Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Beginning of Traditions

About 9 years ago, a woman from the Shelburne Community School asked me if I would consider mentoring a young man who was challenged to adhere to some basic social tenets of the institution. I accepted the challenge and began meeting him once a week during school time. We got to know one another and realized that we shared a common passion, the outdoors.

We would talk at length about things that 14 year olds experience and soon formed a bond, where in the hour we would spend together, he taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life; that my actions could have a significant impact on someone younger. What I said, what I thought about, how I handled my own life, even my deep passion for hunting and fishing, became the central driver of our connection.

Soon I was introduced to his caretakers and found that our relationship took on a new form; that of ice fishing partners. I would work him into my weekly rituals of jigging for panfish, sitting on a pickle bucket out in Shelburne Bay. Sometimes we caught yellow perch, sometimes the nearly translucent rainbow smelt, but every expedition we undertook, I learned more about my purpose in life. 
The Art of Patience
My strongest desire is to share the world of the hunter, fisher and gatherer with others who might not otherwise consider it. I mentored 7 more young men over the following 8 years and started writing about my outdoor exploits. Soon, I was offered a monthly column in a regional publication, then another. Before long, my passion was bringing me greater rewards than I could have imagined. I decided to start a mentoring program based on the belief that Nature can teach us so many valuable lessons, as well as comfort us in times of stress. I decided to call it “Traditions Outdoor Mentoring.”

Our mission would be to work with at-risk young men who may not have a male role model in their life and teach them outdoor pursuits focusing on respect, empathy and compassion. We took two young men at a time and constructed an outdoor curriculum that encompassed habitat management, species identification, firearms safety, hunter education, animal calling, camouflage, scouting, landowner relations, etc. For more of the lessons we offer, go to our website, Traditions Outdoor  and click on “Curriculum.” 
Seeking Oneness
This program often found that young men with ADD or ADHD, anti-social behaviors or anger issues slowly dissolved through the application of time spent outdoors and being mindful of the earth and all its manifestations.

We had one young man, who recently contacted me after 5 years of finishing the program and asked me to be his Best Man in his wedding next summer. He had come to us as a student who had been “rescued” from joining a metropolitan gang in Texas. During a particularly difficult time, his psychiatrist had told us that he was a sociopath and would inevitably wind up in jail. His school counselors, therapist and I refuted his opinion and we continued to work with him. He is now a mature and responsible young man who works several jobs in Rhode Island and cares for his fiancĂ© and 1 year old child.

Another young man came to us wrestling with self-confidence issues and was just trying to find his way through adolescence. He mastered waterfowl hunting, scouting fields for geese, learning decoy sets and became truly an expert at the sport. One day he announced to us that he wanted to serve his country and joined the Marines. He is now serving in Afghanistan. Although I do not like to embrace war as a solution, we are very proud of his desire to serve his country.
Learning Joy and Responsibility
Currently, we have a young man in our program that has gone from boastful and angry to a maturing 15 year old that is learning the peaceful art of flyfishing. His casting abilities astound me. What took me 15 years to master; he imitated and reached in less than a month.

While mentoring these young men I recognized that there was a small but growing community of people here in Charlotte, that wanted to be able to connect to their environment on a meaningful level and perhaps even consider that they might want to be responsible for the meat and vegetables that they eat. We began teaching foraging, basic hunting ethics and fishing to those who were curious about where their food came from.

From this idea evolved Sacred, which now incorporates Traditions Outdoor Mentoring and writes several articles a month, sponsors Free Fishing Day, and gives speaking engagements for several outdoor venues like Dead Creek Day in October or the Yankee Sportsman’s Classic in January.

We are currently conducting an online campaign to raise funds for more equipment for our young men. If you have ever felt compelled to contribute to a cause that believes we can all benefit from direct contact with Nature, please visit our website, Facebookpage and make a donation to our campaign at

Thank you for your consideration. Now get outside!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

One for Two on the Fourth

It’s a hot lazy day in July. The garden is in. The parade has passed and the tractors are still idling in the field preparing to start the second cut. In the distance a child squeals happily and the sound of popping fireworks shatters the late morning air. The chickens in the back yard run for cover with that silly gait that only chickens can perform.Our horses whinny and bolt into a trot for the lower paddock where the grass is still lush and full. My wife is lounging under the yellow striped umbrella on the terrace, reading the first of many summer books written by a friend of ours, Stephen Kiernan, titled “The Curiosity.” The lawn was mowed yesterday and the smell of fresh cut grass languishes in the warm air currents sweeping in from the Southwest. Suddenly I catch a whiff of the lake. Sometimes, when the wind is just right and the lake is turning over its cold sub-surface, I can smell the seaweed and fishy smell that I love so much. It inspires me.

I saunter into the house and call my friends, Chris and Rudy to see if they’re busy on this holiday afternoon. Chris affirms that he is just lounging around “like an old log” and Rudy is bored watching children’s’ shows that his young daughter adores. I ask them both “How about we head out to the Lake and drag a downrigger ball on the bottom out near “the Bowl” in Whalley Bay?” The question resonates with both of them “Anything is better than sitting around wasting a beautiful afternoon” Rudy replies. “OK. Let’s meet at Chris’ in an hour.”

