It is Community not Coincidence

On Friday afternoon, my family packed up our things and headed out after work to camp and fish for the weekend. As is my birthday tradition, we camp at the same place, a special campsite, tucked into some of Wyoming’s National Forest Service land far away from cell phone range. We drove into this wild but sweetly familiar spot late on Friday. On Saturday morning, we woke up to the sounds of the river, bald eagles and Sandhill cranes. With a two-year old, camping mornings are a little slower than they used to be, particularly with frost covering the tent. But, as it was my birthday weekend, my husband stayed behind with our daughter so I could sneak away to wake up a few trout with a streamer. Photo evidence included here. 

Walking back to camp, I hear, “Beverly?” I look up to see another tent that had arrived even later than us on Friday evening. Popping out from behind was Charlie Breithaupt, a longtime TU volunteer leader, current member of Trout Unlimited’s Board of Trustees, and friend. Charlie drove into the campsite at around midnight with his good friend who was also from the Georgia upstate. Rabunites they are called. Charlie introduced me to Jim Kidd, who I would come to learn was one of the founders of the 522 – Rabun TU chapter in Georgia. Later that day, we were joined by Kyle Burrell, who was another founding member of this great Trout Unlimited chapter. We went our separate ways during the day to fish with plans to reunite over the campfire to tell tales of rising trout.

The coincidence, I thought, of bumping into Charlie and his friends was just too odd. Recall that there are more pronghorn in Wyoming than there are people – and it’s a big state. What are the chances? Around the campfire that evening, the coincidences just kept piling up.

I shared with Jim, Charlie and Kyle the story of how my family ended up coming to this part of the state. It’s a long tale that (I thought) started out on the North Platte and involved my parents meeting the nicest people from Georgia. These people recommended our family check out this particular campsite. That was over 20 years ago, and we never got their names. However, we all recall that when they packed up camp, these Georgians would do this hooting and hollering thing that then became a tradition for our family. When telling this story to Jim and Kyle, they affirmed, “that was us!” Yes, really. This is the spot, "the Glory Hole" on the North Platte, where we met these Rabunites all that time ago.

It kept going. I explained that at a Trout Unlimited Southeast Regional Meeting I met Doug Adams, also of the 522 - Rabun chapter. And through a fairly quick conversation, we realized that he met "my uncle" Spencer some time in the 1970s while fishing on the Chattooga. This uncle is not actually related, but is such a dear family friend that we adopted the moniker.

Uncle Spencer is responsible for teaching my dad and their other dear friend, Rhett, (another "uncle" and my Godfather) the love of fly fishing. In college, my dad and my two uncles made their way out west to the North Platte in pursuit of trout. 

What I didn't know was that back on the Chattooga, Uncle Spencer shared with Doug Adams his spot on the North Platte. Doug then brought his Rabunite fiends, Jim and Kyle along with him for many years. Flash forward to the 1990s, and my parents, my siblings, and Rhett's family were all camping on the North Platte when they met these Georgians (Kyle, Jim, and Doug) who told us to try this particular campsite on the other side of the state.

This pattern of events is responsible for so much in my life. It is how I ended up living in Jackson for the last 11 years. It’s how I met my husband. How I established my lifelong passion for angling. And, how I ended up with the best job on the planet – working for Trout Unlimited.

With a sleeping two-year old in the back-seat, the silent drive home filled my head with these campfire conversations. It’s not coincidence, I realized. It’s community. This is our community. Our TU community. We TUers, we anglers and conservationists, care deeply about fish and fishing, but it’s also clear we care deeply about people. Our local chapters are at the heart of that. The Rabun chapter is a stellar example of a chapter that builds community through events and activities, whether that’s running a veterans service event, a family fishing day or a stream clean-up. People are at the heart of what this chapter is about.

The extension of that focus on community goes well beyond the upstate of Georgia, as I’ve shared. But, this isn’t just happening to me. I hear it all the time. “It’s a small world,” they say. Perhaps, but I no longer think there’s much serendipity involved at all. It’s the organic, community nature of our chapters that has built this national-level network that for some, including myself, has proven to be life changing.

While there is no replacement for the in-person connections that are made while teaching a kid to fish or sharing stories around a campfire, I believe we’re seeing a new outgrowth of this organic, community building with exciting new tools like the TU Online Community Forum. Just last week, I saw people who would have otherwise been totally disconnected making plans to fish together at the Annual Meeting in Bozeman. This may take the coincidence entirely out of it, but there’s no doubt that this is community.

Beverly Smith, Proud member of the TU community


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