…as in my fishing rod and my walking staff, although “staff” sounds very formal for what is basically just a stick with a handle on one end.
I could go on and on about the “rod” part of this. Fishing rods are special, as any angler knows, and fisherfolk always have their favorites. I think my favorite is that tiny little 6-foot flyrod I built for myself last spring, a rod that I use when fishing for native brook trout far, far back in the hills.
Perhaps it’s the big ol’ 9-foot rod I used to land my first salmon years ago in Alaska. I made that rod, too, and it will always have a special place on my rod rack.
Or maybe it’s the one that started it all – the Shakespeare fiberglass Wonderod that my dad gave me decades ago when my age was still in the single digits and life was a whole lot simpler. It was a pretty good rod back then, though by today’s standards it’s heavy as lead. Still, I’ll take it down now and then and fish with it for an hour or two, just for old time’s sake and for the comfort of wiping the mud off memories that might otherwise fade away and be gone.
The fact is that I have way more fishing rods than I need. They just sort of multiply. It happens almost on its own, subtly and without fanfare, until one day you realize that you just might need a bigger house.
On the other hand, the “staff” part (as in “hiking staff”) has remained much simpler, but no less essential.
How’s that? Well, age (that inevitable companion on every journey these days) seems to take great delight in reminding me that the knees aren’t what they used to be and that I should not be leaping from rock to rock like I used to. It’s inevitable, I suppose, but in the near term the the solution is a helping hand from a trusty hiking staff.
I love a hiking staff for the exquisite stability that it provides. It’s a welcome companion and a great confidence booster.
I currently have two hiking staffs (staves?) that I use a lot. Let me tell you about them.
One is about as rustic as they come. It’s a piece of stream-seasoned wood that I pulled from a logjam in a little northeast Georgia creek. You see, I’d set out to fish a backcountry brook trout stream, but somehow in my prep I’d neglected to check off the “hiking staff” box. At first, I thought I’d be okay. But this creek was rocky, and on that particular day the knees were making themselves known. Maybe that was because a weather front was coming through, and everybody knows that weather fronts can make even good knees hurt. That was it. Right? Sure.
Anyway, about 10 minutes into my upstream perambulation, I took a step that came down on a rock that wasn’t near as stable as it looked. Uh-oh. A moment of frantic flailing followed, restoring balance just in the nick of time.
That’s when I decided I was gonna have to find me a hiking staff. I saw what looked like a promising candidate sticking out of a nearby tangle of limbs, and after tugging it free I found it was nigh onto perfect. I carried it with me the rest of the day, and I carry it in the car with me still. We’ve logged a lot of miles together since then.
The other staff in my arsenal is as fancy and high-tech as that other is rustic and simple. It is an actual telescoping hiking staff, featuring an ergonomic grip and made of some sort of high-tech alloy, and it was a gift to me from my buddy Wayne. I got to know Wayne in my Sunday School class a long time ago, and he and I got together regularly (often over barbecue) to talk about hiking and the out-of-doors and solve various problems of the world. He gave me the hiking staff as a gift, and it’s engraved with those words from the 23rd Psalm, “thy rod and thy staff.” That pretty much covers my favorite things.
Wayne and I talked a lot about getting together to do some hiking. Every time we met, we talked about trails and made plans. But whenever a designated hike day rolled around, it always seemed that life got in the way and the hike just never happened. That went on for years.
And then Wayne passed away not too long ago. We never did get in that hiking trip, though I think of him every time I tighten up the boot laces and pick up that staff and set off with it down some trail.
Earlier today, I took a few minutes to clean up that staff, wiping away the accumulated mud from the last time I had it on the trail. As I brushed off the dirt, the engraved words were clear again.
“Thy rod and thy staff.” There are lessons in there if I just won’t let them get away.