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 Newark-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

Comments

 
said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Tell Your Story

After reading Chris Wood’s story about what inspired him to become a conservationist, I sat and thought… and thought… and realized that I wasn’t inspired, I was just brought up that way. There is no one defining moment, just my parents raising us to be aware of our surroundings, to know the value of public land and outdoor spaces, and to understand our stewardship of these wonderful places.

My father and uncle hunted and took only what we could eat. It was the same with fishing; they stopped when they’d caught enough for dinner. We were outside every chance we got and were taught by example to leave no trace. My mother would pick up trash while my brothers and I played at the local park. I learned by example from day one. It's just the way it was in my family.

It made sense to for me to become an active participant in TU, after all, I’d been a paying member for years, wanting to contribute what I could while working full time. Retirement has allowed me to be much more involved, and I hope that someday, maybe, I’ll be someone’s conservation inspiration story.

Linda McAteer 

Diversity Initiative Chair & STREAM Girl Coordinator

Zane Grey Chapter

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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Linda, you already are! Think about all of those STREAM girls that will one day run TU 9and the rest of the world). Thank you!

Chris

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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018
I love this, Linda. You most certainly are an inspiration to many. Look forward to seeing you later this month.
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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Chris Wood TU … you asked for it … that is the, who, what and where?

For me, it all started with a rabbit. I don’t know how old I was at the time or which gun I was carrying that day, the single shot 410 and my 20-gauge single, I only know that it was before I was able to drive, because I was hunting pheasants with my Dad.

My Dad, a US Marine Corp veteran of Iwo Jima, (part of a much longer story) were tracking ring-necks that cold day, in the snow, in a ravine north of Scottsbluff, NE. I was a pretty good shot with a scatter gun, mainly because I had spent many years before graduating to a shotgun, shooting my trusty Daisy BB gun. (Never lost an eye.) I was very capable of tossing a tin can into the air 10 yards and hitting it with a single BB. So, a flushed pheasant was usually soon dangling by the neck in one of those wire contraptions that hung from my belt.

That day, that’s when it happened. I rabbit sprung from a sage and zig-zagged a path in front of me … bam. Yes, I’d shot a rabbit before, but never while with my Dad. Yes, I was guilty of shooting a lot of wildlife, even though we lived in town, on 2nd Ave. but after crossing 5th Ave., only 3 blocks east of my home, you were in a cornfield, a field where I had taken a number of pheasants. Yes, I was a kid with a gun and freedom to roam from home and hunt. Now, I am not proud of what you are about to read. Because, yes, I was guilty of flock shooting into a passing bunch of blackbirds and being amazed out how many dropped from a single blast. I‘d shot a sparrow at pointblank range only to see a puff of feathers in the smoke in front of me. Obviously, I was not yet a conservationist and those days of being a “killer” haunt me some even today, especially that darn rabbit. You see, I didn’t kill it with that one shot, I had only wounded it and to this day I can still remember it’s whaling, baby like cry, something I’d never heard before and it was simply awful. I can still remember my Dad coming over to say, NOW WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? He made me finish it off, he made me skin it and he made me take it home and eat it.

I didn’t come to realize it until 30+ years later when I discovered there were trout in Oklahoma, found Trout Unlimited and learned about what TU offered, I joined Trout Unlimited and later became a life member. Today, I still dedicate my volunteer efforts in Trout Unlimited to my Dad’s memory. But it was that cold winter day I became a conservationist, thank you Dad. Poor rabbit.

Scott Hood 

Oklahoma Chapter #420

Adult and Youth Ed Coordinator 

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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018
I love that you dedicate your volunteerism to your dad, Scott. What a tribute.
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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Hey Scott, I would have to say you paid that rabbit forward many times!

Chris

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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Tell Your Story.

I want to start out by letting everyone know I have figured out that most of my writings will be considered blog posts and I will not be putting them up on discussions haha. When I created my first post on TU I hadn't explored the website enough to see that there was a blog and discussion section. Oops. Anyways, on to the good stuff.

I honestly can't say when I started fishing. All I really know is that my family moved off of our farm when I was two years old, so it had to have been sometime after that.

