I fell into fly fishing during my time in the army, as a way to decompress and spend time in the forests, mountains, and rivers. There was little I knew of fly fishing beyond a belief that you only fished for trout in remote streams using flies that floated on the surface. It didn’t matter that I drifted dry flies over unwilling trout for hours on end, without even a nibble, the only thing I knew was that I needed to be standing in that water.
To disconnect, reflect, to be contemplative, that is what the outdoors and a fly rod have gifted to me. Being in those outdoor spaces and accepting, not demanding, the experiences the natural world offers has given me immense happiness throughout the last ten years of my life. Going on my second deployment with Soul River, to the Deschutes River, it has been incredible to see the same mindfulness and deep appreciation for the outdoors from the youth. In all honesty, when heading out on my first deployment, I thought I would have to somehow convince the youth just how important the natural world is. However, none of that was necessary, and I had the privilege to watch how each youth found their own bond to the outdoors.
While the deployment is only for a few short days, it provides an opportunity to help the youth connect with a part of the natural world, and each individual connects in their own way during the deployment. Some really enjoyed fly tying and understanding what insect or baitfish the fly patterns are meant to mimic, and how to use various fly tying materials to create life-like imitations. When we head to the river, you can see the concentration when they make a cast and send their fly, the fly pattern they tied, out into the water hoping for a trout to take their offering. It’s the same look of determination and anticipation that I had when drifting flies over a fish for the first time.
Others enjoyed the chance to swim in a cold, sub-alpine lake while an immense cloud of mayflies hatched out of the water. At first, they thought mosquitos were swarming and landing on their arms and heads, but after a brief explanation of what a mayfly was, that the bugs didn’t bite or sting, and that they were only trying to complete their final life stage, it was wonderful watching the youth share the water with the fluttering bugs.
Hiking up to the waterfall with Alysia and Elke, members of the Warm Springs Tribe, was another opportunity for some of the youth to connect. Talking with Alysia and Elke, it was a chance to learn about their own ties to the land, to understand that they live with the natural world as a participant receiving from the landscape huckleberries, salmon, bear meat, all just like their ancestors before them. For the youth, it is a deeper glimpse into Alysia, Elke, and their tribe’s dependence on a healthy, natural wilderness.
Whichever way each individual youth finds a connection to the outdoors, moments of self-discovery, it provides an opportunity for all of us to discuss what these wild spaces have given to us. Not only to discuss, but to begin to understand how we fit in to protecting, preserving, or restoring what we have left. Even though we return to our homes, our cities, our brief time along the Deschutes is a chance to feel grounded with the natural world.