Category Archives: Life

Perspectives on the business of living, from thoughtful to just plain fun.

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.

Beating the Coronavirus Blues

“Not for Sale” copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

I’m trying not to gloat.

As of yesterday, 38 states have issued stay-at-home orders. Montana is one of them. But I’m okay. The stay-at-home orders don’t bother introverts like me. Home is an introvert’s favorite place to be. As much as we love people, people wear us out. What I’m saying is that hermiting doesn’t bother us. Rather, it gives us the perfect excuse to stay home and veg.

However, some of the extroverts I know are having a tough time of it. Extroverts love parties, get-togethers, and other people-gathering events. Why? Because extroverts recharge by being around people. For example, I have a good friend who is an extrovert and married to an introverted wife. When I telephoned my friend a while ago, his wife picked up the call.

“Can I speak to Fred?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, “He’s gone into town visiting to get his daily ‘people fix.’”

However, after a while even introverts get bored with just hanging around the homestead. There’s a big difference with staying home as a choice and being ordered to go home and stay there.

So I thought maybe I’d head to the river and practice some “social distancing.” The powers that be in nearby Washington State have closed all sports fishing until at least April 6. However, our governor Steve Bullock (of who I’m not normally a fan) issued a modified stay-at-home order for Montanans which allows people to leave their homes for “essential activities.” Essential activities are defined as those required for health, safety, and for purchasing necessary consumer items such as groceries (and TP if you can find it). But Bullock’s order allows people to leave their homes for other “essential activities,” which he defined as outdoor-oriented pursuits such as hiking, running, and biking. My interpretation is that fishing is also an essential activity. It is necessary to my health, life, and well-being. If questioned on the riverbank by some nosey snark as to why I’m not staying at home and thereby doing my part to curb the spread of coronavirus, I’ll claim I’m a government official testing the fish for COVID-19. Yeah, that’ll work.

Of course, a guy can’t fish all the time (darn!) so I decided what I really needed was some humor, if not a good belly-laugh, to freshen up my attitude when confined to my home. So I went to YouTube and found some good things with which to amuse myself, and I hope you as well. Here are my suggestions –

The first is, “How Rednecks Prepare for the CORONA VIRUS.” This guy has some really helpful (and unique) ideas about how to protect ourselves from becoming infected.

The second is, “Seems Like The World Is Out Of Toilet Paper.” This vid starts with about a 5-second ad, which you can skip (have you noticed how many ads have suddenly appeared advertising bidets?).

One more:  “A Message From Corona Beer.” No wonder health officials didn’t name it the “Budweiser Virus.”

Oh, I just thought of something else I can do while waiting for this thing to pass: Take a nap. Or naps. Lots of them.

To Tell the Truth

“Fingers Crossed” copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

It’s called the game of One-Upmanship:

“I caught more fish than you.”

“So what? I caught the biggest fish.”

When I was writing The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes the pressure was on to catch fish. I even prayed to catch fish. After all, I was supposed to be the expert: what if I didn’t catch any fish?

I was asked this question by a campground host at a drive-in campground while researching the book. I’d chosen this campground as it was central to a few lakes in the area that I wanted to investigate, lakes with short day hikes. The idea was to car-camp while doing a few day hikes to check things out. While chatting with the campground host, I shared why I was there. That’s when the question came: “What if you don’t catch anything?Of course, the question comes in different forms depending on the outdoor activity – 

“Did you get your buck?”

“How was your turkey hunt last season?”

“How many geocaches did you find over the weekend?”

So when I was asked by the campground host what I’d do if I didn’t catch any fish, I paused for a moment, looked at my shoes, and said, “I’ll tell the truth.” Not that I’m bragging. I’ve succumbed to the game of One-Upmanship more often than I like to admit. Maybe I should join a support group where everyone sits in a circle and bares their soul: “Hello, my name is Mike and I’m a One-Upmanship-Aholic. My confession is I didn’t get my buck last season.”

Related to the game of One-Upmanship is the game of Making Excuses such as –

“I woulda got that monster wall hanger if my hunting partner hadn’t bumped my arm just as I shot.”

“I woulda got my gobbler but the hens kept getting in the way.”

“I woulda found a ton of ’caches but my GPS broke.”

What makes us throw in our chips to play the games of One-Upmanship and Making Excuses? Why are we tempted to exaggerate, lie, or justify? Why can’t we just enjoy the experience of _________? (You fill in the blanks).

