Some of the fondest memories I had as a child were of my family camping trips. My parents had an old Jayco popup that we spent our family summers in, traveling from Shenandoah all the way to the Outer Banks. These trips were usually accompanied by my great grandparents who were both avid coffee drinkers (some might say excessive, but to each their own).
Because of my love of fishing from an early age; these trips were usually catered to camping close by some sort of body of water. I would get up before sunrise usually to find my great grandfather sitting by the campfire already halfway through a cup of coffee, with his fishing rod leaned up against the side of the camper anticipating my arrival. The combination of strong, black coffee mixed with woodsmoke is still to this day a very nostalgic smell for me.
I remember one particular instance camping in East Tennessee, where my great grandfather lovingly scolded me for being in such a hurry to get to the stream.
“The trout ain’t gonna grow legs, slow down and enjoy the walk lest I spill my coffee.”
At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I can’t even really remember the rest of the events of that one day, other than him and me sitting by the water’s edge and him letting me sip on his cup of coffee that he always brought fishing. It wasn’t so much that I even liked coffee, but it made me feel more like an adult (along with the leaves of his beechnut wintergreen I took from him when he offered).
Those trips, and those memories, are some of the best parts of my life. I credit them with getting me to where I am today as a guide and for my love of fishing. When I am done with a trip and find myself alone on the river, I’ll make a fresh cup of coffee and sit by the water’s edge, reminiscing on the events of the day but more so on my great grandfather’s words all those years ago. I’m not sure he realized it at the time how impactful that was on my personal philosophy of fishing.
When I sit in the midst of rushing water on a trout stream, hearing the songbirds and feeling the warmth of my coffee in my hands forces me to slow down and appreciate where I am in the present. Joe Humphries often talks about “looking up” when going fishing for this reason. It can be so easy to be focused on the technical aspects of fishing when I think most anglers sometimes forget just how fortunate they are to be on the water surrounded by all of the natural beauty we have here in the first place.
Time has muddled many of my childhood memories, but the smell of strong coffee takes me back to a much simpler time when the only thing that was rushing anything, was the water tumbling over the rocks at my feet. In a world that seems to make less sense to me as the days go by, those memories are precious things.
Ethan Hollifield is a member of a conservation organization called 2% For Conservation and a guide for Southern Appalachian Anglers