Those of us who wait year round for the cold pleasures of the brief mid-Atlantic winter have to grudgingly concede now that spring has sprung here in Pennsylvania. All the ice has been gone for a couple of weeks and every morning more green is visible from my back window than there was the day before. The birds are getting noisier too, especially the males.
The natural world is a big, diverse and constantly changing place and the only way to approach it is with an open mind, I think. We’re too quickly led down short paths toward the places other people thought were beautiful, not understanding that every day these places change and that in seconds, the clouds can move and what was aesthetically pleasing can now be bleak. We who fish too often go to the old secret holes that dad and grand dad frequented, expecting to find something comparable to the fish in the old family stories. And we fail to appreciate that the waters are dynamic and the tributary that produced those walleye on a night long ago probably won’t offer a comparable catch this year; the stream itself has changed, the water level is perhaps lower this week and the temperature higher.
I hope that many of you this year will join me in picking up a map and venturing off to places we’ve never seen or heard of before. Everywhere I go, I meet ostensible outdoorsmen who really don’t know the hidden refuges of fish and wildlife within a mile of their homes. Too busy, perhaps, loading the bassboat and SUV to trek off to an impoundment somewhere famous for its five pound-plus largemouth bass. And what’s missed in this rush to get to the best places?
So, what exactly do I mean by an “outdoor adventure”? Well, first, it has to start with me and a map, not a destination that someone else told me was a great place, for whatever reason. I often simply spot a stream or pond on my map that I’ve never seen or heard of before and pack for a trip. This always includes a paper map (the DeLorme topographic atlases are great, by the way). I don’t worry about who might own the property before I get there, whether it’s public or private. I simply don’t intrude if there are clear signs barring access. I’m likely to have a good camera with me and a back pack, and then maybe fishing tackle, maybe simple camping gear, maybe a kayak. But the central idea of what constitutes real adventure is that it’s self-directed and also that you don’t know the outcome, what there is to be found and what dire or unexpectedly pleasant circumstances you might find yourself in. One thing is certain: you won’t experience any of it if you don’t get out.
I’ve often said, and still believe, that a person could spend the rest of his or her life exploring their own home county. But no-one will without an open mind and the simple motion of stepping out your own back door.