So I’ve made a decision. I’m gonna tell the truth. Even if it hurts. By the way, speaking of truth, I didn’t get my buck last season. Or my elk. Or my bear. Or my gobbler. Of course, I have good excuses . . .

Fly Fishing and Life

Fly Fishing Fun on the Clark Fork. Copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

You can tell a lot about a person by watching them fly fish. Are they patient or easily frustrated? Are they observant or heedless? Do they check their knots after changing flies, or do they recklessly hope for the best? Taking a look at our fly fishing habits will help us know ourselves better, and in the balance we’ll become better fly fishers.  Let me illustrate.

A while ago I was fly fishing the mainstem of the St. Joe River in Idaho, one of the best artificial-lures-only, catch-and-release  waters flowing there. I was fishing with a friend. This friend is not the most patient person in the world and is never really satisfied with the way things are: he is centered on change, and the more change the better.

As I concentrated on the pocket water in front of me, I lost track of my friend. After a few minutes I turned and looked downstream to see how he was doing. The last I saw of him, he was fishing about 50 yards below me.  I was surprised to see that my friend was now 100 yards downstream. I stopped fishing and watched him for a couple of minutes. He would make a couple of fruitless casts, then move a few yards downstream and try again. Soon he was another 30 yards downstream, and the only time his rod bent over was under the strain of a forward cast.

So we have to ask ourselves: Do I thoroughly work a piece of water or do I hurriedly move on if there’s no apparent fishy interest? Patience will put more fish in the net than hopscotching down the river.

How about this one: Do I carefully observe what’s happening in, on, and above the water or do I just fish my favorite fly and hope the fish corporate? Careful observers learn a bit about the local bugs, and consequently hook more fish.

One more: Are my knots snug and tested, or am I not really expecting to wet the net anyway? I’ve noticed that the size and strength of a hooked fish is directly related to how well my tackle is maintained. Big fish just seem to instinctively know if a knot is weak or a drag is set too tight. If I’m good to my stuff, my stuff will be good to me. Paying attention to the details will boost my confidence, confident fishers work harder, and–you guessed it–catch more fish.

Best of all, if I learn patience, practice observance, and form good good habits, I’ll not only be better served on the water, but these qualities will translate to other areas of my life where patience, observation, and good habits are called for.

Don’t you just love win-win scenarios?

 

 

Good Medicine

Montana’s Clark Fork River in  winter copyright Mike Raether 2019

What’s a fisher to do? The chill of another Montana winter is upon us. The shortest day of the year, winter solstice, is just around the corner. The mountain lakes lie buried under deep blankets of snow, so hiking to stillwater is out. The nearby river is floating ice, but the ice on the lowland lakes isn’t yet thick enough for safe ice fishing. But I’ve got an itch to get outdoors, and I have to scratch that itch, even if there just isn’t much to do out there at the moment.

At this time of year, it’s easy for me to get frustrated, discouraged, or even depressed. But I found an answer, an answer that might work for you, too.

My solution for evaporating the winter gloom is found next to flowing water, even if that water is floating ice. I find a comfortable perch next to the river, but without fishing rod in hand. I’m not here to take; I’m here to receive. I’m here to let the sound of flowing water cleanse my mind.

And I think. I remember. I meditate. As Herman Melville wrote in his novel Moby Dick,  “…meditation and water are wedded forever.” I let memories flow through my mind as the river water flows on. I remember fish fought, caught, and released. I feast on the memories of laughing wildflowers, the warmth of summer past, the turning leaves of fall, and the chill of that first morning frost.

As I remember, I am refreshed. I am restored. I am healed.  Cares fade away and are replaced by memories of seasons past and fine times. The river flows, bringing peace. Water is life.

What about you? Do you remember the time… Think back. Replay the film. Get outside and you’ll feel better inside. It’s the best medicine.

The Three Most Important Things to Teach Your Pup

“What’s next, Boss?” Copyright Mike Raether 2019

First off, I don’t understand the phrase, “It’s a dog’s life” like it’s a bad thing.  I disagree. Think about it: for a dog, life is nothing more than eating, sleeping, playing, and chewing up slippers. I kind of envy this, except for the “chewing up slippers” part. Nevertheless, other than the basics, there are three things every pup should learn and I’m pleased to pass them on to you at absolutely no charge. Before I forget, you’re welcome.

