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Fishing Lake Ellis Simon : A Love Letter

Fishing Lake Ellis Simon : A Love Letter


The calm, coffee-brown water was a mirror, in which my head was silhouetted by the baby blue sky, and a window, revealing the aquatic grassland below. A warm Southwest wind nudged our skiff through the trees, each gust sending us further into the endless swamp; watching over the shallows of Lake Ellis Simon, I could not help but admire the beauty of disorder. Spanish moss hung from broken tree limbs in a tangled mess, bull frogs and crickets performed a series of cacophonous melodies, and broken lily pads left an unfinished quilt on the water’s surface; nevertheless, I was able to find an appreciation in it all.

With each cast my lure slowly sank into a world of darkness, leaving my floating line to divide in half the reflections of thin, shattered clouds.

The warm, damp air of the North Carolina swamp housed swarms of mosquitoes, their incessant buzz providing a tune to accompany the aforementioned song of the cypresses; though my polyester sun shirt offered little protection from the profusion of hungry swamp dwellers, I could do nothing but smile. It was, for me, a moment of absolute peace, the perfect summer evening.

My photo, a snapshot of North Carolina’s Lake Ellis Simon, paints a picture of Earth’s natural beauty and grace; however, I feel that my relationship with nature stretches beyond that, beyond what can be seen by the naked eye. As I have grown up, nature has given me the chance to build strong relationships with my family, both through experience and spiritual connection, in ways that nothing else has; holding a sacred place in my life, nature never fails to show me its power, power that is revealed in special ways. 

I would argue that the vast majority of people enjoy nature in at least one way.

Whether it be viewing a sunset on a cold winter evening or looking out over a vast, blue ocean, the world is stunning in countless ways. I, too, will always acknowledge our planet’s beauty, and I feel that it is a gift that no one should take for granted; however, having grown up in New York City, the concrete jungle, my appreciation of nature has not only been about what it is, the aspects of our planet that I know and love, but also what it represents in my life.

Both of my parents were born and raised in the south, my father in Kinston, North Carolina, and my mother in Macon, Georgia. A unique aspect of my New York upbringing, my southern roots have always been something with which I have tried my best to maintain a strong connection. As a child, visiting family often meant going to a lake house, or a farm in the middle of the woods.

And, as my family is quite small, and I only have three cousins, two of whom being more than ten years older than I, I would find myself with lots of spare time. I can vividly remember creating a small fort just inside the woods from my Aunt and Uncle’s home near Pinehurst, North Carolina; using sticks, logs, and rocks, I built a small hideout that, to my young self, seemed to be a hundred miles from civilization. I would find myself sitting in the fort for hours, temporarily living among the squirrels, birds, and deer; for a moment, the outside world would disappear.

When back in New York, I would sit on my parents’ bed every night, telling them (repeatedly) about the chipmunk that I had seen, the owl I had heard, the snake I had almost stepped on; in describing my time in the woods, I felt that I was experiencing the childhood that both of my parents had lived, a life so different from my upbringing in the city. Nature, in giving me this special way to connect with my family. Furthermore, showed me that living in New York did not have to keep me from appreciating my southern heritage. While I was a city boy at heart, I understood that my roots were elsewhere, nestled somewhere in the woods. 

A sea of pine trees divided the horizon into pieces, breaking the morning sun into long and slender rays of light. With each crunch of November leaves, walking, thinking, and breathing with the forest itself, I neared my destination; in search of a momentary silence, a break from reality, I sat down at the base of a lone live oak. Different people disconnect in different ways; some play sports, some bake, some go for a run. For me, nature has always been something that muffles the outside world, giving me a sense of absolute peace.

No matter where I am, or how I am feeling, existing in nature makes everything else disappear.

Leaving me, like in my photo, surrounded solely by the beauty of the world. Sitting on a blanket of pine straw on that late fall morning, I talked with someone for hours; not someone who I could see or hear, but someone who I could feel. I felt that it was only right to honor my grandmother, having passed away two months prior, when I was back in North Carolina, in the same woods that she had loved so dearly in her ninety-four years on earth.

Talking to her, reminding her how much she would be missed, I felt that she had come back to me. Responding to my voice in every way imaginable. I saw her in the sunrise, her radiant smile shown in each bright orange streak painted across the baby blue sky. I heard her in the soft call of the finches, telling me that it would all be fine. “She’s saying something to me, I just know it,” I thought; quite frankly, I think I was right. I tried so hard to feel my grandmother’s presence after she was gone. Laying in my bed in New York late at night as I reminisced about our limited time together; no matter how hard I tried, I could not find her.

The missing piece, it turns out, lay in nature.

As soon as I was able to sit down in the woods, letting the outside world disappear, I felt that she was sitting right beside me, talking to me through the forest itself. I can vividly remember watching the sun drop over the Teton Mountains in Jackson, Wyoming, when I was just eleven years old; with pink skies falling behind dark, silhouetted trees, I became left in awe, astounded by the pure, natural beauty in our world. However, while the scene was undoubtedly special, the beauty of our planet does not encapsulate all of what I believe nature to be. In one of the most difficult times of my life, simply existing in nature showed me that, no matter how many doubts I may have, those who we hold close are always there, revealing their presence in magical ways.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Years ago, I went to a small summer camp on Black Duck Island, one of many small landmasses in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The Outer Banks, separating the Atlantic Ocean (east) from Currituck and Albemarle Sounds (north) and Pamlico Sound (south)

The group at the forefront of the program, Cross Trail Outfitters, became strongly connected with a nearby church, located in a town of around five-hundred people.

While I had grown up a Christian my whole life, I was, admittedly, in it for the fishing.

A whole week on an island in the middle of the Outer Banks, how could I say no? Eight of the boys in the camp knew each other like brothers, having grown up together from the moment they could talk; my friend Ely, from a North Carolina town of about 20,000 people, and I were left as the two “big city boys.” On the first morning of the camp I got up with the sun, quietly climbing down from a creaky bunk bed to an equally-noisy floor constructed with century-old wooden planks.

Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina

Exiting the camp house, I grabbed my fishing rod and my flip flops. Walked down a sandy path to the boat dock, the morning glare creating a blanket of diamonds on the sound in front of me. Walking along the moist bank, avoiding beds of oysters as I went. I noticed two legs swinging back and forth from a rock ledge that protruded a few feet above the sand; a boy named William, one of the ten staying in the cabin, seated, two wide eyes staring at the water in front of him.

Oyster Reef
As I closed my distance we made eye contact, his warm smile meeting my look of surprise.

Greeting each other, I climbed onto the ledge and sat down next to him; I asked what he was doing, and he simply said he was talking to God. Confused, I questioned what he meant, as it was a Tuesday morning. In addition, “talking to God” was phrasing that I had only ever heard on Sundays.

“See that seagull,” he said to me in a high-pitched, southern accent, “that can be God right there.” I challenged his logic. “Those little fish down there can be anything you want ‘em to be,” he said, “you just gotta know what you’re looking for.”

Although I left many memories of our nightly bible studies alongside my old flip flops under an ancient bunk bed at Black Duck Island, the words of that boy from small-town North Carolina will live with me forever. Nature is what we make of it. For William, it was a way to connect with his faith. For me, a way to strengthen my relationship with my family. William revealed to me the power that nature holds. And his connection with God through the world around him gave me the courage to reach out to someone who I thought I had lost; because of his words. Lastly, I know that my grandmother will live on forever.

Fishing Lake Ellis Simon : A Love Letter

Written by Thomas Heath