August 27th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

By Al Campbell, (Host AC)

A star fell from the sky recently. It wasn't the brightest or best known star in the sky, so most people didn't even know it was gone. However, some of us looked to that star for guidance much like old-time sailors used the North Star to guide them to their destination. That star was my grandfather and last surviving grandparent. Clinton Rogers passed from this earth on August 3rd, 2001.

This isn't an obituary or recount of my grandfather's life. You didn't know him and weren't affected by his life or his accomplishments. However, this is one way I can explain how important the little things can be in the life of a person who looks to you for guidance the way I looked to my grandfather when I was young.

Most of my memories involve little things. When my mother called with the sad news, I didn't think of the family gatherings or picnics we shared in the past. Those weren't the things that shaped my life, even if they were important to others in my family. I spent the day remembering other things that impacted my life in different ways.

He was a faithful man; faithful to his wife, his God and his family. He wasn't ashamed to let people see him pray in public, but he didn't make a big show of his faith either. However, it was the little things in his life, and the little things he shared with others that I remembered that day after I heard the news of his departure.

My mind skipped back to a cold November day in the late 60's when we sat on a windswept slope in the Montana mountains. We shared a can of Sterno to heat our cold hands and talked about hunting ethics and conservation as we waited for a deer to pass on the trail below us. We discussed why hunters selectively harvest bucks when doing so will improve the health and vitality of the deer herd. It was legal to harvest does, but waiting for a buck was the better conservation practice. It was the first serious conservation discussion I had shared with my grandfather.

When a deer finally wandered into the meadow we were watching, it didn't have antlers. He didn't ask me to let her pass. In fact, he didn't say a word. He just sat there and watched me make the decision for myself. I lowered my rifle and let a legal deer walk out of sight. I made the decision, but he passed on the ethic.

Mentally I drifted to the bank of a Montana stream. We were watching brookies rise to flies and talking about why the fish were all so small. That was the first time I heard about the effects of overpopulation and stunted fish. He explained the need to remove the excess fish in that population so the others could grow, but he tempered the discussion with reasons some fish should be released in other streams for the benefit of those fisheries. I learned the importance of balance that day.

My mind skipped back to an earlier date and an orange November sunrise. Autumn sunrises in Montana are firmly etched into my mind; especially that sunrise on the morning of my first pheasant hunt. I didn't hit a single bird, but that didn't influence the outcome of the noon meal. However, being invited to join the adults in an autumn tradition influenced my life. I had passed from the ranks of the "too young" to the "old enough." I was trusted to safely carry a firearm and participate in an adult activity.

Next my mind drifted to a deluxe Herters fly tying kit I received on my 12th birthday. It was too expensive for my parents to afford by themselves, so my grandfather chipped in the lion's share because he thought it was important to me. Who would have guessed how much impact a simple fly tying kit would have on my life? To him it was a little thing; but that little thing changed the life of a young boy.

My first good camera was handed down from that man to me when I was 16. He had just purchased a better one and decided I could put the old one to good use. That started something that my parents marvel at even now. Would you have guessed that a simple act of handing down a used camera would have led to the thousands of photos I've had published since then? I'm sure he never even dreamed what the outcome of his simple act of generosity would be.

Sliding deeper into my past I can see my grandfather holding me while I learned how to swim in an irrigation canal near his farm. That canal was an important part of his life. It watered his crops, held ducks for autumn hunting, sheltered pheasants in the grass of its banks and provided a swimming hole on hot days. It was many things to my grandfather, but it was where I learned to swim. A little thing, maybe, but something he shared with me when I was young and a skill that saved my life when I was older and had to swim out of a submerged pickup that had been caught in a flood.

Skipping back even further into the past, I can see my grandfather running to the edge of a lake near his home. It was his duty, no, privilege to coach me as I landed my first northern pike. It took a lot of coaching and a lot of cranking on the handle of an old Zebco reel to land that fish. The eyes of a ten-year-old see a six pound pike as a monster; maybe even the biggest fish ever. The eyes of a grandfather confirmed that thought. One of us was more excited about that fish than the other; but I'm not sure who that person was.

More recently, I remember driving sixty miles from my Montana home to pick up a less vigorous man and take him ice fishing. Too many heart attacks had slowed the man down, but they hadn't quenched the fire in his heart for outdoor activities. We talked about elk he had hunted in his youth and dozens of fishing and hunting trips we shared together as I was growing up. When the cold wind finally ended the day, he had tears in his eyes. Too many memories. He watched me grow from a boy to a man, and now it was my turn to do the driving and drill the holes in the ice. We had a common bond, a common ethic and a shared love for the outdoors.

That was the last time I was able to fish with my grandfather. I moved to South Dakota a few months later and his declining health limited our later meetings to conversations in a less strenuous environment. The fire for outdoor activities still burned in his heart, but his body was unwilling to support his dreams.

Mr. Rogers, the neighborhood won't be the same without you. However, your spiritual direction, your passion for the outdoors, your conservation ethic and your outlook on life are alive and well in your children and grandchildren. Sometimes the "little things" are the most important things in life. ~ AC


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