Tell your story

My Dad says it happened when I was about 7 years old. Some punk lifeguards and their hangers-on were tormenting a sand shark they had pulled from the surf down the Jersey shore. I marched in between the sea of tree-trunk legs and, through my tears, carried the dead fish back to the surf. My Newar

k-tough Dad stood with arms-crossed watching, just waiting for one of those kids to do or say something to me (they didn’t).

I more clearly recall a moment nearly 20 years later. I was a field technician working with a crew in Idaho for the U.S. Forest Service. We were at a place called Poverty Flats, deep in the South Fork of the Salmon River country. At the end of the day, as we packed our equipment, up from the water shot a salmon, straight into the air—her entire body clearing the water. She leapt five times. Each time we yelled “yeah!” Eight dams and 800 miles from the ocean, never feeding once, her body formed an exclamation point to the word, “Live!”

As angler-conservationists, we all recall the moment when we knew fishing would not be enough; that we needed to “give something back.” I thought about that after receiving a note from Ben Pinti, a Trout Unlimited life member. In our correspondence, he shared with me how he grew up in Bridgeport, W.V., with his six brothers and sisters. Ben said, “We had an income that would qualify as poverty level. Still, my Dad always found a way to take his sons trout fishing in the nearby mountains.”

He went on, “Across the street from our home and up the hill lived a country singer named Mayf Nutter. He was older, and I never met him, but he wrote a song called Simpson Creek about a local smallmouth stream and how coal mining destroyed it. It was ruined before I was old enough to fish it, and I felt cheated out of something that should have been available to a poor kid growing up in Appalachia.”

“I went to college and the first dollar I ever spent on an environmental organization was with TU,” said Ben. “A dollar was tough to come by before I had my first good job. TU gave me great insight and direction in becoming a conservationist. TU molded me to be a lifelong conservationist and one who has great concern for our world. I hope that groups like TU will help others, as it helped me, to learn to respect the environment. Our survival, trout fishing included, depends on it.”

In Story, a book by Ken McKee, the author writes about how we have lost the sense of storytelling in America. McKee says, “story shapes a perception of what’s worth living for, … worth dying for, what’s foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth—the essential values.” McKee notes that “the erosion of values [in our country] has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story.”

We should not–cannot–allow that to happen. Ben Pinti’s story, and yours, and mine, too, remind us why conservation matters. Our stories helped to build our nation. They can inspire action. Our stories can teach. Our stories can motivate new leaders. Our stories can quite literally save us.

So, here is my request. On our social media, or in response to this post, please share your story about the time, place, or person that motivated and inspired you to become a conservationist. Like Ben Pinti, you will motivate and inspire me and many, many others to give back to the lands and waters that give us all such joy.

–Chris Wood

By Chris Wood. Chris has worked at TU for 22 years, and is not the best angler, but he is among the most earnest.