The first thing to teach your pup is how to pee on command. Really. This is so handy. Who of us likes taking the dog out for the last time at night and waiting while he/she sniffs every blade of grass until she/he finds just the right spot? (Notice how I wrote “he/she” and then “she/he”? Clever. But I digress.) The solution is teaching your dog how to pee on command. You, too, can have your very own pee-on-command dog and impress your friends.

However, before I reveal the process I must disclose a qualifier. It’s been my experience that this works with pups, but not so much with adult dogs. At least, I tried it once with an adult dog and he didn’t get it. Or perhaps he just didn’t think it was any of my business where he lifted his leg. Anyway, on with the lesson –

Take your dog outside (I assume you want your dog to relieve him/herself outside and not in the house) and let her/him find just the right spot. Mine likes the neighbor’s property best and that suits me just fine. When your dog (finally) voids, just say “Do it” or “Go potty” or whatever other command you want to use. As the dog does its’ business, repeat the chosen command over and over. Before long, when you give the command your dog will obey. Just never use the command in the house.

The second most important thing to teach your pup is not to chew stuff up, especially your slippers. Keep in mind while teaching this lesson that dogs like to chew. You’ll never break a dog of chewing. It’s what they do, in addition to eating, sleeping, and playing, but you can teach them how to chew stuff selectively.  Most pups learn this fairly quick.

When you see your pup chewing up (for example) one of your slippers, take the slipper way from the dog and give it something it’s permitted to chew, like a bone with a few goodies left on it (your dog won’t care if the goodies have dried up and turned black. And a little odor makes the bone all the more appealing). Instead of a bone, you could use a stuffed dog toy. As you take the item from the pup, say, “This is mine. You may not chew up (destroy, consume, tear apart) what is mine. This other thing is also mine, but I’ll let you have it so you may chew it up (destroy it, consume it, tear it apart) instead of the slipper which is mine.” However, now that I  think of it, this command may be too long for a pup to understand. Perhaps just a simple “No” along with the exchange would suffice.

The third and last command is probably the easiest but the most important: “Let’s go take a nap.” As dogs spend about 90% of their time napping, this trick ought to come to them naturally. This skill is best taught by example. ‘Nuff said. Speaking of naps…

Life in Montana

Steve Shadley on Gold Peak – Copyright Mike Raether 2019

It’s not called The Last, Best Place for nothing. Fly fishing for trout in Montana is legendary, and with a population of just over a million people in the fourth largest state in the nation it’s not exactly crowded. In fact, some counties in Montana have so little population that the U.S. government classifies them as “frontier.” Sure, the blue ribbon trout streams of Montana such as the Madison, the Big Hole, and the Beaverhead attract quite a few folks, but visitors to Western Montana’s mountain lakes will often experience complete solitude combined with great fishing.

But compared to what it’s like to VISIT Montana, what’s it like to actually LIVE here? I’m glad you asked me that question –

  • First off, I live in Western Montana and—don’t tell anybody—the winters are not as bad here as some say. Rarely do we have snow on the ground all winter, although we might see -20 degrees Fahrenheit during a January cold snap.
  • Second, in many places the only building permits required for private residences are for sewer and electrical. If you want to live in a tarpaper shack, well, that’s your business. We don’t believe in making laws to protect people from themselves. For example, if you’re an adult helmets aren’t required for motor cyclists.
  • Third, one of the advantages of Montana is that you can pretty much do whatever you want—which is also one of the disadvantages of Montana: people here pretty much do whatever they want.
  • Fourth, concealed carry permits for firearms aren’t required except in incorporated cities, and deadly force is allowed if you feel your life is threatened—just make sure you’re right. Of course, like elsewhere, firearms are never allowed in places like banks, bars, and government buildings.
  • Fifth, if you like big reservoir lake fishing you might be interested in East Central Montana’s Fort Peck Lake, which has more shoreline than the state of California.

If this sounds like it might be your kind of place, first consider this story my wife told me recently—

A tourist stopped at the antique store where she works part time. The tourist needed a new fitting for his RV hose, and asked where he might find one in town. She answered, “You won’t.”

He asked, “Where would I need to go to get one?”

She told him, “The next town, which is 14 miles.”

“Round trip?” He asked.

”Nope. One way.”

