I was rifling through some old photographs while home for Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house (grandmothers always have old photographs) and found one of a cousin of mine, almost ten years my junior, holding up a striped bass on the flats of Cape Cod.
The picture itself is probably a decade old, but unlike the images we save today online, which can disappear in a glitch or with a program’s crash, those physical images are forever… or almost forever.
My cousin, Dylan Wheelock, now a college-aged student in Buffalo, was holding up his first striped bass and smiling ear-to-ear. Dylan, like me, was raised in Upstate New York and for all I know that might be the only striped bass he has caught to date… and perhaps the only one he’ll ever catch, since he didn’t get the fishing bug as badly as many of us did.
I remembered wading those flats with him, then in my early 20s myself, and nervously telling him to watch his step and mind the current.
I’d remember, even if I didn’t have the photo, the smile on his face after connecting with something from a world so different than the one we grew up in.
We’ve both matured to an age where too much time is spent online, communicating in a way that barely does the word justice, over the myriad of social media platforms that only connect us by the loosest of human threads.
But that day on the flats there were no cell phones or tablets, no Wi-Fi and no one to “tag,” in the image. There was just the two of us, and his mom, Ernie, taking the photo with a disposable camera from a safe patch of dry sand half a hundred yards back.
I was staring at the photo when I realized that it wasn’t online, wasn’t on Facebook or Instagram or any social media platform… it was just there, dug from a box, in my hands. Holding onto it before continuing to flip through the memories, I thought of at least one moment we’d shared on the water that didn’t need some superficial online presence to exist in our minds, and for that moment at least, in my hands.
With the omnipresence of images we’re inundated with today, from what friends had for lunch to some new meme that is going viral, I think that these images have become more sacred.
The time we steal from life to actually spend on the water, with a rod, a few friends and a camera is more necessary now than it has ever been. It’s becoming increasingly easier to fill a day with, what at the end of it, some harsh critics might call “nothing.”
Our time spent under the guise of chasing fish, when we get to absorb all of nature’s beauty without a screen between it and us, has become like air in an ever-shrinking vacuum.
As outdoorsmen, we’ve always known that this was necessary, but with a new social media platform popping up every day to crowd our browser and fill our smartphone… for many of us, I believe, it’s become downright essential.