Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Day 3: Visiting The Kids

20140515-222155.jpgToday we visited an organization that works with the children of trafficked women for the commercial sex trade. Academically our students are here studying the issue of human trafficking, especially how it relates to Southern Asia…

The place we visited was in the heart of the Mumbai slums red light district. This small school and night center provides what often makes up the only refuge that these children have from the conditions around them. About 60 children gathered to make Macaroni art and bead bracelets with us, from ages 4 to 16. Most had never seen a white person before… Let alone an American.

They laughed and played with us for several hours. When I was not looking, the children would sneak up to rub my cotton socks; as I was the only person from my group wearing them and these children wear sandals… if any shoes at all. They sang local children’s songs and tried to teach us to count in Hindi.

One young boy asked where I was from. When I said Nebraska, he asked “What is that by?” Thinking of the nearest place he might have heard of, even though it is no where close, I said Chicago. Again he looked at me and said “Where?” I broadened my statement and said “the United States.” He looked at me and said “Which continent is that on?”

These kids live with violence and danger on the streets, mothers trapped in human sex trafficking, and the majority have been victims of the most heinous of crimes. Despite this, they laughed and played not unlike any other child I have watched play at home. They were quick with a smile and eager to share India with us.

They got together in a large group and giggled as we danced the hooky-pokie together. Several of the older children to thank us and invite us to come back every year…

They don’t receive many visitors.

When we left the school, our tour took us on a quick walk around the block. As we tried to cross the main intersection to walk down a slum lane, a local cop monitoring traffic stop and would not let us travel down the lane because of the danger to us; even as he let local women and children run by.

The stares that we got from the locals seemed to pierce right through your skin. As we walked back to the bus, I felt as though any of the hundreds of men lining the street could have jumped us at any second. There eyes and their posture made it clear that we were not welcome in their neighborhood. Without a doubt the peril of this place far exceeded any where I had been before. In that moment the immense weight of danger and fear that these children endure everyday came crashing down upon my soul.

As we rode the bus back to the hotel, I pondered how humanity could allow children to live in such conditions and turn a blind eye to their plight. They are laughing, loving kids just like my daughter. When I returned to my room, I did the only thing a rational person could…

I cried.

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Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to take a huge step forward in my career in higher education. I have recently moved from the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, to the College of Education and Human Sciences. In many ways this position is my dream job… at least for the next step in my career. Leaving my last position was very hard, but I have a massive amount of opportunity ahead of me in my new role.

In other news, taking a new job is also a drain on your time…

And I have had little time to fly fish. Let alone write about fly fishing. But don’t worry; the story of the great fish in the last article is still coming. I caught it the weekend after my first week on my new job.

I would call that a good sign.

See hunched over the Undergraduate Bulletin, learning a new curriculum.


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One of the unfortunate facts of living on the great plains is that we live in Tornado Alley… where the largest number of tornados form in the world. If you have been following the news, I am sure you have heard of the tornados in Oklahoma City this year…

Growing up and living in the Great Plains, you grow used to tornados being a part of your life. In the spring and early summer, you learn to remain vigilant to the weather.

A few times a year, there are tornado outbreaks in my area; which produces tense moments…

This poem is about those tense moments.

As Distant Thunder Rolls

We sit and wait in silence
As distant thunder rolls.
The weatherman on our TV
Interrupts the show.
He points to red spots on his map
Not very far away.
No one says a single thing;
We hang on every word.

We sit and wait in silence
As he talks of tornados.
The rain outside begins to fall
And patters on the ground.
Humid air blows in the house
From a restless night.
The neighbor’s wind chime sings outside;
Rings out a haunting hymn.

We sit and wait in silence
And think of our close calls.
The time with mom on Highway 10
We raced a twister home;
The night a cyclone jumped my town;
Cleaning branches from the street;
Or how in Moore the EF-5
Just missed my sister’s home.

We sit and wait in silence
Like so many nights;
The thunder rolls and hail falls down;
Wind howls in the night.
The warnings and the weather
Do their best to scare.
Not with bang but with a whimper
Storms fade into the night.

We sit and wait in silence;
Lighting flickers bright outside.
“Tornado warning ‘til 10 o’clock
Get underground right now!”
The weatherman points to a town
Below us on the map.
The thunder heard not far away
Threatens all their lives.

We sit and wait and wonder
Will we be next this time?
Run down the stairs in shaking fear
To cower for our lives.
Splitting wood and cracking glass
As home falls in on us.
Pray and scream with all our might
Storm spares us all inside.