 

 

A Montana Freebie You Don’t Want to Miss

I was  minding the store at Joe Cantrell’s Fly Shop one Friday afternoon when two fly fishers from out-of-state stopped in to purchase fishing licenses. I told them I couldn’t sell them licenses because they didn’t need them that weekend.

Kids Fishing” by Virginia State Parks Staff, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Every year Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks offers free fishing on Father’s Day weekend – no license required as long as you abide by the regs. And the great news is you don’t have to be a father to take advantage of the upcoming free fishing weekend June 15-16. You can be a single mom with kids that just need some exposure to the Great Outdoors (better than any video game in my opinion) or just someone from in-state or out-of-state who wants to wet a line. And what a great way to relieve the stress of the high octane world in which we live.

On June 6 in the context of proposed access for sportsmen to more wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries for fishing and hunting, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, “Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes . . . [the additional access will] provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and women and their families across the country to pass on a fishing and hunting heritage to future generations and connect with wildlife.” Like I said, better than any video game.

Recently I had a routine doctor’s appointment. Before seeing the doc, I was chatting with the receptionist. Though the office was air conditioned, she had a small fan feeding fresh air to her. I asked her about it, and she told me the flow of air helped with her anxiety issues. I joked, “There’s a pill for that,”  but she told me she found something better. She said that a few days ago when she was feeling like the walls were closing in, she went and sat beside the river for a while. Her anxiety evaporated like morning mist on the mountains. Taking a outdoor breather won’t cure everything, but it can help.

Oh, and by the way, Montana can’t lay claim to being the only state that offers a free fishing promotion. If you don’t live in Montana, check with your state’s fish and wildlife commision, and see what they offer.

So go fish.

 

It Just Ain’t Natural

Poor wee man” by Froots is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I was descending a mountain after an unsuccessful elk hunt and on my way back to camp when I came upon another hunter’s camp. I stopped in to say hello to a young man who was hanging around the camp. We chatted about the hunting for a bit, and he confessed that no one in his group had yet been successful. He then looked around suspiciously as if someone might be hiding in the bushes and plotting against us. He lowered his voice to a hush, looked at me sideways under lowered lids and said, “It just ain’t natural. Three days in camp and no game! It just ain’t right.”

Yeah, well, life isn’t fair.

It’s just not fair that that trout snubbed the wonderful fly I just drifted down the conveyer belt, drag free and a brother to the other bugs it’d been eating. It just ain’t right! And so it goes in  many areas of life.

It’s not fair that someone just took the prime parking spot I’d spied right in front of the store. I’d just been aced out of rockstar parking! It just wasn’t right.

It’s not fair that traffic is slow and go, threatening to make me late for an appointment. It just ain’t right.

Recently I was reading the writings of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible. In chapter 40 and verse 27 the Hebrews were complaining about the unfairness of life: “‘. . . [Why is] my way hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God?’” (NASU).

Life isn’t fair. And even for those of us linked up with Jesus, sometimes it seems like even God is unfair! I guess the Hebrews forgot what the Lord had said earlier in chapter 40 and verse 10, that in the end it’ll all be worked out: “Behold, the Lord will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him.” (NASU). No more will be heard the words, “It’s not right! It isn’t fair!”

However, until the return of Christ, things probably won’t go my way. The longer I live, the more I understand that we’re really not in control of our lives, regardless of what we may think. Most of the time, all we do is react to what happens to us. But how we react is completely under our control. I was reminded of this recently when a personal project turned sour.

I live in the country, so I have a well. My well water is great, but as my well is a slow producer I recently installed a water storage tank in the mechanical room of my basement. Basically, the installation involved plumbing in the storage tank between the well and the pressure tank. Simple enough, even for a “mechanically challenged” person like me. The idea was that the water would be pumped into the storage tank until full, then shut off via the use of a float valve. But . . . the float valve malfunctioned (my fault) and the water ran over the top of the storage tank. Luckily, I caught the problem before no more than a couple of gallons spilled over. The problem was that the water partially flooded a guest room, forcing me to remove the carpet and dry it out. But it could have been much worse.

I thanked God that the problem was discovered before the water flooded my whole basement! It didn’t seem fair, and I didn’t much like it, but it turned out for the best. What if I’d been away for the weekend and returned home to find a lake in my basement? There’s not even enough room down there for a decent backcast.

What are your thoughts about dealing with life when it just ain’t fair? Share your thoughts and be an encouragement!