The Birds and the Bees (And Elk, Bears and Wild Trout!)

Cory fishing the high, wild backcountry of Montana

My son is approaching his teenage years, he’s been asking a lot of questions, and so we recently had that talk.  Yes, one of those talks we angling parents must eventually face explaining the wonderful complexities of watersheds.

Last week I took my 12-year old son Cory on a four-day backpack trip into the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness along the Montana-Idaho border. He has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, but can still cover close to two rugged miles a day with a pack on – up and down rocks, over and under downed trees, through thick brush, across creeks and atop snowfields. He’s a tough kid. But the going is slow.

One of the nice things about going slow is that I started paying closer attention to all the smaller things that make up the big, beautiful wild – the glacier lilies, swamp marigolds and shooting stars; the new light-green growth on the subalpine firs and the little three-pointed, mouse tail-looking bracts protruding from the Doug fir cones; the tiny splotches of green, yellow and orange lichens on black and white granite and rhyolite; the colorful inch-long westslope cutthroats darting away from our shadows as we waded through little creeks and, of course, the birds and the bees.

At one point we talked about how all the little springs and snow-fed creeks we crossed led to Bear Creek, which flows to the Selway, which merges into the Clearwater and into the Snake, on to the Columbia and into the Pacific.  About then, in a muddy spot between a melting patch of snow and a creek, we came upon fresh bear tracks and scat. Cory smiled and brought up my long joked about “dream” of someday going through the digestive system of a grizzly to fertilize the grasses and forbs that elk eat – “Which is only fair,” I tell him, “considering all the elk I’ve killed and eaten.”  Or, as Cory so simply puts it: “Dad wants to be bear poop.”

Then came the question: “Dad, if you like elk and bears so much, why don’t you work for a group that protects elk or bears instead of trout?”  So we talked about watersheds, and the need to protect, restore and reconnect watersheds to have clean, clear water for the wild trout, salmon and steelhead he (like his dad) loves to fish for.  And protecting watersheds, I explained (to paraphrase Aldo Leopold) means “saving all the parts,” including flowers, plants, trees, birds, bees, elk and bears.

He looked at me and asked: “So when you protect trout, you also protect elk and bears?”

Bingo!

That night, aside a beautiful high alpine lake, over the red hot coals of a fire, we cooked wild trout caught by Cory. My son is well on his way to becoming a “complete angler!”

Comments

 
said on Monday, July 9th, 2012

Beautiful, Dave. Except the image of you being eaten & digested by a grizzly. Well...in a way, that whole process sounds downright beautiful, too.

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said on Monday, July 9th, 2012

Only the luckiest kids get to go wilderness fishing with their dads. Here's to maximizing this opportunity for many generations to come. Go Cory! Go Dave!

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said on Monday, July 9th, 2012

I loved this story, Dave, and was very happy to hear the backpack trip went well. I like the photo of Cory crossing the snowfield too. It sure was good seeing both of you!

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said on Monday, July 9th, 2012

Another great story Dave. Cory would have a ball with snapper blues and stripers.

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said on Monday, July 9th, 2012

Dave, a great lesson in here for all us parents. Thanks for sharing it. And I hope get a lot more "seasoning" before a griz deigns to gobble you up.

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said on Monday, July 9th, 2012

All I could think of was isn't this what the relationship between a father and son is all about and in nature, there is no more perfect setting...I relished every word Dave. Thank you. You are sharing more with Cory in a few days than some of us will in a lifetime.

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said on Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Awesome! just awesome. Wish we had more dads like you.

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said on Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

What a great read! I wish all parents had this talk. Thanks for protecting all the parts, TU!

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said on Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Hi Dave -- This is the best elegy I've read to the beauty of nature and the father-son bond. Mary-Lou

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