Scabs laced the knuckles of the two bruised hands tightly gripping the cork handle of an open-reeled, lightweight fishing rod – big hands belonging to a mountain of a teenage boy traumatized by a life of abuse, abandonment and bouts of uncontrollable anger.
One hand could easily handle the rod, but Jimmy clutched tightly with two, white knuckles contrasting the dark maroon scabs.
The tip of the rod flickered ever so slightly as a small red-and-white bobber floating nearby shifted, dipped and slowly started to trail away.
Jimmy squeezed tighter on the handle, surprisingly not snapping it like a toothpick in the process. He jerked the rod back, removing one hand from the rod to reel frantically all in one motion.
Minutes later, a tiny bluegill flopped around on the Middleburg pond shore while Jimmy jumped from side to side, a grin splitting his face nearly in two.
To many, the few-minute series of events may not seem especially outstanding, except this was Jimmy’s first fish. It happened just two days after receiving a letter from his mother informing him that she was relinquishing her rights and he would be staying in the adolescent group home. He shredded the letter and addressed his inner rage by punching walls until his knuckles bled.
Instead of the normal series of consequences and restrictions, Jimmy received a trial run in the group home’s new outdoors-based therapy program. The fishing trip transported Jimmy away from his struggles – if event for a few moments. It transported the hulking, rage-ridden young man to a childhood that he never had a moment to truly enjoy.
The Susquehanna river and its tributaries offer more than water to drink and cook and clean with – they can create a rite of passage, a therapeutic catalyst unrivaled by medications or traditional counseling sessions.
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is committed to helping young people experience those moments – to break free from the electronics and social media that can fuel bullying and depression for opportunities to overcome those hurdles.
The earlier our young people have that defining outdoors-based moment, the more likely they mature into becoming the stewards our greater watershed need to protect our natural resources.
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John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.