The Met4 Casting Divas: An Inspiring Confrontation of Stage 4 Breast Cancer


The Met4 Casting Divas. Front: Amy Feuss, Anne Woodward, Christine Rogers, Susan McCoy.
Rear: Janet Teigue, Mary Kelley, Jean Lowe, Sheila Isoke, Deanna Duncan.
Photo by Glenn Whittington/Mountain Creative

There is no real way to tell this story—and it would be a disservice to these women to do so—without stating the obvious up front. This was a Casting for Recovery retreat, the first of its kind for . . .

There is no real way to tell this story—and it would be a disservice to these women to do so—without stating the obvious up front. This was a Casting for Recovery retreat, the first of its kind for women with Stage 4 Distant Metastatic Breast Cancer. In very straightforward terms, this is not survivable. It’s not if, but eventually when. The cancer has metastasized beyond the lymph nodes and settled in either some of, or all of, the brain, lungs, liver, and bones. At this point, there is no realistic hope of defeating it, but there is hope for prolonged survival; there is still life yet to be lived. I witnessed their self-deprecating humor, dry wit, relentless willingness to fight, and remarkable courage.

For 21 years, Casting for Recovery’s mission has been to offer a path to recovery, both spiritually and physically, from breast cancer through the gentle motion and grace of fly fishing. The act and arc of casting gently moves the parts of the body most affected by the disease and treatment, while the natural arena in which the retreat takes place provides perhaps the greater aspect of spiritual healing. A two-stage rebuttal to an insidious intruder.

Thankfully, in more and more cases of breast cancer, there is recovery. To date, the retreats have included all stages of the disease, from diagnosis to stage 4, but it has always been difficult for the Stage 4 participants. As the women themselves put it, humorously and inelegantly, they were the elephant in the room, the other participants’ worst nightmare personified. The Stage 4 participants often sat quietly, unwilling to open up and expose the others to the reality they faced. After a trial program last year, this year’s retreat in the Appalachian foothills near Helen, Georgia, was the first of its kind: Stage 4 was the singular focus, and the conversation was finally theirs alone to have.

It would be impossible to tell every story, so I will tell one. Christine Rogers is a beautiful young woman in her very early 40’s, though she looks 25, who has two teenage sons. If you saw her on the street, you would never know of the access ports in her body, the weakness in her arms, the fragile nature of her bones. When not discussing the cancer, her demeanor would have never revealed it. She spoke matter-of-factly at times, but sass, humor, and defiance were obvious. I spent the day with her, driving her to the river, watching her fish, sitting with her on the porch. I asked the questions that those who’ve never faced this would ask. We can’t imagine; we can only ask. It felt intrusive. She never hesitated.

“When you hear ‘stage four.’ First thought?”

“Stage 4 means keep fighting, keep trucking on, don’t give up. Just don’t give up, and hope there’s a cure out there they can come up with. In 2010, I was diagnosed with Stage 1. Then in 2015, I had some back pain and found out I was Stage 4, had it in my spine, my lung, and my liver.” She went on to describe an unfathomable host of treatments. “I was almost NED [no evidence of disease] until 2017, and then I had a spot come up in my iliac and one in my spine.”

Dr. Lakshmi Balasubramanian, the oncologist for the retreat who specializes in the treatment and ongoing research for breast cancer, explained to me what Christine faces.


The Met4 Casting Divas. Front: Amy Feuss, Anne Woodward, Christine Rogers, Susan McCoy.
Rear: Janet Teigue, Mary Kelley, Jean Lowe, Sheila Isoke, Deanna Duncan.
Photo by Glenn Whittington/Mountain Creative

“Cancer in the breast is not life-threatening. But when it spreads to other parts of the body, it is a race against time. Since Christine’s cancer came back as Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, she is in need of life-long therapy in order to control her disease and make it compatible with life until hopefully, a miracle breakthrough in her armamentarium of cancer treatment becomes available in time. As treatments fail from resistance developing in cancer cells and new sites of cancer occur, or as tolerance to treatment declines, we switch therapy to new drugs or clinical trials to buy time, but at her age this cancer is expected to be cause of her demise. Thankfully, research is ongoing and new targeted therapies become available, but so far a cure for her disease still evades us.”

I asked Christine if this becomes overwhelming at times.

“Oh yeah. You have times, especially when they’ve found another spot. I go into what I call a ‘mourning stage,’ where I’m upset and have to mourn that. And then I go into an angry stage, where I get aggravated and pissed off. And finally, I’m like, ‘Okay, here it is. This is what I’m dealing with, so what do I need to do to fix this problem?’ I pull up my big girl panties and move on.” Her face lit up with a grin, her humor my signal that it’s okay to ask. She talked of her family.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s not what our world revolves around. I don’t want my health to be what my children’s lives revolve around. So, we don’t talk about it on a daily basis. We don’t discuss it. I don’t always tell them when a new spot comes up, because I don’t want their lives to be about mom’s sickness. I want their lives to be normal, and I try to keep it like that as much as I can. And as far as my husband goes, he knows everything. He lets me talk if I want to talk about it. I let him talk if he wants to talk about it. We joke about it, we make fun of it, and then we pick up and move on.”

“But your life has been altered.”

“It has altered my life and it’s very discouraging because I see women that are my age—I was thirty-five when I was first diagnosed—and the things they can do or could do, and I’m limited in what I can do now. So that is very frustrating for someone who is as active as I am.”

For the first and only time in the conversation, her vulnerability appeared, tears welled up, and her voice broke slightly. There was no self-pity in it. Well-deserved anger perhaps.

