An Unanswerable Question: What is Natural?

Question: What is natural? This is something I would much rather discuss around a campfire or on a porch than type out here, but I will try my best.

Without rushing to a dictionary, electronic or otherwise, I think it may mean to exist in an uninhibited state.  But uninhibited by what? By everything and anything? That just sounds silly and impossible. By humans or invasive species? Some might say those can be the same thing. Maybe to see something exist in its natural state is simply to see it evolve and interact with its surroundings as it would have, had the environment in which it exists stayed as stable as possible.  And by “stable,” I suppose I mean without stressors so extreme that would produce an irreversible or unrecoverable change for that environment or species. For example, a forest fire, though devastating, can be healthy for an environment. An expansive suburban development, if not planned properly, can destroy a local ecosystem in exchange for a new one of lawn ornaments and squirrels.

That definition is far from perfect and mostly likely flawed, but let’s roll with it for now.

Being outdoors enthusiasts, we protect forests, streams, animals and ecosystems. At the same time, we try to find that balance which allows us to enjoy these wonderful resources. A balance that seeks responsible usage.  We protect by stabilizing stream beds, lighting controlled burns, establishing size and permit limits for fishing and hunting, and controlling and eliminating invasive species that can decimate local flora and fauna.

Being human, we explore, build, expand, consume, question and experiment. This is our nature. Personally, I think there is value in considering to what extent we do each of these things. We can’t avoid impacting our environment, because we too are an integral piece of the puzzle. However, because I enjoy our outdoor world, I support preservation and protection of it so that it can be enjoyed by all for as long as possible.

It is common knowledge among trout anglers that some of the United States’ trout streams hold species that have been introduced “unnaturally”. In some cases, these species have monopolized the stream and lake populations. On a recent trip to Minnesota’s Driftless Area, I spoke with Justin Carroll of the blog Winona Fly Factory and a fellow Trout Unlimited member about the native brooke trout population in his location that has, in certain areas, been shrinking because of competition with both brown and rainbow trout. He told me about a proposed initiative using genetics to find the local strain of brookie that is closest to the historical species of SE Minnesota and attempt to reintroduce it as the sole trout/char inhabitant of some of the local streams. He anecdotally shared a story of early colonial literature and Native American documentation speaking of 3-5lb brook trout that once lived in the area…. I salivated, hoping it was true.

When I think of America’s greatest outdoor resources, Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is definitely at the top of my list. I’ve been to YNP once in my life, but I have never fished it. One of the things I appreciated most about YNP, a park that is synonymous with the American Wild West, is the combination of accessibility and preservation of some of the parks greatest sights. Even people who are wheelchair bound or don’t have the energy to hike long distances have access to the grand views, buffalo, geysers, waterfalls, and more.

When a park like Yellowstone has so much to share and at the same time, so much traffic, it takes more effort to preserve its “natural” state. (There is irony somewhere in that statement.) Because YNP is an icon of The West, I believe it is worth investigating how to preserve every aspect it. The same is true and equally important with the park’s trout population.

Nature has its own way of establishing a balance between its species, but when one species is disproportionately decreased, the entire ecosystem can be tipped off its axis. Restoring healthy populations of native species in places like YNP, just as was done with the wolf, allows the entire ecosystem to flourish and creates that “stability” which is so important in a place as beautiful and unique as YNP.

Down the road, when I am old and gray and thinking of my natural role as an outdoorsman, I would like to be able to say that the places I have fished, though they may not necessarily be the same, are just as healthy and productive as they were when I enjoyed them. I can only hope that I live up to this level of stewardship and pass it on to my future generations.

So, what is natural? *nervous chuckle*….. All I know is I want to protect the things I love, whether that is my wife, the ornery cat that lives with us, the Chesapeake Bay out my window, or the trout over in Yellowstone and Birstol Bay, and that feels pretty natural to me. So maybe that is it. For me, natural is that feeling as much as it is a thing. Similar to a conscience telling me I am existing in balance with those around me.

“This is my submission for the Trout Unlimited, Simms, the Yellowstone Park Foundationand the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.”

Ol’ Reliable

“I don’t recollect I’ve ever told you about Ol’ Reliable before?”

