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Going on Pilgrimage

I just returned from my annual intensive fishing therapy session in Michigan, my home state. Each spring I link up with the other five members of our former volleyball team, the Thumpers, for nearly a week of fishing.

Our volleyball team disbanded more than a decade ago, but we all like to fish, so we’ve been meeting once a year and heading north on a fishing vacation.

We primarily target yellow perch, a species that’s fairly rare in Missouri. We fish in Lake Michigan. This year we found schools of the tasty fish tight to the bottom in 112 feet of water.

The trip is mostly fun, and it gives me a chance to recharge mentally. As a bonus, I usually glean some valuable lessons from the concentrated fishing time.

For example, I learned that it takes nearly 35 seconds to let your line down 112 feet. We could get it down faster with a heavier sinker, but the extra weight would overwhelm the light rods we use. Besides, we’d then have to reel up more weight.

We learned an interesting lesson in physics when the anchor stuck among some rocks on the bottom. It is a fact that three guys pulling in concert can exert enough force to break a 5/16th-inch anchor line.

Rather than violate a fundamental principle of physics, we shifted to the opposite side of the boat with sudden extreme velocity when the rope snapped. Fortunately, the gunnel stopped us from pitching overboard. I suspect we’d have been laughing too hard to climb back into the boat.

That annual fishing vacation is good for me. I usually return nicked and groggy, and my digestive system takes about a week to straighten itself out, but I feel restored and happy. Even on the long drive back, I’m already anxious for next year’s trip.

As is the case with many pilgrimages, the journey itself proves valuable and instructive.

Between Missouri and Michigan I have to drive through plenty of miles of farm country. In the spring, the fields are ready for planting, and the vista from the highway is of miles and miles of fields that look like they have been clean-shaven. Later in the year, the fields will be lush with corn, soybeans and wheat, but they were barren during my trip and probably had been since the fall harvest.

The terrain was so flat and open that I could have spotted a squirrel a half mile away, and a deer would have formed a skyline. I saw neither. For more than a 100 miles no hawks were evident sitting on powerlines or telephone wires or soaring above the fields. Little wonder, since there weren’t many rabbits, mice or moles for them to eat. Actually, I saw almost no wild game or even roadkill until I’d passed through the Chicago-Gary corridor and got into the forests of Michigan.

So much ground! So little wildlife!

As the miles swept by, I kept thinking of the terrific pressures human activities relentlessly place upon wildlife and its habitat. Our vast farms, growing cities, sprawling suburbs, huge airports, mega-factories and even the roads we drive on all have replaced enormous expanses of natural ecosystems with areas incapable of providing food and shelter for wildlife.

How important it is then to preserve as much wildlife habitat as we can. Missouri is a leader in safeguarding natural ecosystems. Take a drive almost anywhere in the state and you’ll see those yellow plastic border signs and the cantilevered brown signs that mark state conservation areas. Taken in another sense, those are good signs for wildlife. They mean that Missouri has set aside places for them to live.

Tom Cwynar, Editor

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