I collect my favorite Norbert Buchmayr Society cooler and grab some smoked salmon spread and cucumbers I’ve made for this lazy holiday. At the corner store, I add a six pack of my favorite adult beverage, a bottle of cooling fruit flavored seltzer and two bags of ice, then pour the ice over the contents of the cooler. Impulsively, I grab some smoked salami and Cabot cheddar cheese and add that to the top of the ice.

I am grateful for air conditioning in my truck today as I glance at the temperature on my dashboard. 84 degrees. Did I remember the sun block? Check. It’s in the backpack. Pulling into Chris’ house I am not sure I want to get out of the truck and step into the sauna of mid-day heat emanating from the asphalt driveway. I tell myself that the breeze will keep us cool on the lake.

We launch from Converse Bay, where it is obvious that we are not the only sun baked holiday revelers seeking refuge on the cooling waters. Chris launches the Hawk 18’ with his Volvo and drives the boat off of the trailer. The fragrance of the lake embraces our senses again as we slowly pull away from the docks installed by the Charlotte Sportsman’s Alliance. As Chris pushes the throttle forward on the center console the big-chested boat throws water in an arc from the bow, where the spray catches the sunlight and twinkles like a thousand stars in the summer sky.

We head West across the broad lake in silence, wind blowing through our hair, lost in the transcendent bliss of a July summer day.

As we swing past Split Rock we throttle down and Rudy and Chris man the riggers. I grab the wheel. Soon we are at laker speed of 2.0mph and the rigger balls are down 90’ with lines following 20’ behind the leaden orbs. Gaudy chartreuse and watermelon spoons bump along the bottom and as we slowly troll over the concave depression deep under the surface, the starboard rod releases, springing up from its arc. “Fish On!” I yell. Rudy grabs the rod before Chris can even adjust his feet to turn toward it.

The rod bends downward to the surface. Rudy lifts it up to his shoulders and proclaims “It’s a Hogger! It feels like a throbbing telephone pole down there!” We laugh and watch Rudy deftly play the big fish. We know its good sized by the way the rod continues to bend toward the surface. The reel clicks out line as the drag slows down the monolith of the deep. He is on a slow run 90 feet below us. The battle rages on for 10 minutes before the fish begins to slowly tire.

Then, out of the clear blue, the port side rod pops toward the sky. “Fish On!” I yell again. This time Chris is on it like Mercury racing to the sun. He lifts the rod skyward and the Penn reel begins to scream against the pressure. “Let him run!” Rudy exclaims. “It’s doubles!” I proclaim. We all start laughing and giggling like children playing in the sandbox.

We cajole one another and the fight for both fish continues. Chris and Rudy have to change sides of the boat several times, lifting their rods over one another as one crosses behind the other. The laughter and teasing goes on for another five minutes until Rudy’s laker breaks the surface 20’ behind the stern. I grab the net with the rubber mesh and thrust it under the rolling laker. The rod on the net bends and the weight of the fish strains my wrists, extended well beyond my shoulders. We boat him and admire his girth.

Next we turn to Chris. We are trying to land another behemoth, which seems as large as the first. The net is extended again and the fish lands squarely in the mesh. Suddenly, he thrashes and the spoon flies out of the basket. The laker is still in the net, but it’s extended precariously over the stern, 4 feet out over the water, and bending. Chris yells “Don’t lose him!” and as quickly as Chris can command us, the fish lurches skyward and rolls off of the rim of the net. He plunges into the depths and is gone in a heartbeat. Several expletives are employed with considerable exclamation and gesticulations.

“How can I have done this?” I ask myself. I apologize profusely and repeatedly. It was just too heavy to hold up when the net was extended that far out over the boat. A mistake I will remember for the rest of my life.

Silence falls and after several minutes forgiveness is acquired. I know that I have broken one of the rules of all accomplished fishermen – Do not extend the net beyond the stern so far that the weight of the fish is magnified. Wait for him to get closer to the boat before slipping the net under him. I tell myself I will never do that again.

Several more minutes pass and then Chris says “Alright boys! Bring up the riggers and turn the boat around. We’re going back for another pass!” That’s what friends do. Forgive and Persist.

The rest of the day is a blur. We boat several more lakers, all of them beautiful, but not quite the size of the first two.

As the sun begins to slide behind the Adirondacks, the breeze drops the temperature about 10 degrees in less than 30 seconds. The water has a gentle chop now. Our arms are red, even through the sun block. Our faces are weathered and dry. We are exhausted and hungry. It’s been an adventurous afternoon. 
 Chris turns the boat east and heads to the home port. Although the cooler is full of beautiful specimens, one stands out above the others. Rudy says “Not a bad day! We went 6 for 7.” But for me it will be remembered as One for Two. As I grin, my face feels a little cracked from the July sun and wind.

Skimming across the lake, the familiar aroma of seaweed and fish returns to grace my senses. And in that moment I am able to forgive myself and laugh at our good fortune.

The sun sets over the New York skyline and another holiday is punctuated by the distant percussion of children’s firecrackers.