Quote from “Trusty.” He’s on the right.

Just because you go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in the summer doesn’t mean you will have summer weather. Any day it can be hot and humid, asking for bare skin and cool dips in the lake, or frigid and damp pushing you into a sleeping bag all day long. I’ve been to the BWCA and seen each of these scenarios and everything in between. The one thing I always hoped for, was a breeze. A nice breeze means fewer bugs. Even with perfect weather, biting black flies, horse flies, and mosquitos can challenge what would have otherwise been a perfect trip. All of these things, the bugs, the elements, the hard work paddling to your campsite, drain you. You feel tired in a good way, but tired none-the-less. But for some reason, when you are that exhausted, a warm meal is all it takes to fuel you for another long day.

Every morning and night of those trips we had that green, metal, Coleman 2-burner stove that everyone is so familiar with, wind guards flapped, ready to boil water for anything from hot chocolate to cheese tortellini. The stove was a dependable companion that I never doubted for a second. At the time, I suppose I took it for granted.

That stove we used in the BWCA was a good friend’s. My parents had one as well. They provided us with many a hearty meal. As I have grown and began camping on my own, I started to pick up my own gear. A sleeping bag here, water bottles there, eventually a tent, and finally a cook set. When I was deciding on a stove, I spent a long time trying to figure out which one I wanted. What was most important to me was dependability. I wanted to know, when camping any month of the year, I could count on my stove to heat up some tea, soup, or tuna helper with out any issues.

My “Trusty” – That’s a good boy.

Eating while camping can be a second thought or a show stealer. I don’t want my cook stove to stop me from having an awesome meal. As such, it is no coincidence Coleman stoves have been a mainstay in my campsite cooking. Truth to be told, I can’t imagine that changing any time soon.

“Sponsored by Coleman and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network, this is my submission for the Coleman Camping Heritage Essay Contest.”

Red Tuna and OBN Writing Challenge

As long as we are being hypothetical, let’s go back. Maybe a couple hundred years. Yeah, far enough that the only people we’d come across would be Objibwe or Menominee peoples.

Of course we’d bring a drift boat. That way we’ll be able to cover more of the tanned rivers of Northern Wisconsin.

I’ll steer from the beginning. Robert, Bob as her prefers to be called, will be at the bow. We will drift down the river casting at the shoreline. Stripping magenta and chartreuse streamers across the surface of the water.

Because we are so far back in time, all we’ll hear is the song of the North Woods. And maybe Bob humming a tune.

“How about Standing in the Doorway? Sing that one Bob.” I’d say.

The rhythm of our casts are in sync with his rusted, whisky-soaked voice.  All day long…

Then, with the fading day, something changes. Drop the acoustic tunes. “People call and say beware doll…Do you want to make a deal?”


The powerful olive-backed body of a muskie DESTROYS my fly.  The beast fights and pulls our boat off course. I don’t even need to bring her into the boat. Subdued and exhausted, I revive her. Back and forth, back and forth… Then with a massive sweep she splashes me in the face as if to say, “Thanks, *sshole.”

Then Bob Zimmerman (Dylan, to the people back in our time) asks with a smirk, “So, how does it feel? Tell me, how does it feel?”

What do I say?  Nothing. I’m a complete unknown.

If you need a better visual of my entry for the Red Tuna OBN Writing Challenge, watch this video from Third Year Fly Fisher, Robert Thompson. It was my inspiration. Go HERE if the embed below isn’t working.

*** Update: These are the guys!

OBN Writing Prompt: Spicy and Delicious!

Heat the water. Open the packet. Mix and serve. That’s how I like my hot chocolate. Almost…

Throw a dash of cheyenne pepper in there +/-cinnamon and salt.
mmmmmmmmmm….. Heats you up and warms your tummy. Soooo good. I had this while camping in Utah last week. It made the cold nights and mornings more than tolerable.

pic from:

OBN Writing Prompt: Sustainable Fishing with GreenFish

Diary entry for May 13, 2145.

