It was trout season and I was fishing with a few friends. The spring air was lovely and the water was very cold. My friend, John, was wading through the creek for a bit to find a place to throw in a particularly good hole. He cast his bait and lost his footing, slipping in the deep, cold water. Of course, he fills his boot.
I was on the bank, a little further with another friend of mine and his brother when I heard him scream. He yelped and waded back to the bank. Then he started trying to pull out this waterlogged wader. He was just having a horrible time and asked our other friend to help him out. That’s when it happened.
His fake leg came off and the other guy watching, who didn’t know John, nearly passed out.
I don’t know what he was thinking, but we who knew John must have laughed. We had seen this before. He has been disabled for a long time, since a bad fall from a tree. This handicap does not prevent him from fishing and hunting, it just makes him occasionally need a little help.
This story makes me think of the number of people across Pennsylvania who hunt and fish with a disability. I know a lot of them, myself included. Old people have so many disabilities that some stop doing what they love because it’s too difficult. Others receive more help.
I never leave without friends these days. I can no longer see well enough to navigate the bumps and bumps of fields and banks, let alone tie hooks. Hunting is another story. I hunt with friends, but I have to rely on them for my eyes. That’s not how I want it to be, but that’s the reality these days.
An acquaintance is still hunting from his wheelchair after he broke his back in a bad fall that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He always reloads and hunts with his friends. They use quads and put it with friends. Determination is what drives him. He says he still loves sports.
Not so long ago I wrote that he was killing an elk. It must be terribly difficult for him and his friends. I admire his spirit.
I know a few veterans who enjoy hunting and fishing. My son-in-law fly-fishing with an organization called Project Healing Waters. This great organization helps veterans learn to fly fish, even taking them on trips and building fly rods. He loves it and says the camaraderie of the military comes into play on these trips. The peace of fly fishing and the success of trout fishing help him get through some very bad times.
Sometimes the outdoors can be a place of healing.
I often see a friend who sells and trades guns while running his business. He has a great love for guns and people from all over come to him when they are looking for a particular gun. The man was crippled for a long time after a tree fell on his toe and he became infected. He lost a leg. He overcame a great difficulty that would have caused some to curl up and stay in bed. I believe his great love and knowledge of firearms helped him through some dark times.
Another friend has serious heart problems and has been disabled for a long time. Yet he loves going to the club to shoot. Of all my close friends, he may be the most disabled, but you really wouldn’t know. We’ve been fooling around hunting for many years, and he’s been through a lot. His disability nearly cost him his life on several occasions and yet he still reloads and fires every week.
People who love the outdoors are badass, and we endure. Some might complain and complain – I know I do – but we still go out and sit in the fields. I guess you can be disabled or you can just continue to be in the environment doing what you can. Maybe with a little help.
It’s a life that is rich and a day outside is worth several days inside staring at the wall. Thank you to those who help a disabled person.
George Block writes a weekly outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.