Right and Wrong

By Peyton McDonald

When you are young and your parents try to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong it all seems so simple and black and white. You can put what’s right or wrong into imaginary boxes. I knew that I shouldn’t steal or I shouldn’t be mean to people. It all felt so simple. Now as I have grown up I have learned that I can’t just put everything into these 2 boxes. That is the problem I had in my experience fishing yesterday.

I started fishing just by going down to the emerald colored river and throwing a lure into the water with no rhyme or reason. Fishing just like I had done before in the Rappahannock river, I caught nothing. After some fruitless minutes, the fishing group came together and Mr. Alter explained how to fish for the elusive golden Mahseer. Telling us how smart the fish where and how they would sit right below rocks or riffles letting food be funneled into their mouthes. We started fishing and on the second cast he caught a Mahseer.

The river had so many different kinds of environments. It would go from wide to skinny and fast to slow. When we crossed the river every step had to be perfectly calculated, the rocks where slimey and slippery just like the fish. We continued to fish for about an hour until in the distance we could see a group of local boys playing and splashing in the water, their village perched just above them up the hill. We took a few more casts and then Ms. Willbanks’s line went tight and her rod had a bend. I had an instant rush of adrenaline and thought she had one on. Sadly there was no sound of a screaming drag or big fish jumping out of the water. So I just assumed that she had a stick or was caught on one of the rocks. She reeled her line in and slowly a thin blue line emerged attached to the end of her hook. Mr. Alter explained to me that it was a hand-line that locals use to catch fish. Their system is simple. Up river they tie the rope to a large rock and let the rope flow down stream about 20 yards then there is a thin clear line connected to a rusty hook with some kind of mealy worm on it. The river is scattered with these jerry rigged setups. After Ms. Willbanks couldn’t reel her line in anymore Mr. Alter said “a younger me would off cut this line”. Without thinking I pulled out my knife and cut the line off.

This pristine river felt like no place any sort of poaching equipment should be. I felt like with my fancy fishing gear and knowledge of knowing that these where used illegally to poach fish that I had done something right. As I coiled up the line and cut the hook off a boy from the group swimming came skipping toward me. He didn’t seem mad or upset just wanted his fishing line back. He pointed to the rope I grasped tightly in my hand and I reluctantly gave it to him. I looked into his eyes he stared back with a friendly blank stare. As he inspected the line I could imagine his father and grandfather fishing like this decades before I was born. He had more inside knowledge then I would ever have about this specific place and its fish. As we continued to move up the river he stayed with us curiously watching our forgiven method of fishing. I felt as if I had been caught trespassing and tried to comfort myself by saying that he didn’t know any better. Mr. Cola heard my mumbled phrase and shot back with they probably think that you don’t know any better.

My pride of what I thought of what is doing the right thing changed to a confused feeling that I did something wrong. This experience blurred my idea further of what was right or wrong. My conviction to keeping rivers pristine and preserving wildlife felt stronger then the fact that generations of these people had been fishing here. Now while writing this I think about the bigger picture of the river and how soon it could all be under water because of a dam for hydroelectricity. This dam, a cleaner source of energy speaks to my conviction of preservation of the world but disagrees with my thought of how special this place is and the people who live in it. Figuring out which is best will take a lifetime of experiences like this.

The one thing I do know for sure, the truth isn’t a series of black and white labels or boxes. Neither is the solution.

4 thoughts on “Right and Wrong

  1. Thanks for your fishing story, Peyton. Important lesson learned and one that the world seems to need right now. Maybe each of us needs to ask ourselves questions like “What am I solving by doing this?” Or “What will this cause or create?” Right and wrong is so limiting, and it’s an easy out to ask ourselves that question. Bask in the questions that surface as you cast in those emerald waters- I can only imagine what else you may discover.

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  2. I love this post, Peyton! It shows a willingness to push beyond your boundaries, to experience and ponder the “shades of grey” that are all around us, but especially in new and different places. I look forward to reading more of your perspectives from this trip!

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  3. How proud to be a member of the CCS community and see one of our students confronting the ambiguity of choices and big decisions; confronting cultural realities and norms; accepting that there may be other points of view that are valid, wanting to explore more in order to find the best or right answer–if there is one.

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  4. A real soul-searching experience for sure and communicated very very well. Keep on trying to figure it all out – a lifetime of thoughts and experiences.

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