Tattoos crawl over my body, wavy brown hair drains from my scalp, a mix of red/brown/gray comes forth from my face. The dark and winding road of Highway 20 looms gloriously - and there is a mix of punk rock, country, dubstep, and oldies coming from the road-trip mix coming from my phone and echoing in the cool evening as my 20 foot "Trout Bus" goes rumbling around the corners of the Cascade mountains. A recently drained bottle of 5 Hour Energy sits on the console, a half smoked American Spirit cigarette lies burning in the ashtray, and the scent of fall is filling my nostrils while getting fractured glimpses of my surroundings. My loyal border collie happily sits in the navigator position next to me while keeping an eye out for the wayward deer that may prevent us from reaching our destination in Corvallis - drinking some beer with friends to support their new Chapter of Trout Unlimited called the Bluebacks.
There comes a time in every man or woman's life where you realize you have the opportunity to make a difference in a profound way that will impact the community you live in. I have been fortunate to experience this for the second time in my life. First as a Humane Investigator for the State of California, picture "Animal Cops" from Animal Planet for reference. I basically carried a gun and a badge, wrote warrants and put people in jail for Animal Cruelty violations. Now I get to make a difference in a less legal, and more enjoyable way for my favorite activity - fly fishing and the community that enjoys the resource that provides it. For me this community is not just the local level, but a regional and national one - it is the community of fly fishing (or any fishing) enthusiasts out there that are out there just being badass anglers and giving back to the resource that supports their passion. In the middle of winter you find them with 3 inches of snow stuck to the sole of their boots, frostbitten tips of fingers huddled in shanties positioned on frozen lakes, wearing flip-flops and board shorts wading in summer on the river, daring the rivers to take them each and every time they wade a little too deep into the current when chasing chrome, hiding behind a tree so the gin clear water holding that prized fish will mask their silhouette to present that perfect drift on top, and most importantly taking the time to share their adventures and the images they produce online.
I spend an inordinate amount of time online reading, skimming, sharing, posting, and becoming part of this community in whatever way I can. Why? Because that is where we will find the next generation of leaders who will promote the ethical and conservation minded use of the waters I have come so far from home to enjoy on a regular basis. I have become friends online with the various identities I use for Trout Unlimited, Bend Casting Club, and Central Oregon Project Healing Waters. Some of you may know me from those, and some of you are just discovering me. The truth is that there are literally thousands of people just like me out there doing the same thing in some way. I want to make sure we all recognize and help each other become the future of this community in a positive fashion.
The purpose of the adventure I am undertaking this weekend and for the foreseeable future are invariably connected. As an organization, Trout Unlimited recently turned 53, and I have been involved with the organization as a Board Member of Deschutes Chapter #552 for going on 5 years. During that time I have helped to build the brand, increase the awareness of the issues faced, met with people from all walks of life who enjoy the outdoors, and generally been in awe of the support a total stranger is willing to give if just given the chance and opportunity to help. None of this would have been possible for me to experience without the opportunity and support of the organizations I have come to represent in some way or another, their board of directors patience with me, and the new friends I have made that continue to support me even when we disagree or argue.
After the drive in to Corvallis, checking in to the hotel, getting my co-pilot out for a walk and a squirt, I headed down the road to The Downward Dog to sample the local flavor and check in with the rest of the Bluebacks gang. Hipster dufus - check, cougar at the bar - check, jocks in shirts 2 sizes too small - check, various college co-eds in an array of drunken states - check, a couple crowded tables pushed together wearing Blueback hats and Patagonia - ding ding ding we have a winner! I picked my way up to the bar and grabbed a sampling of a re-branded Pale Ale that promised to be delicious and a portion would be given to the Bluebacks to help their cause. It's still amazing to me to hear the personal stories of those who decide to give of their time to support Trout Unlimited in some way, these tables would be no different.
From sharing stories of punk rock history, getting dared to pound a beer so someone could buy you another, telling stories of skateboarding throughout the west, the fascination with the results of throwing condoms in the air to see what table they would land on, to listening to the excitement of the "Next Trip" each and every one would be taking to enjoy the outdoors in some way - I knew in that moment there was something special that has brought my "skills" to bear in this world of Conservation of Cold Water Fisheries that is Trout Unlimited. These are the professionals, misfits, rednecks, and adventurers that will be leading Trout Unlimited into the next generation. I couldn't be more excited and profoundly thankful to be right here, right now experiencing it.