The reason I bring this up is because my Grandfather had retired at that point. He was my father figure and the only person I can remember fishing with until I was at least 10 years old.

He never did take me hunting, but I don't really think he was much of a hunter. Come to think of it, I don't really think he was much of a fisherman. I think he just enjoyed taking his grandson on getaways and with the amount of yelling I remember my Grandma doing towards him I can't say I blame him. It was good for both of us.

We did catch a lot of fish on our getaways and we usually kept them (if regulation allowed). However, I can remember times when my grandfather would release fish and it baffled me. I always wanted to keep the fish and eat them. I enjoyed cleaning them and helping cook whatever we caught. In fact, I remember a time when I had vowed not to eat fish unless I had caught it. But I vividly remember when my Grandfather would release fish and tell me something along the lines of, "We can't keep that one Travis. It needs some more time to grow."

As the years went on he released more and more fish. Eventually, I became a teenager, my mom remarried, Grandma and Grandpa moved out, and I was fishing with my friends more than Grandpa. Then life just sort of happened and now here I am at 31 years old practicing catch and release almost exclusively. My son has a very hard time with this because he too loves to eat the fish we catch. We do keep some once in awhile, but I'm trying to instill conservation into his mind a little earlier. Trust me, I know it's much easier said than done, but it's something I learned later in life and it is of great importance to me.

My Grandfather may not have really taught me conservation directly, but those two simple sentences remain in my mind more vividly than any of the fish we kept for food. This was the beginning of a long journey of discovery. Now I am doing my part to help conserve our waters and lands. I plan to instill this mentality in both my son and daughter's eyes. The greatest gift I can give them is a free and wild world to explore and maintain.

Thank you Grandpa for everything. You were the kindest man I have ever known and taught me more than you could ever imagine about being a decent human being. Your teachings weren't always direct and often had me stumped, but now that you're gone I think I get it. Thank you. I love you and I miss you more than anything. Until we meet again.

Travis Engh

 

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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018
A lovely tribute, Travis.
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said on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Thank you Beverly!

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said on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

That’s a great story, Travis. Thanks for sharing it. 

Chris

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said on Friday, April 6th, 2018

I can't say that there was a single moment that turned me toward conservation, rather exposure to the outdoors and fishing at an early age. My father was of the generation that felt that civil service was both honorable work and a duty. He felt that if you wanted the world to be a better place you had to participate in the work to make it happen.This also translated to being an active force in conserving and protecting the places you love. So this was the ethos I grew up with and that was shared during my early fishing trips with my father and his friends on the LeTort, Penns Creek and Yellow breeches. This sense of ownership and responsibilty for the places that you love is one of the greatest gifts that my father left me.

                               Paul Wagner

 

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said on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Would that we all act like your Dad!

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said on Friday, April 6th, 2018
I was born on the Green, when it ran free from the Wind Rivers to the Colorado. She is dead now, dammed and damned to become another generator of kilowatts for cell phones and Cuisinarts, a testimony to one of the immutable laws of the West: We always seek to destroy that which we cannot control. It’s not easy for me to talk about her death. I remember the night they killed the fish. With the coming of the dams and the reservoirs, the suckers and carp and other “trash fish” (including the humpback chubs and squawfish that had been there for millions of years and would later go on to become unlikely celebrities as endangered species) had to be killed off to make room for a trout fishery. They dumped rotenone in the river at dozens of locations from Kendall Bridge to Sheep Creek and lifted the limit on how many fish you could keep. For a couple of days, we were all hunter-gatherers and the sound of fish flapping out their death throes echoed through the river bottoms. I don’t remember why we had to be out there at night; maybe it had to do with the timing of the rotenone release, but I remember that there was a big full moon and a million stars in the sky as we parked the old pickup just below Alkali Creek. My mom stayed in the truck – she was having none of this foolishness. The old man and I set off into the darkness with his big flashlight, wearing waders and carrying dip nets, frog gigs and other implements of harvest. No one had much experience with this sort of thing, so the equipment issue was somewhat uncertain. We splashed around happily for a couple of hours with the moonlight shining on the water, gathering up dying fish. You could hear them flapping long before you could see them, and they were dying by the thousands. It never occurred to us that we were hearing the river dying with them. We spent less time on the river after the dam was finished, and the lake began to fill. I don’t think the old man ever harbored any feelings of bitterness about the loss of his river. He was a believer in progress just like most of his friends. Maybe he simply acknowledged the inevitability of change and went on about his life. Maybe the thought of opposing change was simply too much to ask from him at that point. But I know he was never interested in buying a boat and spending weekends trolling for rainbows above his beloved and newly-drowned canyons. He spoke disparagingly of the fish caught from the reservoir, saying that they tasted muddy to him, and we began spending more time in the Wind Rivers. I think he found himself in the position of finding a part of his life forever changed. But I was different. I was angry, and I knew something was lost that could never be regained. They took the freedom from my river, and it would never be the same. There in the moonlight, in the cottonwood bottoms of the Green, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
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said on Saturday, April 7th, 2018

