An Agent's Calling
morning. Bob's uncle and father used to enjoy just sitting in chairs overlooking the rush of the Meramec, and since then I have come to understand why.
Both men have since passed away. In fact, they died within three months of each other, as if they needed to be together for another adventure. My memories of them will always be good and strong, like the roots of the sycamore and cottonwood trees that line the river bank.
And there are other memories of a small farm in Jefferson County owned by my relatives. One uncle could take five young boys fishing--at night--and still keep his sanity and catch fish at the same time. At this farm, I learned the fine art of catching catfish on chicken liver. I also tasted frog legs and pulled a seine through a creek, catching minnows and crawdads for bait.
On one of these seining trips, I saw my first copperhead as it just missed finding the underside of my foot.
Even now, my outdoor encounters away from my job continue, but at a slower pace. Though the Jefferson County farm has passed on to other owners, the cabin on the Meramec is now owned by my good friend. Once a year, we join several friends for a weekend of reminiscing.
We fish a little, but not much. Mostly we pitch horseshoes, play cards and eat well. And, oh yeah, we remember. We remember the year before, or maybe the year Bob and I walked across the beaver dam in a nearby creek.
We stay up late, sometimes hearing the great-horned owls talk to each other. Or maybe the coyotes will serenade us one more time. In the morning, we curse the beaver for stripping bark off some newly-planted cypress trees, but we respect his resourcefulness at the same time.
Do you see the theme in my stories? I spent some enjoyable time at many areas in Missouri. I learned to respect valuable natural resources while sharing them with family and friends.
The very first conservation agents I saw were floating the Meramec River, checking permits and creeled fish along the way. Though I was young, I remember thinking what many people have since told me--"what a great job that would be. A job where you could float a beautiful river and get paid for it."
I've since learned that while floating a river in May can be a tremendous job asset, floating in December or January may have its drawbacks. And like any job, there are pluses and minuses. I like to think the positive outweighs the negative, and I remind myself of this during bad times, like when I'm responding to a spotlighting call on a snowy night.
When I tell people what it takes to be a conservation agent, I stress that they have to possess an inner desire to protect natural resources. The roots of this desire must be deep in order to sometimes risk personal injury to enforce a law, because enforcing that law may someday allow a youngster to see an eagle along a stream, bag a ruffed grouse or catch catfish in an urban lake.
My parents instilled my sense of values at a young age. My love for the outdoors is rooted in the experiences I've related here, and in many more. I was also fortunate to have worked with an agent, Walter Klinkhardt, who had strong values and a solid love of the outdoors. He remained an agent for 33 years before retiring in 1982. He belongs to a special fraternity of natural resource protectors. I'm proud to say I do, too.