We sit and wait in silence
As distant thunder rolls…

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Every fisherman has this story… now I do too.

Fishing Wildwood Lake Tuesday was a great experience. Not too breezy, not too sunny. Alone on my float tube, I slowly worked down the bank; casting to shore and slowly pulling the line back in. The only sounds were those of the lake, the chirp of a song birds, the occasional cacophony of geese across the lake, and the occasional splashing of a crappie or bluegill pulled to hand.


Exactly why I enjoy about being on the water.

Until one cast; which was not unlike any other of that day. That is until the gentle tug at the end of the line.

Even the strike was nothing special. Instincts took over as a set the hook and started trying to pull the fish in by hand. Only this fish didn’t move toward me.

It started heading the other way.

There is no second guessing when you have a nice fish on the end of your line. Your rod doubles over in a way that is unmistakable. The fish goes on a run and starts pulling line through your hand. This fish did not take off fast; instead it swam off with a slow and steady pace. I could feel the arrogance of this fish by his gait; he knew that I was not simply going to pull him to hand.

Big fish are special. And they are played on a fly rod differently. You don’t simply muscle them to hand as you would a common catch. You have to play them; to finesse them; to slowly cox them into coming to you. In a way, you have to build a relationship with the fish…

I rapidly reeled my slack fly line off the water and “reeled him up”; a mark of achievement for any fish. I moved the rod right and left, suggesting to the fish which way I would like him to go as he slowly steamed toward hiding spots and snag ups. The truth of this fight was that the fish was in control. We can only make suggestions on how we would like the fight to go; and luckily the fish do not know this. If they did, we would never catch trophy fish.

As I slowly turned the fish away from a snag I was rapidly adjusting the drag to keep enough pressure on him to tire him out; but not enough to break the line. My right hand was slowly directing his direction, the left one was reeling when the fish would come in; and turning the drag as he would run. I started paddling the float tube backwards to open water. Here he would have less places to hide.

As I kicked my feet backward, the fish sensed the movement and saw his chance. He turned with a flash and headed right for my float tube. I reeled furiously to keep the line tight. As he approached me, I was afraid that he would break the hook off on me… the ultimate of embarrassing endings. I was not prepared for the fish to charge me. I was so furiously reeling to keep the line tight, I couldn’t even try to turn him…

When he was a few short feet from the boat, I did the only thing I could think of… While continuing to reel as fast as my hands would let me, I snapped the rod high up into the air; raising my arms as high as they would go…

And when I did, the head of the largest bass I have ever seen shot out of the water and rested on my knees…

In a moment now etched into my mind, I stared down the wide open throat of this largemouth bass. I could have put my entire fist in his mouth and not touched any part of it. I stared deep into his eyes, and I could only say one thing…

“Oh my God…”

I can only imagine that this fish thought the same thing.

As I uttered these words to my self, the fly broke loose from the fish’s jaw… and flew up and over my head. As it did, the fish dropped back into the water…

The whole scene took less then half a second… but felt like an entire lifetime.

I floated over the same spot three more times searching for this fish again. Each time I set the hook and made that first pull of line, I hoped for the same initial run of that big bass. And each time I made the second pull and realized I had another common bluegill or crappie I was let down. After I grew tired of paddling the float tube, I even went back and waded the spot where I caught him…

The angler in me knew he was long gone. But my soul held out hope…

The only thing I remember about the rest of that trip was how the distant flock of geese came in closer. Their cacophony raised in volume; almost as if nature was mocking me…

I was finally forced off the water by an impending thunderstorm. As I walked from the lake, I knew that I would be back… this month, this summer, this lifetime; until I finally catch and bring this fish to hand.

And a fish this magical needed a name… Jaques. (Why? Read some Shakespeare and find out…)

Now I have my story of the one that got away. Here’s to a lifetime of chasing Jaques…

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Sometimes fly fishing can be a profoundly existential experience… whether the fish are biting or not.

Yesterday, the fish were not biting.

As I roamed the banks of East Twin Lake, I noticed a sign… this same sign can be found at lakes across North American. There was nothing special about the sign itself. Sadly this sign is often ignored…

As I passed this sign, I got to thinking about it’s message… what do we leave behind?

At first, my thoughts were drawn to the surface message itself… “No trash pick up”. Walking down the beach, this was painfully obvious. In fact, it almost hurts to see the years of beer bottles and cans, fast food containers, empty worm bowls, among many other things, that litter the beach itself. The sign began to read less as a statement and a call to action; and more like an eerie prophecy.

