Matt Dickerson: Outdoor Dreams, 2017

And, so, another new year has started. And, to be honest, I’m not sure what to expect. Volatility seems to be the operative word for the year.
I recently read that in 2016, a crack in one of the Antarctic’s largest ice shelves grew by 24 miles, making it almost 100 miles long and over 1,000 feet wide. The crack now extends roughly 90 percent of the way across the shelf. It has only 12 miles to go during this current Antarctic summer and it will have broken all the way across, allowing an ice chunk the size of Delaware to fall off. And that, in turn, would further open the path for more glaciers to flow into the ocean, raising global sea levels almost four inches.
Meanwhile, flooding in California and Nevada from a recent deluge is among the worst ever recorded, with hundreds of homes being evacuated — this following an extended drought throughout much of California. Something about “when it rains, it pours” is proving to be true. Meanwhile, much of New England remained in drought as 2016 wound down, while the Southeast had the worst wildfires in their history. And Florida seems to be experiencing the impact of the rising sea level — even before that chunk of Antarctica adds another four inches. What will 2017 bring?
Me? I’m trying to figure out how many states I can fish in during 2017. Because of speaking engagements and business travel, 2016 was a banner year for my checklist of states. I managed to cast a fly in eight different states, four of which I had never before caught a trout in.
Which actually sounds more glamorous than it is. In one of those states I was skunked, in two of them I caught only one trout, and in two of them I landed only two. That was a lot of hours cramped in an airplane to land six fish (five of which were under a foot long). Still, the addition of Indiana, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania did bring my total up to 30 states in which I have caught a trout.
Sadly, way too much of my work-related travel results in no fishing at all. But among the places I’ve been invited to speak in 2017 I have a least a chance of wetting a fly in Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska to make up for the hours in the airports. None of those will be new states for me. But while I still have a son in graduate school in Providence, maybe I can catch my first Rhode Island trout some time in 2017 bringing me up to 31.
Though what I really hope for in 2017 are many hours on my favorite trout streams in Vermont and Maine involving no air travel at all. And maybe a short drive or two across Lake Champlain or the Connecticut to fish in our neighboring states. With a little ambition, I could get up to seven again this year.
Speaking of volatility, one of the refrains I heard frequently was that 2016 was the “worst year ever.” The statement seems largely a reference to the overall divisiveness around the country, and particularly the previously unreached depths of hostility and inanity achieved in the previous election cycle. “Worst year ever” is a rather extreme statement to make, I think. Unless you are a Syrian. For those living in the United States it seems like hyperbole.
Still, there were a lot of late-December posts on social meeting from folks saying they were so glad 2016 was done, and greatly looking forward to 2017, as though the artificial date of 1/1/2017 was going to make everything better. For those in the population who called 2016 the “worst year ever” because of who was elected, the irony is that this president-elect actually takes office in 2017, and so 2017 is not likely to be better.
Speaking of which, one of my goals of 2017 is to spend time in more of our country’s national forests, parks, preserves, refuges and designated wilderness areas. Among the concerns I have over the incoming administration set to take over the White House before my next column goes to print is that their platform includes selling off federal lands. (This goes hand in hand with a broader fear of a dramatic weakening of environmental protection laws.) Although I know that management of federal lands is not perfect, our national forests and preservers, and even Bureau of Land Management lands, do often provide a protection against many abuses of exploitation. One of the lessons that was most driven home by my month in Wyoming in 2016 was how very difficult it is to restore habitat once it is lost; how much more difficult it is to recover land and water and soil once it is destroyed, than simply to protect it in the first place.
Some of my purpose will be to learn how this land is managed. What has been accomplished and what could be done better? Some of my purpose will be to write about it. To bring to the public knowledge whatever I learn from my visits, so that we make well-informed decisions, and with long-term health and not short-term profit in mind. Or at least just to share the delight and beauty.
But I admit that some of my purpose — like trying to cast a fly as often as possible in the places I visit — is just the selfish desire to enjoy something good and worthwhile…
Was I supposed to end that last sentence “before it is lost”? I hope not.
Author’s note: If his columns in the Addison Independentwhet your appetite, you can learn more about Matthew Dickerson’s time at various national forests in Wyoming, New Mexico and along the Appalachian Mountains at his YouTube playlist “Wyoming’s Wild and Native Cutthroat,” at his YouTube channel “Trout Downstream and Heart Streams” or from his books “Downstream: Reflections on Brook Trout, Fly Fishing and the Waters of Appalachia” and“Trout in the Desert: on Fly Fishing, Human Habits, and the Cold Waters of the Arid Southwest.”

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