun. A cold, blue river. A girl with her feet in the water and eyes intent on a drifting fly, making crazy casts and tangling her line, taking breaks to sit on a rock to watch her brother and the clouds and the sky.
I stressed to Luke the importance of barbless hooks and careful fish handling with wet hands. Being 14 years old, he wanted to admire and study each trout he landed. This offered a good lesson not only in fish but also fish empathy and respect—for a poor captured fish, I reminded him, each second out of water is a second of suffocation.
Later we were joined by Margo and Jake, with his leg numbed and bandaged, a bag of chips in his hand and ready for the next adventure. Oh, the beautiful resilience of kids. And somehow, amidst the fish and the fun, we had slipped into late afternoon. It was time to call it a day, one that I will remember for what it reminded me about the pure joy of childhood and simple adventures in nature. For the kids, I hope the day etched a memory or two that might last into adulthood, and I hope also a enduring love for rivers and fish and wild places.