Very powerful story, Brother Walt. They took the freedom from your river but we benefit immensely from the passion of your experience. 

 

Chris

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said on Saturday, April 7th, 2018

For me it’s like death by a thousand cuts . It was the little things, watching a hunting partner shoot a chickadee for sport. Seeing a favorite grouse woods behind my house as a kid become a sub development. Walking 3 miles of a spring stream as a kid with a 5 foot section off my dad’s 10ft cane pole,(I cut without asking) only to find access denied when I came back from the service because of Homes that had been built and their lawn now were at the streams edge. Maybe getting lost or turned around in the Bob Marshal wilderness at the age of 20 and the wonder of standing on a outcropping looking out at a vast wilderness and not knowing where you are, but this place knows, and it will be here if you leave or stay. 

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said on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Great writing!

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said on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Great writing!

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said on Sunday, April 8th, 2018

This was my post to a petition, "Vermont's Daily Limits on Brook Trout" that can be accessed here: 

https://www.change.org/p/reduce-vermont-s-daily-limit-of-12-brook-trout-...

And here is my personal "Tell your story"

Hi All,

I recently read a posting on the Trout Unlimited website by president Chris Wood where he outlined his earliest recollection of becoming a conservationist, in the column called "Tell your story". 

You can read the request here:
https://www.tu.org/blog-posts/tell-your-story?utm_source=informz&utm_med...

For me, my awakening occurred during the infancy of Trout Unlimited in the early 1970's when I was a young teenage.  I stopped in at my local deli in the suburbs of northern New Jersey with a couple fishing buddies to get a hero sandwich after fishing in local pond.  Frank at the counter handed me a TU pamphlet to learn about the important work of this organization and to sign-up as a member.  Well, that introduction must have worked as I have not forgotten that first introduction to TU, their contribution in early battles for wildlife conservation and my membership for decades. 
Fast forward about 40 years with an ironic twist, I am still motivated by causes to improve conservation here in the great state of Vermont, but unfortunately for the Vermont Trout Unlimited Council has decided not to support the Vermont Brook Trout Creel Limit initiative for whatever dogmatic reason.  
For our cause, we are nearly at 400 signatures, without the support of TU in Vermont, we will not be discouraged, we should continue to share the links to the petition and ask the important question, "Why did TU in Vermont support the failed regulation change in 2013, but in 2018 the initiative falls on deaf ears?"

Please "Tell your story" ...

Tight Lines, Paul Bugeja

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said on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

As a follow up to my posting, this morning Vermont Trout Unlimited Council has endorsed the the initative to change the brook trout creel limit from 12 to 6 fish.  A letter has been sent to Commissioner Port of Vermont Fish and Wildlife, please read the post, letter and sign the petition to support the initiative.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10213743082430175&id=1199321334

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said on Monday, April 9th, 2018

I remember well the experience that turned me into a Conservationist. When I wanted to learn to fly fish, I went to a TU meeting to find a mentor. I was divorced and a single parent of 3 children, and I needed and activity that would be inexpensive for me. The night I joined TU, 37 years ago. It was just the beginning of the movement to “catch and release.” My first TU t-shirt said “Don’t catch your limit; limit your catch.” What a concept! I was a deer hunter/venison cook, and I started trout fishing to add fish to the freezer. The idea of releasing a delicious trout was almost unthinkable. But the TU member who mentored me made it clear, if he taught me to fish, I would be expected to release all wild and native trout.

