Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some Baggage From My Past

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Countless things are accumulated as life passes before our eyes. We begin our life naked and squalling, and if we live long enough, our busy lifetime of travels in the outdoors will leave us with an accumulation of priceless baggage. Most of it is not valuable from a monetary standpoint but are priceless because they produce fond memories.

Our baggage consists of the odds and ends and other accumulations of mementoes and memories from a lifetime spent on the water and in the fields; in the marshlands and woods; on the ground and in a tree.

This baggage is both mental and physical; things that can be held, looked at, and reminisced over. Memories can be found everywhere for a packrat like me, and I keep them around for a very good reason: every mounted animal, bird or fish, every hat, my bows, firearms, fishing rods—all have stories behind them. Those stories bring me life.

For instance: on the wall between my mounted fish is a Shakespeare fiberglass fly rod. I used it every day during 10 years of guiding brown trout, salmon and steelhead river fishermen, and the stories that rod could tell would be wonderful to listen to Over 10,000 salmonids were caught with that rod, and it was finally retired in 1979 after I landed a 30-pound chinook salmon. I heard a muffled creak as the brute of a fish was beached, and after removing the fly and rolling the fish upright until it could swim away, I retired that rod and it now hangs in a place of honor among some of the fish it helped catch.

My junk room (basement) has over 300 different hats hanging from the rafters. There is a unique story behind every one, including one from Detroit’s Homicide Squad that states: “Our day starts when yours ends.” Typical cop humor.

There are hats from Alaskan hunts, fishing trips in New Zealand, product hats worn on one hunt or another, and hats from friends who know I collect them. However, the only hats I keep are those with a fishing or hunting tale hanging off them. I could spend hours studying this worthless hat collection that has provided over 50 years of fishing and hunting memories.

Whoa. Here is a signed copy of Robert Traver’s (John Voelker) “Testament Of A Fisherman.” It was signed by him on Feb. 1, 1982 and states: To my fellow writer and fisherman, Dave Richey, with all good wishes.” It’s worth very little except to me because I valued my long friendship with Voelker and often think of him even though he passed away years ago. I look at his Testament, read it at least once each week, and it’s a priceless memento.

It’s been my privilege to belong to the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), which I joined in 1968, and on my office walls are my writing awards. Four stand out: OWAA’s prestigious Ham Brown Award and the Excellence In Craft Award, Michigan United Conservation Club’s Ben East Award For Excellence In Conservation Journalism, and the Michigan Outdoor Writer’s exalted Papa Bear Award for Excellence in Craft. There are many other writing awards, but these four remind me of my 41 years spent writing outdoor copy for my valued readers.

The other day while sorting through some of my life’s baggage was fun. There was a box containing all of my fishing and hunting licenses from my teenage years to now. I have most but not all of my earliest fishing and hunting licenses from this state, and some date back to the 1950s. It takes a few minutes but eventually a thought will reveal a heralded moment of fishing from a 1957 fishing license, and those old licenses still have the required Trout Stamp attached. One license held a stamp of Michigan’s old Fish Car that was used by the Department of Conservation to carry trout to northern streams for stocking.

One man’s baggage is another man’s treasure trove of outdoor memories. Such is the case with some of my bear, deer and turkey patches. My lot in life is to record as much of our fishing and hunting heritage as possible, and to present it in a way that others can enjoy. Take a moment now, and think about some of your little pieces of life’s baggage and what joys they have produced over the years.

We can travel through a life of fishing and hunting, and retain some of our memories. Because, if nothing else, those thoughts will spark a fire in sportsmen. That fire will blaze up into a full-blown recollection of a memorable day or event in our lives that must be remembered long after our ability to hike the hills and wade the streams has ended.

Those memories are what keeps us alive.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/27 at 08:02 PM
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