It has been a difficult spring so far. Winter was dry again. Very little snow. That means the river emptying into the city’s reservoir is low as is the reservoir. It really is now just a trash-filled pit. The WEC (Water Exploration Committee) had been making trips outside the city limits to look for underground water sources that might be rerouted to town. I hope they find something. Then maybe our rations can increase again.

Diary Entry for June 22, 2145

Sorry for the big gap between entries. With the city water supply so low, Dad took us on the Riv-Train to see Great-grandpa for his 123rd birthday. He is now the 5th oldest man in the Republic of the United States. On the way there, I asked my Dad why it is called the “Riv-train.” And guess what? He said the tracks were laid down in an old river bed. I guess they call it that because that is where the river sleeps or lays down. But the bed was empty after the the Great Water Shortage because all the towns and cities dug drains to take water for their thirsty people. Dad said, when they did that, the water got so low, you could walk in the Mighty Misses (spelling? I don’t remember what he called it) river and grab fish the size of tables with your hands. I don’t know if I believe that. There is only one type of fish that lives in our city water, but it is just to clean the bottom. I can’t imagine wanting to catch one. Yuck!

Well, if you think my Dad’s story was unbelievable, listen to the one my Great-grandpa told me. We stayed up really late playing sim-cards (simulator cards) and I asked him to tell me his favorite memory from being 10 years old (my age, duh! actually 10 and 1/2.). He said that was the summer he stayed with his grandpa and grandma on a lake (big natural reservoir) in Minnesota, part of what is now the dry plains district of Minndakota. Each day that summer, he would wake up early and go on a boat (lot’s of people had them then), and they would throw big nets to catch fish. They would come back with BUCKETS OF FISH! BUCKETS! AND they were all different kinds. Yellow ones, green ones, golden ones with glowing eyes, ones with blue on them, long skinny ones with sharp teeth. They would take them down to the road and sell them each day to cars driving by. People ATE the fish. He said everybody did that back then. “Catch and eat as many as you can. Sell the rest.”

He said, that was the last year they let him swim in the lake. I can’t believe they used to do that. Can you imagine swimming in our city reservoir? Ew. Grandpa said he even remembers DRINKING the water.

Anyway, Diary, I wonder what it would be like if we still had water you could swim in and drink that didn’t need the treatment process. Or even if that big Misses river still filled up its bed. Just think if we could go out and catch a fish with a shiny body and long sharp teeth. It sounds pretty neat I guess. I think I would try to leave some fish in there and not take them all out. Just knowing they are still swimming around in the water would be cool. Maybe I’d catch them and let them go. Or only keep enough to feed me and my parents.

This blog entry is my submission for the GreenFish and Outdoor Blogger Network Writing Prompt Giveaway. A world without sustainable fishing.

OBN Writing Prompt: To meet, or not to meet?

After I first heard about the OBN Colorado Rendezvous, I have to admit, it was a bitter sweet moment for me. Sweet because I think it will be a blast. Not only that, but I find it amazing how fast this community is growing and materializing into something tangible. It is bringing like-minded people together in many ways. Very cool. So, why is it bitter? Well, because I probably won’t be able to make it. Spring is filling up with activities, and I have to choose wisely how to fill my schedule.

That being said, I will happily offer some of the people I think would be great to meet.
1. For obvious reasons, Joe and Rebecca. I really would just want to thank them for being the instigators of this little monster they’ve created.
2. Also for obvious reasons, there are the rowdy crew in Troutrageous and Owl Jones. They are pretty much everywhere I look on OBN, so I figure it would be inevitable that I see them at the get together. I imagine they will be the ones who get the group kicked out of the hotel. But it will be a good story.
3. Then there is Winona Fly Factory. To be honest, I’m not sure if he is a part of OBN, but I really enjoy his site. I like the area he fishes, and he has great photos, fly tying, and vids.
4. Angling Addict. Since I will be moving to Norfolk, Va soon, it would be great to meet this guy. I would love to catch some of the monsters he pulls out of the Chesapeake.
I’m sure I am leaving others out here. In general, I think this get together promises to be as interesting as OBN. I really think you could walk up to anyone and have a great conversation, and I’m jealous of those who’ll be there. Maybe I could skype in 🙂