When the Time Comes

“Time is Running Out” by zamboni.andrea is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

It was a slow day in the fly shop, so I was glad to see a visitor. With deliberate care, he opened the door of the fly shop and softly closed it behind him. He was slightly stooped, and lines of many years etched his face. I guessed his age as the early 80s. After closing the door, he looked toward me and his face radiated a kind smile as his eyes caught mine. He walked slowly to where I stood behind the counter.

“I’ve never been able to drive by a fly shop without stopping,” he said. A visitor from out of state, he asked, “Fishing any good around here?”

“Fishing’s almost always good,” I said, “But the catching varies. However, the catching has been pretty good lately.” I motioned towards a couple of nearby padded chairs reserved for visitors. “Have a seat,” I said, “And we can chat. Unless you have to be some place. I don’t want to keep you off the river. There’s some pretty good wade fishing spots close by.”

He eased himself into a seat. A deep sigh of contentment followed. “Thanks,” he said. “No, I don’t have to be anywhere in particular. But I’m afraid I won’t be going fishing. My balance isn’t what it used to be, and I get tired in a hurry. I’ve had to give up fly fishing. But as I said, I just can’t drive by a fly shop without stopping.”

We burned an hour or so trading fish stories, and then my visitor rose to leave. “Thanks,” he said, “I appreciated your time. You’re a good listener.”

I held the door open for the man, and after closing it behind him I returned to my seat. I had much to think about. What would happen to me if I couldn’t fish any more? How would that be? Would I still hang around fly shops and explore the local rivers and still waters? Or will there come a day when I, too, will be slowed or even benched by physical limitations?

I smiled smugly. Well, that’s never gonna happen to me, I thought. As long as I can string a fly rod, I’ll keep fishing. I’ll never let anything stop me.

Then my thoughts took a sobering turn. When did I stop climbing stairs two at a time? When was the last time I was on my mountain bike? When did I start using a magnifier to tie on a fly? Not too long ago I could tie on a #22 trico without thinking about it. Now I can’t even see a #22 trico. I pride myself on being pretty healthy and in pretty good physical condition for a geezer. But the last time I went backpacking with a friend, a man 35 years my junior, I noticed that I had to stop and rest a lot more than he did. I once was strong, tough, and feared no man. Now I carry a concealed equalizer on my right hip.

No doubt about it, age catches up with all of us. We eventually slow down, no matter how much we strive against it.

How about you? Think about it. Share with us. If you’re an old fart like me (that’s Mr. Old Fart, if you please) how are you adapting? If you’re a young buck, what advice can you offer us old-timers?

The Hunting Dilemma

It’s a paradox: “You say you love animals but you kill them. Why?” If you’re a hunter and a non-hunter asked you this question, how would you respond?

Photo “starry sky” courtesy of skyseeker. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Like many of us, I like to spend the last hour or so of the day with my feet up. I don’t have TV, but I do subscribe to Netflix as I enjoy watching some of the documentaries. Recently I watched a documentary called, Stars in the Sky: A Hunting Story and knew immediately I had to share this gem with my hunting friends. If you have Netflix, I encourage you to stream it. If not, you can buy the documentary from numerous places online. Trailers are also available online. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stars in the Sky: A Hunting Story isn’t an apologetic or a defense of hunting, but a look at the “whys” of hunting. It’s a view of hunting from a number of diverse perspectives. It’s a walk along different paths. Perspectives are offered not only from hunters, but from a conservationist, a retired schoolteacher, a rancher, an environmental historian, a U.S. senator, and a vegan philosopher.

My non-hunting (but meat-eating) wife watched the film with me, and at one point she turned to me and asked, “Why do you hunt?” As I said, she’s not a hunter so she assumed a couple of the draws might be recreation, and spending time in the company of other hunters. She knows I love my almost-yearly retreat to elk camp, where I spend a couple of weeks living in a wall tent with a few friends. Her assumptions were correct, to a point, but there is more. I shared that many hunters consider hunting a solitary thing, and that is very much demonstrated in the film. Yes, I enjoy my time living in a wall tent with friends, but when we leave the tent in the grey predawn, we each go our separate ways, and solitarily filter back to camp in the failing light of the day to greet one another, share stories, and enjoy a hot meal cooked over a wood stove.

Back to the film, it did an admirable job of exploring hunting as a link between generations: The film noted that rarely does one take up hunting unless initiated by another, perhaps a father, an uncle, or in my case a good friend. One hunter shared, “I was introduced to it as an act of love for the natural world.” Responding to the hunter’s call is a coming of age for many, a demonstration of gaining enough maturity and understanding of fair-chase ethics culminating with the right to carry a deadly weapon.

And so we return to the paradox: “You say you love animals but you kill them.” Paradoxical, yes. But it is what it is. However, this leads me to ask a question: Why do YOU hunt? Consider leaving a comment. All perspectives welcome.

In the Good Ol’ Summertime!

Copyright Mike L Raether, 7/2020

Suddenly the season is upon me. So what’s a guy to do? So many choices, so many options. Fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, huckleberry picking, shooting, reloading, cooling off in the Clark Fork River, or – forbid the thought – getting stuff down around the house so I can go fly fishing, hiking, backpacking, camping, huckleberry picking, shooting, reloading, or cooling off in the river. Or I could do some work around the house – or not. I must first consider my Montana options one at a time –

  • Fly Fishing. This is probably my first choice, especially with the nearby Clark Fork River right at hand and producing lots of cooperative trout. Grasshopper season is just about to get into full swing (better known as “hopper/dropper” time). A big, fat, tan Chernobyl Ant might be hard for a fish to resist. If I need up-to-the-minute fishing info, I can call on my friends at Joe Cantrell Outfitting.  A float trip on the Clark Fork is the best way to fish this big river which drains most of Western Montana, but sometimes I prefer wade fishing. A while ago I composed a list of wade fishing areas for some of the local rivers and creeks, and if you shoot me an email I’ll send you a free copy (no spam, and your email address will never, ever be shared. Promise).
  • Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping. When I first relocated to this part of Montana, I was amazed at the myriad of alpine lakes in Northwest Montana that could be reached without wearing off too much boot leather. I even wrote a fly fishing guide book about the mountain lakes which was published in 2018 through Wilderness Adventures Press of Belgrade, Montana. I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the lakes I wrote about, and shooting some video this time around. Should you be interested in my book, you can find it here.
  • Huckleberry Picking. What we call huckleberries here are actually wild blueberries and they’re ripening as I write. Huckleberries are a thing in Western Montana. Huckleberry fiends can get huckleberry ice cream, huckleberry lattes, huckleberry candy, and of course, fresh-picked huckleberries. I see a huckleberry pie in my future.
  • Shooting and Reloading. I think I’ll save this for a rainy day project in my shop. If it ever rains again this summer. Been in the upper 90s the past few days. My wife Katherine asked me recently, “Which do you like more: shooting or reloading?” I thought for a minute and replied, “Reloading. I shoot so I can reload.”

    Copyright Mike L Raether 7/2020
  • Speaking of temps in the upper 90s, I can go cool off in the river. The flow of the lower Clark Fork is gentle for the most part, making it ideal for folks in drift boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards (float at your own risk, of course. And ALWAYS wear a life jacket!).

So what am I gonna do? Hmmm . . . What would YOU do?