On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, my son gave my wife and me a walking tour of Theodore Roosevelt Island on the tidal flats of the Potomac River in Washington, D. C. That morning walk on the circuit trail culminating at the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial set the tone for the upcoming holiday and my three days of hiking and fly-fishing in Shenandoah National Park.
Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S., greatly altered the foreign and domestic policies for America. He improved the terrible labor conditions in this country and he helped preserve a significant portion of the American landscape. Roosevelt was a renaissance politician who wore many hats, including those of scientist, conservationist, historian, author, and naturalist.
President Roosevelt doubled the number of sites within the National Park System and established the Antiquities Act of 1906 that led to the establishment of many National Monuments. He was a multi-faceted individual who enjoyed rugged outdoor adventures and nature studies, and who viewed himself as “a guardian of the natural world.”
As my wife and son and I enjoyed a peaceful ramble along the boardwalk of the Potomac with its cypress swamp and high densities of migrating songbirds and raptors (including the American robin, white-throated sparrow, red-winged blackbird, and red-shouldered hawk) we basked in the crisp bright air of late November and the legacy of the 26th U.S. President.
Roosevelt might be criticized as one who tried to “conquer the natural world” by leading massive hunting expeditions into Africa to benefit American museums but, according to Darrin Lunde, of the Smithsonian Institute and author of The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History, Roosevelt “never lost sight of his insignificance when compared to nature and its awesome vastness.”
After walking Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. on a fine late-autumn day, I couldn’t help dismissing the idea that if a guy like Teddy Roosevelt was gearing up to take the highest office in the land this coming January, then this nation, and the world, would probably be in better shape right now.
Sometimes I like to understate the obvious…
Soon, I was traveling south from D.C. to Charlottesville, Virginia where the next few days would be spent in the pleasant company of extended family members and where I’d also be thankful for the chance to revisit Shenandoah National Park for another round of hiking with a fly rod and a box of feathered hooks.
On Thanksgiving morning, I hiked into the park with my wife and son and brother-in-law, and I also got to fish for a couple of hours, catching and releasing a handful of native trout. The fish seemed absent from many of the lower North Fork Moormans River pools where I’d come to know them on previous visits. I was reminded of the past summer heat and drought conditions, and I wasn’t feeling very good about the implications.
The next day, after being fortified by tasty holiday cuisine and locally brewed ales, I hit the trail for the headwaters in the park, happily singing Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” to myself and leaving behind the world of crass commercialism. While other companions traveled to historical sites and mountain breweries, I was content to hike three miles into the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of pretty brook trout.
When the hordes of holiday shoppers have dollar signs for eyeballs, I prefer to fish– and yeah, sometimes I like to understate the obvious.
Like many eastern streams, the beautiful waterways of Shenandoah National Park were running low and clear. The fishing was challenging, to say the least. As I crept along with Chester (the fly rod built in Middlebrook, Virginia) I didn’t find many trout until I finally reached the upper stretches of the river.
But I found them– lots of little brook trout eager to chase a dry fly or a nymph, if I made a delicate cast beyond the sight of the trail and the occasional hiker.
On the third day out, the weather turned sharply cooler and windier. I worked the lower mile of so of the Rapidan River within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. Again, the no-kill regulations were in effect, for casting with artificial lures only.
I reinforced my theory that the summer heat and drought conditions had taken a toll, and that many wild trout had moved upstream to find sustainable temperatures and stream conditions. I fished a lot of the Rapidan pools that had been productive for me in the past, but I didn’t see or catch a lot of trout.
I think most of the fish had swum upstream in search of former-President Hoover’s camp or, sensing their doom from climate change (or from changes in the forthcoming political climate), they adapted because… they’re a hardy breed and (anthropomorphically speaking) are smarter than we think.
We’ve got to keep working to ensure that these better known and lesser-known places that are special and open to the public remain pristine and ecologically viable.
They keep us sane and healthy…