A Letter to Sportsmen
( Originally Published 1907 )
Dr Frank M. Johnson of Boston, the author of that superb work: "Forest, Lake and Stream," was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Convention of the N. A. Fish and Game Protection Association that was held in Quebec in February last. He arrived too late to read a carefully prepared paper, and only in time to say a few words. The paper was handed me by the Doctor to read, and I found so much good stuff in it that I begged his per-mission to publish it. It appeals to every true sportsman. G. M. F. Jr.
Mr. President, and Members of North American Fish and Game Protection Association :
It is indeed a keen pleasure for me to extend to you the greetings of your fellow-sportsmen from the States.
While at the present moment, the rainbow tints of your autumn leaf do not mirror their gleams of golden reds 'mid the silver of our stars and stripes, yet does it seem that in one respect there is perfect accord and perfect unison. Surely this must be truth, absolute and real, when we, the sportsmen of two great nations, meet as brothers of the wild, the free, and our hearts beat only in the one dominant pulsation of love for our great and dear mother Nature. Nature who asks so little yet gives so much, Nature, who alone teaches truth, and exquisite perfection. In dell or glade, on mountain side or by soft purling streams, o'er mighty lake or calmly flowing river, amid the witchery of bursting greens, or when the sparkling purity of the white mantle is thrown over all the earth by the snow king; when grand old forests sigh their requiem, their lullaby of eventide, or an enthusiastic welcome, from the hearts and voices of pine, fir and cedar ; when with crash the noble waters break into seething, living foam and vapors; not even once, amid your splendid wilds or ours, do we ever see dear old Mother Nature make a single mistake, nor mar in one iota the superb harmony that has forever ruled the universe.
So in time have we mortals been taught the reverence due from us to God, who gave us gifts and joys beyond the power of expression. If we then become ardent lovers of Nature, and if in our inmost souls we wish to show our appreciation, how better can we do it than by being sportsmen in the highest sense of this title. If then, you all with me believe in the debt we owe, let us unite and use every effort to protect and not to destroy.
To the wild life of the woodland, be merciful, for you are the stronger. Therefore, slay not for the mere sake of the killing, but because life, far away from civilization, demands food. Even then, gentlemen, there is a way to kill rightly and not to slaughter. Use the bullet when possible not the shot, and remember that the beautiful birds of the air must, if at all, be taken always upon the wing. It is not the size of the bag, but the method of the killing that gives honor to him who kills.
Again, when on magic lake, or by the swirl of rapids, or, perchance, on some smoother laughing stream we tempt the denizens of the watery world to our dainty lures, that soon may kill, let me en-treat you to fashion your enticements to a nicety so that the chances are with our piscatorial friends rather than with you and the skill that may be yours. Let our creels be judged, not by the number taken, but by the time of battle before the yielding of the conquered.
Without the guardianship of magnificent forests, the fur, fin and feather would soon cease to be. I would here then make an earnest plea for protection, for security from those reckless persons who think not of to-morrow or of those who will come after them, but who are satiated only with slaughter, and who care for naught else. If laws are not strong enough, then have them made stronger, and look to it that these laws are enforced. If coin of the realm is needed to save our forests from destruction, then don't simply talk about it, but plan for it and get it, and, gentlemen, see to it that things are done and done while we of this generation live.
In the domains of Canada, where camp-fire gleamed, even where the woods once resounded with the war-cries of the Indian brave, or witnessed the deeds of mighty hunters, yea, even in the seclusion of mighty depths of forest, have I, the stranger thanked the Creator for life, and for the breath of perfumed air. In my gladness and prayer of thanksgiving have I become saddened when at times I marked the curse of the fire fiend. At one moment beauty and soul-filling bewilderment of the harmonies of shading greens, and in the twinkling of an eye nothing but the charred and blackened reminders of monarchs that were, and the grief became still more poignant, when gaunt, stripped and dead, rising to the blue sky alone, were scattered here and there, the ghosts of stately pines. Even heaven rebels at such desecrations and at-tempts to blot out the direful picture, by covering the unsightly ashes with the tiny leaflets and blushing bloom of the bending bush berry.
Yet again in the deep, dark recesses of your woodlands have I often noticed the unnecessary felling of magnificent trees, which for some reason of the moment had been left to decay where they had fallen. 'Tis no picture of fancy that I paint, but one of reality, and this is a wantonness that can and should be stopped. As your superb rivers, owned by clubs and private individuals, have their waters guarded by paid keepers, so should adequate provision be made to protect your forest growth. In the heart of your forests lie the head waters and birthplace of mighty rivers. If these forests are destroyed, what then will become of these magnificent streams ?
