Time has a way of defining its own symmetry and fulfilling its own rhythms. Days are days, though, and are best used by spending each one fully, nothing saved… These days, I try not to divide time but only use it, use it all, as it comes, living through it all like fire moving through dry grass leaving only ashes. Because things come and go. Come and go.”
– Harry Middleton, “On the Spine of Time: An Anglers Love of the Smokies”
The past few years of recent memory have been filled with change. Society has changed, our mountains have changed, even fishing has changed immensely in the time that I have been alive. The way we broadcast information within the blink of an eye and communicate with others is drastically different than even 20 years ago. At times, It can be overwhelming to ponder these things, especially to old souls like myself who cherish fond memories of years gone by. Fishing was simpler; life seemed to be simpler as a whole. I often find myself longing for the days of my youth when I could go out on any stream I wanted and seemingly have the surrounding landscape to myself. But as we’ve seen over this past year: life can change suddenly, without reason or explanation in ways that don’t make any sense.
I think it can be very easy at times to get caught up in the part of the human condition that longs for stability and a life relatively free of any degree of change. If one steps back, takes off the rose-colored glasses, and exits the world of nostalgia, it can be realized that the notion of things staying as they were is fool-hearty, at best. If there is one thing that I have learned in my studies of nature and fishing, is that nature seldom stays constant. Analyzing different populations of fish, whether it be trout, smallmouth, or anything else found within our mountains, shows how amazingly adaptable these creatures are to the harsh realities of the natural world. The species of flora and fauna found here have adapted to surviving extremes of cold, droughts, floods, wildfires, and the ever-encroaching steps of modern “progress.” When one studies nature enough, you’ll find that these environmental extremes, followed by periods of ecological prosperity, are more often than not cyclical and should be expected.
It can be very difficult for someone like me, a self proclaimed conservationist and mountain native, to watch the current change that our mountains face without grimacing at the sight of a trail head being trashed, a stream becoming degraded, the scalding of a mountainside slated for development, and feeling as if my hands are completely tied. It is then I have to remind myself that time, and nature, always wins. The ecological world has a unique way of surviving such catastrophes. Even as I write this: I look out my own window to see a woodland healing itself into secondary succession. Stands of tall white pine are now being replaced with slower growing deciduous trees, a sign of a forest that was once cleared, and is now reappearing out of the ashes of destruction.
What can we learn from nature then, as lovers of the outdoors who want so desperately to protect the places we love? For one, I think it is necessary to not only cherish the outdoors, but to also cherish the time that we get to spend with nature in communion. Nothing in life is ever guaranteed, and at a moment’s notice, everything we know can suddenly be taken. We should dedicate ourselves to fighting to protect these places, but like the trout that live in our streams, we should also learn to adapt and survive the things we simply cannot control.
Never take for granted the time spent on the water or in the woods, whether it be by yourself or with others whose company you cherish. The time you have, especially in our ever more chaotic world, is worth more than we can all comprehend, and once it is gone, all we have left are memories.
Make those memories and the places they’re made worth saving.
Ethan Hollifield is a member of a conservation organization called 2% For Conservation and a guide for Southern Appalachian Anglers