A quick shower, brushed teeth, updated the Facebook ID"s, checked out of the hotel - and on the road again to Cascadia Fly Shop to meet up with TU National VP Bryan Moore, Blueback Chapter representatives, Oregon TU Council members, and other TU National staffers Alan Moore and Dwayne Meadows. The purpose was for us to hear about the direction of Trout Unlimited in the future, what they suggest for best practices for Chapter Development, and what means and resources are available to ALL MEMBERS OF TROUT UNLIMITED. Bryan was introduced, and began his Powerpoint presentation with slide after slide of data - all of which captured on video by the Bluebacks who will be sharing that in the coming days, so I won't get into the details of that presentation.
What I would like to talk about is the conversations we had before, during, and after the program. As you can see in the picture, there was a good mix of age ranges and backgrounds being represented. All in all, it was standing room only in this modest shop who offers everything under the sun for your fly fishing needs. What I enjoy most about these meetings are the ties that bind us together. Everyone in this picture enjoys the lifestyle, activity of, or romantic notion of the sport. Each has their own perspective on it, their own type of engagement with it, but what all of them agree on is something profoundly simple: Without volunteers getting involved to maintain, protect, conserve and advocate for the places we decide to wet a line - they won't be there for future generations to enjoy. Trout Unlimited recognizes that there is a generational shift occurring within their membership, they are aware that the steadfast supporters are getting older and a new flush of leaders from our community is needed. We (organizationally speaking) need to reach a balance where the learned and wise old guard has the opportunity to teach and flourish the new guard. The experience, intelligence, and connectivity the old guard has created will substantially help us of the newer generation of leaders to become even more relevant than they if we take the time to listen and learn from them.
Our generation may perform on these ideals a bit different though! Instead of rallying up at the local Elks Club, basement of the local church, or the local Senior Center - we are choosing to meet at pubs, bars, or even public parks to have a potluck barbecue. The conversations and topics don't ever change: What can we do to make it a better fishery? What legislative act should we support or oppose in the coming elections? What can I as an individual do in the brief amount of time I have to commit to these ideals? Pick and choose what you can do, when you can do it, and JUST SHOW UP - it's really that simple. Without showing up, reading more about the agendas, meeting the leaders who will do the heavy lifting when you ask, and taking part with the precious little time you have - it takes a smaller portion of people a lot longer to get these things done. Be part of a committee and give your input - YOU WILL BE HEARD. Trout Unlimited is a grass-roots organization whose National and Regional agenda is dictated by WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE HAPPEN. These are your rivers in your backyards, your lakes, your streams, and your fish. Take some time to help make sure they are a beautiful and productive place for fish in the future.
That was what I took away from the meeting today and conversations I shared in some way with those present. This is the conversation I am hoping to have with you as well.
After realizing that I had doubled booked myself on events this day, I decided to hop back into the Trout Bus and hit the road back to Central Oregon to meet up with the local Project Healing Waters group who were meeting up for an afternoon of fishing and picnic on the Fall River at the hatchery. So about 3 hours of driving, I arrived about 3pm at the spot to see them already packing up and getting ready to head out. DAMN!!! I missed out on barbecue, potato salad, fresh fruits, etc that I had been salivating over during my drive!!! Oh well, I still ended up with a plate of cupcakes that went down over a glass of milk late that evening.
I stayed for a while, changed into some shorts - realized I had to wade and walk barefoot because I left my sandals at the house - and hit the water. After running in to Troy Jordan who came out for a quick line wetting session, talking about the mornings meeting and some upcoming events we have planned for the Bend Casting Club, he jumped in his Subaru, and I jumped in the water. No, not literally - but you get the point. Busting out a few fish on the Fall River can be tricky, and there are certain areas where they can be thick like the bugs flying - other spots are in need of a little help. I brought a few to hand running the usual array of Rusty Spinners, PMDS, Caddis - took time to just sit there and marvel at where I get to live and play each day, and spend some quality time just rubbing my dog's belly.
This is what life has in store for me? This is the direction I am deciding to devote my energies to? Whatever you want to call it, whatever label you want to brand me with, yeah this is who I was meant to become. Evangelist of the conservation ethic, builder of a stronger community feeling in the fly fishing community, dirt bag posted up on the side of a river in his van taking pictures, smoker/drinker/joker/midnight toker - any and all of the above please. I don't care what you call me, as long as its not late for dinner. I hope the stories, images, and information I share sticks with just one of you, every once in a while. When it does, my dog gets a belly rub.
A friend of mine who runs a local non-profit asked me a question when I kept harassing her with all the work I do, and was complaining a little bit about it, "Do you love it?". "If you don't love it, don't do it." Thanks Amy, I do love it, I love all of the ups and downs, the variety of personal issues and personalities I get to deal with, and mostly I love the look on someones face when they take the time to listen and get involved because of something I did or said.