My sensei

Sacred things are worth protecting
striped bass fly fishing
Photo: Chad Shmukler

Editor's note: This past year, The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) held an essay contest reserved exclusively for fly fishing guides and targeted specifically at guides who make their living through their connection to saltwater. The job AFFTA tasked contest entrants with was to describe their indelible connection to places where salty waters flow and the fish that inhabit them, but also to why healthy ocean fisheries and working to preserve saltwater habitat is important. This essay, from fly fishing guide Kyle Schaefer, was one of the entries.

I’ve kept my ultimate goal in life simple and crystal clear. One day, I strive to become a wise old man. I haven’t a clue when that day will be but, at the very least, I expect to know when I get there. This immeasurable, intangible goal is my compass and guides my decisions as life unfolds. But wisdom doesn’t come by chance — it ‘s earned through listening, breathing deep when things get too fast, tuning in to the wind as it sweeps across the water, and trusting that there is magic in the present moment.

I’ve been lucky to have a diverse group of teachers in my life: philosophical teachings from business mentors in Colorado, environmental science professors at UNH, yoga instructors in Maine and the ever-present guidance from my loving family. I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with people that I highly respect, many which seem to move through life as if it were a rhythmic dance.

But my greatest teacher of all, whose power I understand better with the passing of each day, has never left my side. This teacher goes by many names and takes many forms: Mother Earth, The Resource, the Coastal Tide, Wilderness, The Great North, The Outdoors, cascading mountain creeks, a petroglyph on a desert cliff wall, The Vast Ocean, The Mighty West, a single soaring osprey … the list goes on.

The conduit to the vast majority of my learning has been through fly fishing. I’ve been taught through other powerful platforms like powder skiing, backpacking, and also by things as simple as walking peacefully in the woods, but fly fishing provides a blueprint to discovering your own unique wormholes to dive deep into.

One of the great beauties of being a fly angler is that we have the opportunity to sit the front row everyday, the hypnotic cadence of the cast marking my arrival in class. I listen for the cry of the common tern and observe the rise of the spring tide. The lessons brought forth each day on the water culminate into irreplaceable wisdom. The teachings of the outdoors consistently surround me and my assignment is to hone my ability to listen and keenly observe. We are surrounded and united by Mother Nature, her teachings and her powerful energy everyday.

The outdoors is sacred and sacred things are worth protecting. Naturally, we are all at different places in our journey and the wild outdoors means something slightly different to each of us. But there is one thing I am sure of … we must protect this planet, our Mother Earth, and the wild things that live here. By protecting the planet, we are protecting ourselves. We are this planet and this planet is us. We are the fish, the mountains, and the oceans. The same water that melts from snow high in the Wyoming backcountry falls from the sky over Bahamian sand flats. That same water grows our food and hydrates our bodies. We are the resource and the resource is us.

The earth’s wild places have never been more at risk and our impact as humans has never been greater. We’ve managed to raise the temperature of our planet and increase the extinction rate to an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 times that of the natural pace. We need this planet and, now more than ever, we need protectors—people that are willing to act boldly, stand up, and put their foot down.

Selfishly, I want this planet to thrive and its natural beauty to be preserved for all of time. I am a striped bass guide in Maine by summer and manage a bonefishing lodge in the Bahamas by winter. In my spare time I write, hike, fish, ski, explore, travel, play with my dog and love my wife, family and friends with all my heart. My living, much like many of you reading this, depends on a healthy planet. The time is here to protect what we love. Let’s take small steps each day and make selfless decisions for the greater good. Let’s keep talking, never lose hope and think big about preserving the wild, everyday. It’s our future and I’m excited to show my potential children, if I am so lucky, the beauty that lies around the next bend. The outdoors is my sensei and I owe her everything.