Conservation – The Way We Were

By Roger Brunt

An osprey folds it wings and plummets into the glassy surface of the lake, emerging moments later with a trout grasped tightly in its talons. We marvel at its deadly aim, and laugh as it shakes itself as it flies along, almost dropping its fish.

Closer in, a hen mallard shepherds her string of ducklings along the shore, then makes a detour around a muskrat preening itself on a clump of marsh grass. I point out how the muskrat uses its front claws to carefully comb its glistening fur. A soft quack from the hen hurries her brood along.

As the evening light fades, we close our tackle box, gather up our fishing rods, and head for the van. I experience a deep feeling of well being as we we hold hands as we walk along. There are three of us; myself, my daughter of four, and my “little one”, Samantha, just turned two. We have just spent an early spring evening together, within the city limits, but the sights we have seen could have been anywhere in wilderness Canada.

Earlier in the evening we witnessed a fierce battle between two great blue herons. One chased the other low across the lake, eventually forcing it to land in the water, then attacking it by pecking furiously at its head and body. The heron being attacked eventually managed to fly away, only to be forced down on the water again. Finally the aggressor flew off, leaving its much bedraggled victim alone. It was the kind of thing you might see once in a lifetime, and I knew we’d talk about it all the way home.

But most important to me, I knew that the memories of this evening were like seeds that would grow and grow in my girls. The more outings we shared together, the more fishing trips, the more camping trips, the more nature hikes, the more explorations of ponds and streams with our bug-catching nets and pollywog jars, all that they learned would stay with them and serve them well in the future.

I have long been concerned that the intimate knowledge of our land is slowly being left in the hands of “the experts”; the foresters, the biologists, the fisheries agents, the wildlife managers, while those of us who have a real feel for the land, and valuable knowledge gleaned from years of practical experience gained hunting and fishing and trapping, are slowly being pushed aside.

One only has to look at Canada’s new gun registration laws to realize how much our country’s values and concerns have shifted in just a few short years. When I was a boy, the most exciting day of the year was the first day of hunting season. I remember going downtown with my Mom and gazing in awe at the black labs in the backs of the pickup trucks. The dogs’ breath would steam in the frosty air and their coats would shine in the morning sun, still wet from the marshes and sloughs. The hunters in the coffee shops, still wearing their hip boots and shooting vests with shell belts full of ammunition, seemed something I hardly dare aspire to. Now to see such a sight in the town where I grew up would likely result in calls to 911, or at least a few muttered curses of “murderers” and “savages”.

All things change, I know that, but I am fighting hard to make sure my girls get a good grounding in knowing and appreciating the natural world the way I learned about it. An appreciation based on the idea that it is not wrong to hunt and fish and trap. That those skills are part of our Canadian birthright. And I hope that by knowing about nature and the outdoors, my girls will fight to preserve and protect this land as I have.

Roger Brunt is a well known outdoor writer who lives in British Columbia. Roger also runs the North American School of Outdoor Writing. This article is printed here with permission.