In the mid-1960s, in Kansas, my good friend Pete and I would often walk to Red Hoth’s house. Red, who was in his 60s, had suffered a stroke in 1952, while fishing.
He was paralyzed from the neck down, except for one arm. Pete visited Red because of compassion; I went for the fishing stories. Red would spin these stories so vividly that we were transported to a north woods lake, the early morning mist rising around the boat, his bed.
On one of our last visits, we arrived to find a large tackle box and a set of bamboo fly rods at the foot of Red’s bed. He gave all of his old gear, which he loved, to us.
Years passed. So did Red. Piece by piece, most of the equipment disappeared—except for this last tin canister, and its contents, which had not been used in nearly 40 years.
One day, I drove my two boys, then ages 2 and 8, to a nearby lake. We spent the afternoon walking along the bank. They ran ahead, in their life jackets, sometimes fishing. The younger boy with a lead weight on a line tied to the tip of a 2-foot rod. Both boys dug along the bank for bugs or threw rocks in the water. Fortunately, there were no other anglers around.
I was using a new fly rod. I did not know much about fly-fishing, but I had discovered the sense of connectedness that it gives, in place, across generations and in time.
Mothers, connected by the umbilical cord to past and future, are blessed with more frequent biological reminders of the natural cycles and rhythms of time, nature and the generations. Finding one’s place in generational time is part of fatherhood, too.
For both genders, though not for everyone, fishing helps. So does walking with a daughter or son through the peculiar silence of snow falling, or through birding, cloudspotting, stargazing, or wildwatching.
We enter the natural world through different portals. We do not have to agree on the best way. But we enter together to find our place in time, to have a sense of who has come before and who someday may come. And to be fully with our children, in this time.
That morning, because of my revived interest in fly-fishing, I had dug through the utility room and found the corroded tin canister. Now, standing on the mud bank, I opened the canister, which was, for me, a kind of time capsule.
It was filled with large, old flies and hand-painted poppers. They had once been used for northern pike or bass, and had the teeth marks as proof.
I carefully removed one of the flies from its fastening. The fly looked like a frog. As I tied it to the leader, I told my older son about Red, about his stories and kindness.
I flipped the fly into the water, and we watched the feathers transform into kicking legs. Then I pulled the rod up, and made a long and rare and perfect cast.
The frog moved out across the smooth water in a gradual arc.
And it fell through time.
Richard Louv is the author of “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age” and “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network.
Photos: Top: My sons Matthew and Jason; Matthew above, in the Sierras, a few years later. Today they are men.
More Reading and Resources
Five Great Alternative Ways to Nurture Your Inner Hunter & Gatherer: Wildcrafting, Wildwatching, Birding, Cloudspotting, Stargazing