The epiphany occurred shortly thereafter, when I caught my first nice, big, fat wild brown trout on The Little Juniata River in Pennsylvania. I really wanted to keep that trout, but it was like a light bulb went on in my brain. I realized if I released that trout it would be there for me to catch another day, and I could bring my son, and maybe he could catch that trout. And then, the light bulb flickered, and I realized that fish would be there only if I protected the water quality in that stream. I not only understood "catch and release,” but suddenly I also knew the job ahead of me for this stream, and all the streams, I and my children would fish in a lifetime. Once the conservation seed was planted it continued to grow, and 29 years later, I was honored to be chosen to receive the National TU's Ray Mortenson Award as the Outstanding TU Volunteer in 2009. It was the highest honor of my life!

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said on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Marsha, we are all the better for your commitment to conservation!

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said on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Marsha, we are all the better for your commitment to conservation!

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said on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

I’d wager that for most TU members, the path to conservation enlightenment came, if not from a family member, then from other specific memories of being outdoors. Maybe it was walking a willow-choked stream, maybe creeping up to a spring bog filled with tadpoles and redwings sounding harshly from the reeds. It might have been with a camp counselor, leading a hike under arching pines, or a field trip leader striding to a forest edge, binoculars in hand, to look for migrating birds.

 

Or maybe it was as simple as camping out in a remote field, with fireflies winking on a warm summer night and the skies overhead ablaze with stars.

 

For me, it had elements of all of those, but the real spark came from my grandfather, my mother’s father. He was no outdoorsman; he was an executive from suburban Boston whose primary outdoor pursuit was golf. Looking back, he was a bit stout and unathletic, but he had found a passion in fly fishing that he was eager to share with his grandsons.

 

He wasn’t a dabbler - he’d made a number of trips to New Brunswick fishing for salmon. But that wasn’t a trip for 12-year-old twin boys new to the ways of fly fishing. Having had three daughters and no sons, I think he felt a special yearning to introduce his grandsons to the sport.

 

And so for two years, we all spent a week at an outpost in northern Maine, Kennebago Lake. It had a pair of fishing camps, as I recall, but we spent all our time at one, with all the hospitality and family bonhomie that you could hope for. The lake was - and still is, as a TU friend told me not long ago - famous for its dry fly fishing for brookies and landlocked salmon.

 

Stream reading would come later. Here, my brother and I learned to cast with bamboo rods, clumsily at first, then with more finesse. It wasn’t the most exciting fishing: you threw your Royal Wulff a good distance from skiff and let it sit, waiting for a fish to come up and eat. My favorite times were evenings, after dinner, when the lake was calm as glass and the water surface darkened to a blue steel with approaching dusk.

 

We certainly caught fish, and lost fish; it was particularly galling, I remember, to hook a salmon, bright as a dime and airborne perhaps a half-dozen times, to have it break off. But losing a fish is something all fisherman come to terms with in their own way.

 

In the half-century and more since, my brother and I have been on many fishing trips - fewer than we would have liked, being on opposite sides of the country during most of our adult years. But our exposure to the vagaries and challenges of fly fishing stayed with us, most often in Western rivers, some that TU has been instrumental in supporting.

 

We’ve never been gearheads, or fanatics; jobs and family life intruded. Our interests have also included botany and birding, and we’ve been able to contribute regularly to a wide spectrum of environmental causes. But that first brush with casting a fly and landing a fish is high among the sparks that lit our preservationist fervor. I think our grandfather would be proud.

 

  • Jeff Marshall, CCF Board Member

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said on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Jeff, what’s most impressive is how your story continues to inspire you to “give back.” And we are all the richer for it. Thank you. 

Chris

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