My trip to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks some eighteen years ago was my first experience with the national parks. It was, as I have credited it, my “coming home to a place I’d never been before” moment. It was a trip that I do feel changed me. I often say I connected with the Great Outdoors then, but in reality, I do believe it was actually a re-connection. Perhaps, one I was not fully cognizant of.
Faded pictures remind me that I once stood at the foot of the Black Hills in South Dakota when I was four. This was a family vacation that my father really wanted. He was an outdoorsman at heart, and he wanted to expose his children to the thing he loved: being out in the country. So he traipsed us through South Dakota, and he introduced us to fishing, horseback riding, and hiking.
The trip itself holds only a small part in my memory. So much of life happened after that. My parents divorced only three years after the trip, and my dad died of brain cancer only ten years after that trip. I believe my process of coping somehow erased not only the traumatic memories, but unfortunately, a lot of the good ones as well.
What remained, though, are treasured memories. I remember him teaching me to fish, and I remember being sassy and obstinate and wanting to do it all myself. Remember, I was four! I remember climbing on that horse for the first time and feeling an exhilaration unmatched for me at that time. I remember yelling from a butte and pretending that my voice would travel on and on and on, hoping someone would hear it “on the other side.” I remember bonding with my father on a different level. He wasn’t “working dad,” he was relaxed and fun and present. I think I must have immediately shared his passion for the outdoors and that connected us.
In dealing with his loss, I know I pushed him away for a time. And with that, I pushed away the very fabric that connected us: nature. When I returned to the mountains eighteen years later, I had that life-altering connection. I just didn’t realize at the time, it was a re-connection.
So much of who we are does stem from those formative years, whether we are cognizant of it or not. And when life does hurt us and steals bits and pieces of our memories, what fights to remain is precious. They may be small memories, faded memories, intermittent memories, but they are big moments. Fishing with my dad in the Black Hills of South Dakota was a big moment.
I could only end with this:
The chorus of Just Fishin’ – sung by Trace Adkins and written by Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell, and Ed Hill.
And she thinks we’re just fishin’ on the riverside
Throwin’ back what we could fry
Drownin’ worms and killin’ time
Nothin’ too ambitious
She ain’t even thinkin’ ‘bout
What’s really goin’ on right now
But I guarantee this memory’s a big’in
And she thinks we’re just fishin’