I have by courtsey (always so gracefully extended by you gentlemen of Canada). fished your salmon rivers and found places where every fish taken on the fly showed the cruel mark of the net. This was simply because people living along the b orders were allowed to make use of nets, with hardly any restriction as to the manner, and these nets were placed at a point where fish fresh from the sea at the beginning of the spawning season had to pass on their way to waters where they sought the breeding spots that the golden sands might give.
Gentlemen, all I say means not for one instant to savor of fault finding. It is rather because I love and always have loved your Canadian wilds. It is because I fully realize what a glorious country is yours. Full well do I realize how even more glorious still it can be made for us and for the generations to come,—if realization becomes a pertinent factor now, and before it is too late,—if such a proper protection be enforced. Do not, I implore you, let this end in the mere sounding of a danger note about the social board. The world is looking to-day toward you, gentlemen of Canada, waiting to see you act, waiting to have you set the example, waiting to feel that you have conquered. Better and truer sportsmen are growing up every day of each year. They will not again make the mistakes some of us have made, They will not repeat experiences we have so dearly paid for, but each and every one of us can help to make possible all that I have brought to your notice, and practically carried out. So let us lend our aid and authority and means, both in Canada and the United States to: first, protection of our forests from destruction by fires, from ruthless and unnecessary devastation from the axe; second, preservation of all our game fish by practical and more forceful laws respecting the use of nets and illegal capture. To you who are the followers of Walton, will I say but this, regard the delicate skill as the mark of honor and excellence. Insist upon the artificial culture of the different fish by Government and State hatcheries as the truer method to increase the supply. Let laws regarding the method of the taking be made much more trenchant, and let those who break such laws be promptly punished.
To you all, who fish alone for pleasure, would I make a plea for the single hook, and frown upon and cast aside those clever devilish devices that only rob our beloved art of its very soul and life.
Third—look better after our wild game animals and our feathered game. The honest huntsman too often use the bullet rather than shot, and the camera even more often than the rifle. For those who care not and will not limit the number of the kill in a day or a season, see to it that they are condemned by public opinion.
Indeed, gentlemen, the reasons I have enumerated for better conditions and more sportsmen-like methods will, I trust commend themselves to you. After all, dear fellow-sportsmen, it is not the replete creel, nor the over-laden bag, nor the number of the kill for which we seek in the grand old forests, or on lake, stream or river. It is, believe me, the respite from cares and the peace that comes to wearied and overtaxed minds and bodies. It is the cool, refreshing, soothing, healing air that comforts and restores. 'Tis the freedom of the wild, far, far away from the feverish pulsation of cities' strife. It is the magic balm, born 'mid the everlasting hills, fresh from the hearts of the pine, that gives the joys for which they crave. `Tis the beauty of heaven's zone of blue, of the changing clouds of sky, or the sweet song of brook's lullaby. Nay, it may be the golden purpling of eventide at the close of a well-spent day, when the dazzling orb bids good-night to its beloved hills ; or, perchance, the splendor of a day new born, when its blush first spreads o'er the fast-fleeing, fleecy clouds, and the greeting kiss of morn is given. Methinks it might be the fairy lights that from camp-fires gleam, where rested and refreshed, adventures and the luck are chatted over and over, while far above in the velvet blackness of fast-coming night, blossom the golden sparkling stars like mystic flowers under the touch of the great Magician. I know not what in reality it is. I only know that the grand, dear woods always, whether in storm or sunshine, daylight or darkness, morn or eventide, are replete with so much that thrills and intoxicates the senses, that I can better understand now,in the years that have been granted me, how even the savage, who knew not civilization or education, gleaned enough, each one for himself, enough to satisfy and delight, so that when he knew that his days had come and gone, wished only to be transported to a happy hunting ground, his one strong wish and desire even while the angel of death was nigh. This thought to him was dear, crude even as he was in his methods of capture and kill, devoid as he was of the comforts that now are ours.
If, then, we learn the lessons, the real and true G. W. Batchelder and Guide after Caribou lessons, taught to us by every leaf and flower, by bird, bush and bud, by bending twig, by the life in the waters, by the fleet and swift inhabitants of hill, dale and forest, by sky and mountain, by meadow and lakeland, stream and river, we learn only truth, only the good and pure, and we are the better in each and every way.
FRANK M. JOHNSON, M.D.