Ever since I joined several outdoor organizations and started to attend their regular meetings in the 1990s, I’ve been hearing a general complaint: Look around this room. Our hair is gray. We need some younger people, bright new faces interested in what we do, or it won’t be long until we’re finished.
I, too, used to be concerned– longing for the comfort of youthful representatives in the room. I had to wonder if high-tech gadgetry, or a form of evil, was stealing young folk from the world of nature and its preservation. Maybe something nefarious was involved, but maybe… it was no more than before. I had to reconsider…
I recalled that the Boomers, influential at the blossoming of social and political progress in the 1960s, had television (black-and-white and, finally, color) to blank their impressionable minds. Today, well, we know that all too many kids come from broken homes, that Fortnight or equivalent has them in thrall…It’s different and, yet, not so different than before…
I don’t make many social or political comments on this blog. Frankly, I find that all too many current events are either so depressing or surreal that my two-cents’-worth of commentary has no value whatsoever. Even if I spoke more fully, nothing I could say would help settle the sordid flow of things.
That said, I still consider myself an activist for change, retaining a bit of youthful energy first noticed back in college days. Despite some lingering awkwardness and confusion, I still try to harness a reservoir of social energy– like a river dam that’s cracked and probably should be taken down .
Before I judge the world of young adults, I need to look at my own gray hairs and recognize the route I’ve taken. I became a parent (with great kids, by the way!). I wrote letters, books and pleas. I dealt with home ownership and muddled on with high hopes for a better world. I attended lectures, rallies, and planning sessions. I participated in many acts of non-violent civil disobedience, but I did not join a formal meeting of an activist group (i.e., A. C. Bird Club, Slate Run Sportsmen, Trout Unlimited…) until the age of 40, or older.
And that’s when I started hearing the complaints… We don’t have the young folks here. We need fresh blood.
I heard it again today, at a Sportsman meeting, just before embarking on a fishing jaunt along Slate Run. The water was low, very clear and cool at 61 degrees F.. The sky was overcast and promising rain. As far as I could tell, no one else was fishing the run. A favorite pool, long and deep, was active with some very nice fish, large trout mostly nymphing at the bottom or occasionally taking something tiny at the top.
I wanted a connection– with the fish, with fellow Sportsmen who could not be here because of physical ailments or prior commitments, and with youthful anglers who might be casting in the social breezes down on big Pine Creek…
I watched a Green Weenie drift along the bottom of the pool– to the nose of what appeared to be a 20-inch brown, into the opening jaws of that exceptional fish– only to snap off when I struck too hard and broke the hair-like tippet. Damn! Then I went through wet and dry fly patterns in various sizes till I settled on a tiny Adams emerger… #20 hook. Real small, for sure, but effective.
Youth has every advantage in society today, and that’s the way it should be if the world isn’t under the command of a Deathwish. Yeah, we gray-hairs had our chance to speak out clearly, but wouldn’t it be nice if our shards of wisdom and experience still stood upright like a road sign to the future?
At the pool, I made a long cast of the Adams to the far end of the pool. Its grizzly hackle, its tiny feathers mottled gray and russet like a wise old head, reflected light and vision. A trout rose and missed it, but I brought the line in, made another cast… And finally, a Slate Run brown, or two– buttery gems for contemplation.
Many teens and young folk in the world are out there doing excellent work. Some of them fish or ski or hike or study previously unimagined maps of our existence. Their work can be transformative–doing stuff like trying to convince our leadership that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. They’re living as fully as they’re able.
Does this mean I’m optimistic about our future? Not necessarily, and not because our youthful saviors are becoming self-involved. They’re working. And when their hairs turn slowly gray, more than a few will be sitting in those meeting chairs the elders left behind.