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Matt Dickerson: Nostalgia (and wild animal photos)

For the past several weeks I’ve been getting a large number of texts and social media messages from my good friend David O’Hara. Dave is a former Vermont resident now living in the flatlands of southeastern South Dakota, and feeling nostalgic for the cold trout streams and not-so-flat lands of Vermont. It is always good to hear from Dave. He is one of my closest friends, and the co-author with me of three books, most recently “Downstream,” a collection of essays on fly-fishing, ecology, philosophy and Appalachia.
Lately Dave has had extra time both to feel nostalgic and to send me messages. Several weeks ago (as my regular readers may remember) he was hit in the head by a flying boat. While slowly fishing his way across a South Dakota lake, another boat traveling at a high speed ran into his boat, and then up and into him. The accident resulted in traumatic brain injury, several missing pieces of his skull, a fractured vertebra, and broken ribs and collarbone.
The good news is that Dave is slowly healing, thanks to modern technologies such as the ability to airlift a patient to a distant hospital and to cover holes in the skull with titanium patches. And during the healing process he has time on his hands to stay in touch with friends via social media. Lately he has been posting photos and videos of jaguars and other large cats in a subtropical forest in northern Guatemala — thanks to another relatively modern technology: a motion or infrared-activated digital game camera. Dave has been taking college students to Guatemala every January for several years, and he always brings a game cam down with him; when he comes back home he leaves it as a gift with local conservationists. They send him the photos.
I was also hoping to have some photos of wild animals this year. Wild Vermont animals. In particular, deer. The two ways I hoped to get those photos were first, from my own game cam mounted out near my hunting stand, and second by harvesting one of the antlered ones. My attempts at the second approach were hindered when my car broke down after Thanksgiving and I was not able to drive out to my stand. I have no idea what I might have missed by not hunting, however, because my expensive game cam — a Christmas present from my wife — was stolen just as the hunting season started. Hence my first hoped-for way of getting photos was also foiled.
This is the point in my column when I become the Grumpy Old Man, and I start to wax nostalgic about the “good old days.” Like all the years my father and I took fishing-camping trips in northern Maine. We’d leave thousands of dollars of gear and supplies at our campsite while we were gone all day, and never once was anything stolen. And that was the norm for camping in those days. Everybody trusted everybody. It was very unusual to hear of somebody stealing camping, fishing or outdoors equipment from somebody else. People felt safe leaving stuff out in the open. Other anglers and campers were like family, or part of a close-knit community. In more than 30 years of trips to northern Maine, the only time we lost anything was when a desperate party came by and took gas out of one of our gas cans while we were gone. But they left us money and an apologetic note.
Now, it seems, everything has to be locked down. Even out in the woods. Even on my own property. Playing the Grumpy Old Man, I should add, “Stay off my lawn.”
But Dave has a way of sharing news that makes me feel less grumpy. It’s hard to complain too much about a lost game cam worth a mere couple hundred dollars, when your friend was almost killed and is out of work for months — and still finds ways to be thankful. Especially when he is giving away game cams. While lying in bed recovering from his injuries, he is working to get donations of a dozen more trail cams to donate to conservations in Guatemala who make excellent use of them in protecting endangered species. (If you want to donate one, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with him.)
So instead of being nostalgic and grumpy, right now I’m feeling thankful for good friends like Dave. And although I’d rather have given my game cam away to a conservationist than have it stolen, if I get around to replacing it, I might consider buying two and donating the other one.
The one in Vermont will be locked though. And if you’re the one who stole it, stay off my lawn.

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