Thank you, Crab Orchard – The Daily Egyptian

Not far enough in the past, a boy taught me a valuable lesson… well, several lessons, but the one that seems to have served me the most joy instead of sorrow would end up being a peaceful pastime for me to from time to time. “Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime,” he said as he baited a hook, perched on a bed of rocks nestled in a creek in Crab Orchard Lake.

I had fished before and played timidly like I wasn’t the brightest, knowing full well that I was good enough to cast a line. Aiming straight for a clearing among the lily pads, I whipped out my pole and launched a pretty fabulous backcast, dropping cleanly into the water. I tried to pass it off as beginner’s luck, but when that fish bit my hook, I showed up. Bringing the fish back as if it were my job, I pulled it out of the water to find a bluegill sunfish. I then proceeded to remove it from its hook and release it back into the lake, while sitting somewhat quietly to the side.

The lesson he taught me wasn’t really the wise fable he mumbled; it was that I needed to get in touch with a part of me that was crying out for attention.

Wildlife has been a part of my life since I was born, as I usually spend my summers tending not only to my own garden, but also to several old women’s gardens. Pulling weeds and having my hands in the dirt during this time of year is vital for me. I can’t explain it, other than it feels ancestral. If I sit on the side of the screened porch of my grandmother’s house, I stare at a forest of mature vegetation, all on the property of the Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge. Each year the trees turn from green with the ground filled with wildflowers and grasses to leaves and branches from purple to brown.

It took me a long time to appreciate nature, and I’m embarrassed to say so. Even though I was a bit outside when I was a kid, I didn’t pay attention to it. I was too busy pretending I was living in colonial times, pretending to do laundry or make “soup” (I was extremely weird). I wasn’t looking up and around, appreciating my surroundings. Now that I’m old enough to sit still, I appreciate the beauty nature has to offer and am amazed every day by what I see.

As a child, I had no idea how important the refuge and the lake were, not only for the region, but also for me personally.

My two best childhood friends lived just steps from the lake’s docks, and as kids we would happily go to the shore to picnic, sunbathe, or talk nonsense. As a preteen and teenager we were walking and anxious, jumping off rocks into water. Now that I’m an adult, we still walk together when everyone’s home; whether it’s freezing cold or scorching heat, we somehow make our way to the lake.

This road has heard a lot of stories and a lot of laughter. He also heard deep conversations that are only acceptable to your loved ones and a lot of tears. It’s really very therapeutic. Now that we are adults, we stand on the docks and stare. Truly thinking of nothing in particular, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the picturesque scene in front of us, feeling hazy. I have looked at this lake several times, feeling all kinds of feelings, both happy and sad. I look at my reflection and the reflections of my now adult friends and think to myself how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Whenever my dad sees a really big tree, he never fails to say, “Man, if these trees could talk” while patting the trunk and generally taking a puff of his cigarette. This statement always makes me laugh when I hear it, because I now think about it quite often.

Sometimes I drive my little red car to a vacant lot on Crab Orchard’s property and reflect. I listen to my music and look out the window, observing the world around me. When life seems dark and terribly unpredictable, it’s best to retreat to a place that brings comfort. Although my friends now live in different corners of the United States and I am always walking away from a dock, I always come to the lake when I need a lift.

This year, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge celebrates 75 years of serving the region with valuable wildlife sources. Not only are conservationists actively preserving our wildlife and systems here, but they are also providing sanctuary for people like me, who sometimes just need a trip to nature to start over.

A solemn thank you to the shelter from everyone: the lonely kids on a Friday night, the college students with a new budding romance, the longtime small-town couples enjoying their Dairy Queen parked in the trees. I personally want to thank them for witnessing a beautiful backsplash to many of my most important memories. I learned many lessons and saw many things with the sights of the Crab Orchard National Refuge landing in my surroundings, and I have many emotions that are still stirred by the beauty of it today.

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