I wasn’t very old — perhaps 10 or 12. My Uncle Guy and I were sitting in an old cypress johnboat waiting for a crappie to bite one of the creek shiners we had placed on our hooks.
After a while, being the youngster I was, I grew bored and hungry. Uncle Guy, being the wise man that he was, had prepared us for just such a possibility, stopping at a country grocery on the way to the lake and buying us each a can of Vienna sausages and a sleeve of saltine crackers.
It didn’t take me long to open mine and dig in. The food was quickly gone. I sunk the sausage can in the water and then wadded up the cracker sleeve and tossed it in the lake.
My crusty old uncle’s reaction was immediate. He rose from his seat, made his way to my end of the boat, then bent across the gunwale and started probing the water with his sculling paddle.
He did not speak as he did this, but I knew from the visceral sounds he made, and his reddened face, he was very upset. A blade of panic pierced my heart.
Several long minutes passed while Uncle Guy poked around in the water, found the can and placed it back in the boat. He then returned to his seat, pushed the craft away from the willows and began sculling us toward the wadded-up cracker sack, now sailing across the water in the stiff breeze.
With the wind behind us, it didn’t take long to reach the litter. Uncle Guy pulled the johnboat alongside it, and then nodded for me to retrieve the paper. I did, and we started back.
The wind was now in our faces, and it took many minutes — seemingly forever — for my uncle to scull us back to our fishing hole. I sat tensely, waiting for the butt-chewing I thought was imminent. But he never said a word about it.
My uncle knew, I’m sure, words were unnecessary. His point had been clearly yet silently communicated.
And from that day to this, the power of my uncle’s influence has been there. Never again have I intentionally littered our waters or woods.
Years later, I thought back to that day while fishing with my oldest son, Josh. We were anchored in a little cove, catching bluegills. Upwind, across the cove, another man and a boy also were fishing.
While Josh and I waited for a bite, an empty beer can floated past us, then, in succession, a cigarette butt, a plastic minnow bag, an empty worm box and … a wadded-up cracker sleeve.
“Man, why do those guys gotta keep trashing everything up?” Josh asked.
What my son did next surprised me a little, and made me proud. He pushed our boat away from the willows, then sculled us around the cove, picking up the pieces of trash and stuffing them into the empty minnow bag. He then paddled us toward the other boat.
The man and boy had watched all this and sat in stunned silence as Josh pulled alongside their craft and handed over the litter. The red-faced man reached out and took it, a sheepish look on his face.
I sat tensely, waiting for the reaction I thought was imminent. But nobody said a word. The point had been clearly yet silently communicated.
I knew then I had influenced Josh in positive ways, just as my uncle influenced me. And I found comfort in the thought that someday Josh would influence his own children and grandchildren in the same way. In fact, that is exactly what he has done.
We should all remember that the strongest influence on angler/hunter behavior is influence from parents, relatives and friends. Think about that every time you take a youngster hunting or fishing. Ask yourself, how will the things I do today influence the child who is with me? Then act accordingly.
Like it or not, we are all influential, and we should never forget that with influence comes obligation—the obligation to change our children’s lives and behavior in positive ways. It’s the right thing to do.