The first thing you will notice about this post is that there is no picture to accompany it. In today’s world of Facebook and Instagram that is a rarity. I don’t subscribe to the “pictures or it didn’t happen” mentality. I don’t need someone else’s validation to feel good about my own outdoor adventures and I am not out there just for the kill or to catch big numbers of fish. So why do I do it? Why am I out there stomping through a snow laden forest or standing in thirty-five-degree water all day if not to recount legendary tales of big bucks and monster fish?
The answer to that question, for me, is threefold. It’s about family, beauty, and relaxation. I got into the outdoors the same way as many people in Northwest PA, it’s a family tradition. I grew up in a home where hunting, fishing and being outdoors was a way of life. I remember the days of being out on the pontoon boat with immediate and extended family members catching everything from panfish to walleye. We would go to archery shoots with more than 15 family members. We would go small game hunting with my dad, brother and cousins. We would save all the meat to make a stew to be eaten the first day of buck season after a long day of being out in the cold. Family is the main influence on my love of the outdoors and mainly why I started fishing and hunting.
Unfortunately, that family bond isn’t quite what it used to be. Through patriarch’s and matriarch’s inevitable passing, things just change. We aren’t as tight as we once were but that doesn’t mean we do not make time to get together and hunt or fish occasionally. This Christmas eve I managed to get my dad out in the cold and do some Erie steelhead fishing. Steelhead isn’t my dad’s fish of choice these days, but I have spent the last three years begging him to come out and spend some time with me doing my favorite thing on the water, chasing chrome. With the opening of our store fast approaching I knew that I would have limited time to get outdoors for the foreseeable future, so I did what most kids do when they want something from their parents. I laid on the guilt trip.
After some confusion and miscommunication my ‘old man’ relented and off to Erie we went. We went to some of my favorite spots on Elk creek, a stream my dad had never fished. The fishing was pretty terrible. I hooked and lost one and my dad only had one bite, but we still had a blast. We were outside enjoying the beauty of the stream and the challenge of chasing a wary foe. Most importantly we were together. He and I don’t get to fish together much anymore because of, well, life. This is why these moments we do get are so important. I wanted to get a picture of us together, with the knowledge that I had already planned to write this piece, but the truth is, we had such a good time talking, hanging out, and enjoying the beauty surrounding us that I completely forgot about the picture until I got home. We do not need the picture. It would be nice to have to enhance the memory, but for us our stories are more than enough.
Not all my outdoor time is spent with family. In fact, most of my time fishing and hunting is spent alone. Although I love the opportunities that I get to be with my family and friends, the fact of the matter is, being outdoors alone is a thing of beauty. When I get out to hunt and fish, I like to spend some of that time adventuring and finding new places. With the national forest nearby and the uniqueness of our region, there is no shortage of new and wonderous places to explore. Catching a fish or killing a deer is great but we all have those days when we get skunked. We just need to remember that getting skunked doesn’t mean that we are going home empty handed. If we take the time to pause and examine our surroundings, we find that the places we hunt, and fish are absolutely breathtaking. There is nothing better than being on a stream and looking up to see a doe and fawn on the bank getting a drink not ten yards away. How great is it to be sitting in your tree stand and have a cardinal or blue jay land on your arrow? The excitement that you get when you’re concentrating on your drift only to be startled by a muskrat coming up for air right between your feet! It is truly amazing what you see when you’re completely still and quiet, and so focused on what you’re doing. Nature tends to just happen around you. The enjoyment I get from just being in nature is unparalleled, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Nature is not only beautiful, but many studies have shown that being in nature has a positive effect on physical as well as mental health. The restorative powers of nature can be powerful, but fishing and hunting themselves can be a huge stress reliever. Whether on the stream or in a blind I can just let go of life outside of that particular moment. The great outdoors is how I escape from the stress and pressure of life. Work, bills, relationships, and the daily repetitive nature of life are stresses to which we can all relate. We rarely take time in our lives to just stop, breathe, and let it all go. Whether I am super focused on my fly or listening intently for the subtle movement of a game animal, I am 100% concentrated on that task. When you are that much in the zone, its impossible to think about all the other miscellaneous thoughts that cloud our minds every day. I can just let it all slide of my back and forget about every ounce of stress and worry in my life. Having that escape to just forget about your troubles can have an amazing impact on your daily life.
All these reasons and many others are why I love the outdoors. They are why I do it. Next time you come home from an outing and are disappointed that you don’t have a picture of a nice fish or a story to regale your friends, remember my words. On the next trip, remember to take the time to enjoy the people and places around you, and remember to ask yourself why YOU do it.
- Ray Sturdevant, Owner Pennwild Outdoors