My first thought this morning was about my workout plan and need to get moving. My second thought was a recognition that it was Veterans’ Day and that I should have sent my vet off to his workout with a big thank you kiss instead of the half asleep presentation of a cheek near the edge of the blanket for a kiss. As the sleep clouds lifted somewhere in the middle of shoulder presses and bicep curls I realized something – most of my fishing partners over the years have been Veterans. They each played an important role in protecting the freedom we share to breathe fresh air and catch fish.
I’ve read articles on the origins of catch and release philosophy and the rise of fishing as recreation. Often they point to the years after the Civil War as the moment in time when a nation, and especially the veterans that made it through to the other side of that self-inflicted bludgeoning of our country, headed to the lakes and rivers for respite and repair. They flocked with poles to the water and fished with fervor. Nature healed and built new brotherhoods—fishermen.
My great grandfather George Warren Peck was a World War I vet, and although I never fished with him he left cartoons of his post-war experience and they often involved fishing and camping. He built his home with wife Minnie in the tall trees right next to the Cedar River in Southern Minnesota. They raised my grandmother Lillian there, and she would marry my first fishing partner – my Grandfather Sidney, a World War II vet. Pa must have shared the healing power of fishing with my Uncle Garth, a Vietnam Vet. And these two vets raised myself and my cousins to appreciate those lazy days on the lake. I don’t remember either of them talking about their service, other than Pa accrediting his ability to sleep to loud polka music, and anything else seemingly insulting to tired ears, to those years in barracks. I didn’t know the secret codes and language of warriors then, so perhaps I just missed those conversations.
Now I’m married to a Desert Storm Vet and I know what to listen for. As we backpacked into the hills last month with another vet from that first war in the tumultuous desert of Iraq I heard two men enjoying shared stories on a walk through the mountains. As we roasted trout over a campfire I watched two men reminisce over similar experiences that I couldn’t comprehend. I was so grateful listening to them that they were both there to give their best to our country, and both here with me in the streams.
If wars are obscene necessities of society, then it is also true that we need our rivers, lakes, mountains and meandering trails over forest floor and desert sandstone. We need our wild places to give our vets a chance to decompress and restore the softer forces of humanity within. It is the least we can do to show our gratitude. And I will personally fish with a vet anytime.