We live in noisy times.
Network connectivity is virtually universal and each day we seem to do less and the applications (apps) more. Bots organize our affairs, global positioning guides us, and we can connect with our friends without leaving the house.
I too let ingenious apps lessen my time spent with newspapers, maps, and telephone calls among other activity. But, what I don’t do is stay inside.
Outside, this summer, was special. A friend and I camped along the incomparably beautiful Smith River in Montana, pushing off in a raft each morning to fly fish for brown and rainbow trout. My wife and I hiked along and fished the Beaverkill River in the Catskills of New York. We especially enjoyed brief but memorable sightings of bear and wild turkeys and the swift cool waters of the river were a relief on hot days.
When was the last time you were thrilled by an unexpected encounter in nature?
Most people today would have to say “never,” as they don’t camp or hike mountains or seek intimacy with nature. Fortunately, for me my experiences began early and then became an essential part of my life.
When my age was still in the single digits, I was thrilled by the hard pull of my fishing line. My Dad had taken me to fish for crappie on Kentucky Lake. It was, for me, and I suspect for Dad, a very special moment.
A few years later, walking behind my Dad, I watched bird dogs point a covey of quail and then was awed by the covey rise. I was so awestruck that the shotgun stock never touched my shoulder.
My life has been filled with moments that touched the spirit. Moments that pulled me about as far as a human can retreat into the deeply meaningful world of nature. When I worked long hours each day in Washington, my weekend retreat was the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. When my wife and I left Manhattan for the weekend, we headed for the mountain streams of the Catskills.
Somewhere along the way I began to realize that only immersion in the natural world, an intense appreciation of God’s gifts, could center my life. And the more I got caught up in the aggression of the power cities, the more important those retreats became. My immersion in work had to be experienced in a more sublime framework.
Last week I kayaked the East Branch of the Delaware River, a beautiful swift stream. I rented the kayak and enjoyed the opportunity to visit with Al Carpenter, who owns the rental business in Downsville, New York. I asked Al about business and he lamented that as his older customers move on they are not, in sufficient numbers, being replaced by younger ones. I am afraid that concrete, a variety of electronic distractions, and fear get in the way.
As a boy I could ride my bike to where I first fished — the last half mile was on a dirt road. When I left home there were no video games left behind. Also, my parents were not flooded with warnings about the dangers I would face, or if they were, it was not apparent to me. Today natural settings are often freighted with warnings about poisonous this and that. Better, it seems many parents feel, to shuttle the kids to soccer camp where encountering poison ivy or ticks or whatever seems unlikely. Trophies of metal have replaced the satisfactions and insights of field and stream.
Nature’s lessons are often profound; sporting technique not so much. I wish for a countervailing trend, one in which parents and children get to know nature’s neighborhood. And, by the way, that knowledge will include learning how to avoid bites, unanticipated thunder storms, falls and, of course, what to do if they occur.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.