How careless some people can be.

But as I wandered further down the beach, the amount of trash decreased; even though the paths were still well beaten into the ground. As I slowly reached where I wanted to fish, I was struck by my first epiphany of the day… yes there are a few bad apples in the crowd. But I shouldn’t let this ruin the experience for me. I believe that we as humanity our inherently good; even if a few people can occasionally cast the rest in a bad light. The type of people who are lazy enough to carelessly cast their waste upon the ground are also to lazy to move very far from the comfort of their cars in the parking lot. The worst litter by far was within a very short walk of the parking lot, and within a couple short minutes I had out walked it…

And in this realization was a tinge of sorrow. There is great reward for venturing further into nature… and it is clear that this type of person will never know the nirvana it brings.

As I walked further down the beach, different words from the sign cried out into my head… “Please leave nothing but your tracks. Will you help?”

Leave nothing but your tracks…

Leave nothing but your tracks…

“Of course,” I thought to myself. I consider myself in high regard when it comes to outdoor ethics. I never leave trash behind, always release my fish, and do everything I can to leave nothing but my tracks. I even take the small snips of tippet material from tying flies onto my line and shove them into my pocket. Of course I only leave my tracks…

Then, as I waded into the icy water and began what would be come a fruitless task of casting, I reached my second epiphany…

I worked my way around brush piles hoping to hook up with a largemouth, white bass, or crappie; and as I did so, I found another reminder of what we leave behind hanging from a branch and dancing in the wind. A single spinner bait…

I don’t mind wading into the water while fly fishing; in fact it is often necessary to provide enough space to backcast and avoid hanging up in trees. But this is not something that all anglers like to do. And every angler will let loose that one poorly timed cast that drifts from control… and hangs up on a snag.

I believe most anglers will do everything they can to remove their tackle from a snag. But sometimes it is not practical, or even safe to retrieve the tackle. And we leave something behind… like this spinner bait swaying in the wind.

I waded over to the brush pile and cut the spinner bait free from it’s tangle. Even though I rarely fish with a spinning rod, I am building quite an impressive tackle box for my spinning rod on gear that I have rescued from the water. On this same day, I also recovered a Rapala crack bait, and a foam grasshopper fly. All good signs that I am fishing a spot where others at least think they will find fish as well. And each reminds me of all the flies that I have lost to snags and fish.

I consider losing fishing tackle a forgivable sin. Like I said, I believe that most anglers do everything that can to avoid losing tackle… replacement costs can add up fast. But it is a part of fishing. I would rather find a 1000 spinnerbaits and Rapalas in the lake then a single piece of trash on the beach.

Losing a fly does not bother me; even if I spent a lot of time on the tying vise creating it. It is just a part of the experience. I am only bothered losing a fly when one breaks off in a fish. A fish with a fly is stuck in its mouth is at a higher risk for mortality; and one that I always feel I could prevent if I was a better fisherman: if I had tied a better knot, if I had set the hook sooner, if I had done more to turn the fish from the snag…

This feeling does much to drive me to become a better fisherman…

After a few hours of casting and no bites, I decided to pack it in. I hiked back around the lake… over my footprints, and footprints of anglers who had came hours before me; past the brush that I had rescued tackle from; past the trash on the beach; past the entire world of nature…

As I reached my car, I stopped and took one final gaze back toward the lake…

Again, I thought of the sign I passed on my way to the water; and its words screamed out in the silence…

“Leave nothing but your tracks.

Leave nothing but your tracks.

Leave nothing but your tracks.

Will you help?”

As I looked down the gravel to the boat ramp, I had my final epiphany…

I did not think about the trash that I passed but did not pick up; the flies I had lost in this lake in trips past and could not recover; the footsteps on the beach that I had left; or about the fishing tackle I had saved that day.

I thought about myself. My soul. And why I come to the lake in the first place.

And with apologizes to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the order is too tall to fill. I always leave something behind at the lake…

With every cast, every fish caught or escaped with my fly, with every moment caught breathless looking out of the water, I leave something behind…

Sometimes it falls out of me effortlessly. And sometimes I have to fling it away with every cast… as if I am somehow trying to flick a piece of myself off the end of the line; off of the fly; and into the depths of the water.

Physically, I try my best to leave only my tracks.

But I always leave something behind…

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