There is a certain truth to the statement: When you volunteer your time to serve others, you get more than you give. Last Tuesday, that was the conversation which I found myself engaged in with two armed forces service personnel at McGee Trout Ponds. You get more than you give. That’s what sweethearts Chris Livesay and Stephanie Davenport, and I, discussed as I tied a fly onto their fly fishing set up, and cast the goods into the pond, handing them each a fly rod butt, and watching them hook onto trout. They were two of 31 Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) participants who were up here for a week of fantastic outdoor activities which veterans with disabilities enjoyed with accompanying family members as part of the Wounded Warriors program. A week of excitement such as kayaking, rock climbing, bike riding, etc. I was present to help the group catch trout at the fishing portion of the week’s activities.
About a month back, I received an email message from fellow fishing guide, Mark Spieler. A lot of you know Spieler from the good work that he does with DSES. One of Kathy Copeland’s right hands, he is committed to bringing the enjoyment of outdoor recreation to those who might have a harder time accessing it, for a variety of reasons. Spieler is also a fellow member of the Eastern Sierra Fishing Guides Association (ESFGA), a local non-profit in its third year running, which exists simply to improve the quality of fishing on the Eastside through the efforts of committed guides for the benefit of everyone who so desires to fish the region. Mark tapped into the resource of several enthusiastic ESFGA members to help put disabled veterans and family members onto trout.
The life of a Marine is all that Chris Livesay has known in his adult life. He has served nine tours between Iraq and Afghanistan in 13 years. As we stood pondside, watching others happily hook trout, we talked about the concept of giving, and giving for one’s country. I could relate to some of what Chris has done and seen, not that I ever hiked through foreign hot spots with the possibility of being shot at, but that I have traveled the world, and have seen several poverty-stricken nations. As the three of us stood there, casting wet flies to lurking trout, we chatted about the mud huts of Afghanistan, the dysfunction of communism in Eastern Europe, and the droves of American masses who haven’t seen what Chris or I have. We are both grateful for how we served the nation. Chris, as an active marine for more than a decade, myself, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania back in the late 90’s for a mere two years. As others around us on the pond sat in wheelchairs, Chris balanced himself on two legs, one being a camouflage-colored prosthetic. Chris gave for his nation. Much more than I ever did. Yet, what he took back, is an enlightened sense of the freedom which we have, which so many of us can take for granted. He stood there next to Stephanie confidently catching trout, telling me how he is ready to take advantage of the G.I. Bill so he can return to school to get a degree so he can become a Physician’s Assistant. To no surprise, they both found great satisfaction in the peace of our immediate surroundings — Aspens quaked in the breeze, as the storm clouds slowly rolled over the majestic mountains that stood overhead.
Early Wednesday morning, the group hit the waters of Crowley Lake. I was assigned to assist fellow guide Cog MacNeil. Cog and I were blessed to have the opportunity to take onto the water Marines John Howell and Ard “Biz” Bizahaloni. I helped Biz learn to cast the day before. Now, he was putting his newly acquired skills to good use in the natural setting. The four of us hightailed it to Leighton Springs where we dropped anchor in 15 feet of water, and hooked up on a few trout. A few of those were successfully landed. The trout are taking midges just off the surface bottom, suspended about six inches off the bottom, throughout the lake. It was four hours of great angling. We dialed into action off Sandy Point as well. Most of the group was concentrated in McGee. We found action elsewhere. Rods were bent, Cog had Johnny Cash playing on the MP3, the waters were calm, the views were amazing. John showed a lot of excitement over catching trout. Biz, he was a bit quieter on the water. One of the more serious fly anglers I have ever seen. Over the course of the morning, Cog and I talked a bit with the two about their injuries. They readily shared, as Chris informed me the day before that talking about what vets go through is all part of the healing process. And, the nature of this week’s trip is “therapeutic nature,” as Mark Spieler so correctly put it. Biz was a serious one, though. A Marine, stationed at Twenty Nine Palms, and you know he has never questioned orders. I kept wondering throughout the morning if he was enjoying the experience of midge fishing for trout or not. At 11 a.m., we headed back across the lake to bring the two back in to join their group. It was at that moment in time, when we approached the dock, and Cog slowed down the motor, that Biz looked at me, with a huge grin on his face, the first I saw in two days, and simply said, “That was awesome.”
I didn’t know what to think when I told Spieler some time back that I would assist for the two days. I am now though so thankful for the opportunity to share that experience with others. Did I volunteer my time? I suppose it could be said. But what I walked away with was a more profound and defined respect for the service of our armed forces. I learned that several veterans, this group included, made incredible sacrifices for our country. Incredible sacrifices. And, it is our job to help them readjust back into civilian life. It’s not that Cog and I helped put a smile on Biz’s face that morning. That’s what one could say we “gave.” However, the truth be told, I took away an incredible appreciation for the human spirit, and love of nation last Wednesday. I got more than I gave. John, Chris, Stephanie, Biz … Cog, Mark, Kathy, I and all the other hands on deck last week just wish to say, “Thank you.” Thank you for spending two days fishing with us.
A more detailed report can be found at http://kittredgesports.com/fishing_report.php. Leonard guides for Kittredge Sports. Call 760.934.7566.