“So, for me, that’s hard, as I’m sure it is for other women in this position. I get frustrated because I am so independent. I don’t want people doing things for me. I want to be the one doing things for other people. It’s hard for me to say, ‘Hey, I need some help.’ Believe me, I’m going to try and do it first, and if I can’t then I ask for help. It’s tough.”

What she did discover at this retreat is she’s anything but alone, and for once these participants could speak their mind, be themselves, share their stories, and laugh out loud. Stage 4 was the common denominator, a shared enemy they face with grace, anger, doubt, and a litany of other emotions one can only imagine, but ultimately together. They called themselves the Met4 Casting Divas.


Christine Rogers’s incredibly positive attitude and desire to live life to the full was inspirational.
Photo by Glenn Whittington/Mountain Creative

“We’re all Stage 4, and it’s easy to discuss and talk about the meds we are on and where we had been diagnosed; that it may not be there anymore, but it moved somewhere else. It was good for me to talk to others in that position. I try to stay upbeat, but I think some of them at times have a harder time. Some of them might not have the support that I have. I’m very fortunate that I do have a very good support group. I’m lucky in that respect.”

“Lucky” is not a word I would think applies, and yet I heard it more than one would expect. Nothing diminishes one’s own challenges quite like coming face to face with others facing the same or even greater, and perhaps that’s the retreat’s greatest gift.

“I’ve had the best time this retreat,” said Christine. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came, or on my way here. I get nervous about things like that, but it has been such a fun time and the women I’ve met have been so interesting. The women that run the retreat are phenomenal. They cater to your every need, they’re there for everything. If you want to talk, if you don’t want to talk, if you need something. I’ve not had one want since I’ve been here.”

Many of the all-volunteer staff on the retreat are breast cancer survivors, including Georgia Program Coordinator and Retreat Leader, Beverly Booth. I heard someone call her the “energizer bunny of CFR,” which is a well-earned moniker, as I watched her seemingly appear in multiple places at once to keep the retreat on track. Coordinating the movements of all the participants, attending to their significant individual needs, and keeping the support staff, guides, medical staff, and the likes of me going in the right direction is a substantial undertaking that would do any military operation proud. She is defined by her insanely loud whistle, which left no doubts as to who was in command here.

On Sunday, the women went fishing on the Chattahoochee River, which is just a quiet freestone meandering through the town of Helen. Each participant had a support group of a guide and a river helper, and there were other staff members up and down the river including medical personnel. They are physically fragile, and standing in a river is not easy. One sat in the middle of the river in a chair, undeterred by her fragility. Their bones are weakened, and a fall could be potentially disastrous. The day before, they had taken a two-mile hike up to Dukes Creek Falls. Hydration and pain meds were monitored closely. They were pushing their limits. Flanked by a river helper and a guide, they stood for three hours in the river.

Christine’s enthusiasm was infectious, albeit not technically helpful in the gentle art of setting the hook. She laughed, cracked wise, and every time the indicator moved, she ripped the rod skyward as if setting the hook on a tuna. But it didn’t matter, for cancer was the last thing on her mind. She caught two good fish, the second one the biggest of the day. The bend in the rod, the fight in the fish, and the smiles and cheers of those surrounding her was life. While this was designed to benefit her, in truth, those of us around her perhaps benefitted more.


Christine hoists a gorgeous Chattahoochee River rainbow trout.
Photo by Glenn Whittington/Mountain Creative

At day’s end, the guides, the helpers, and the participants stood in their waders, fly rods leaning against the trucks, and told stories. I’ve witnessed this a hundred times on fishing trips from Bristol Bay to The Bahamas, a post-fishing ritual of shared experience. This scene was no different, nor should it be, and that’s the point. On this day, cancer was shoved aside, and living took precedence.

There was one last question I asked Christine at the end of the day. I half-jokingly told her that if it was too intrusive she could tell me to go to hell, quietly hoping she actually wouldn’t. It’s a question we all face sometimes, but in this context, the ramifications dwarf all else.

“Are there days or times when you just get to the point you feel like screw this, I’ve had enough?”

There was anger in her answer. It was startlingly fierce, but unquestionably directed not at me, but the cancer. The odds are stacked against her and she knows it.

“No! I’m going to fight my last fight, I’m going to fight to my last breath. I am not giving up. Not doing it,” she said shaking her head emphatically. “I’m not that far yet, and I don’t want to get that far. Everybody has things they deal with, and everybody deals with them in a different way. You know, I just have this thing about life. I just want to live life, I want to be involved with my kids and see my grandkids and if I get to do that great. If I don’t—it will be what it is.”

Orvis is a proud founding sponsor of Casting for Recovery. To find out more about Casting for Recovery, their programs and retreats go to castingforrecovery.org. Paul Fersen is Orvis’s Senior Writer.

American versus English Labradors


English-bloodline, American-bred Labrador retrievers make great pets and gun dogs.
Photo via facebook.com/wildrosekennels

Before I start on this interesting topic, let’s establish that I’m talking about field bred dogs here, not bench bred dogs. There’s a difference, but I’m not about to get into that thicket, so I’ll just stick . . .


English-bloodline, American-bred Labrador retrievers make great pets and gun dogs.
Photo via facebook.com/wildrosekennels

Before I start on this interesting topic, let’s establish that I’m talking about field bred dogs here, not bench bred dogs. There’s a difference, but I’m not about to get into that thicket, so I’ll just stick to dogs bred for the field. (Field-breeding privileges a dog’s sense and instincts, while bench-breeding conforms to show standards.)

Pickett is the best dog I’ve ever owned. I’m not sure I will ever be fortunate enough to have another like him. His relentless desire to hunt is surpassed only by his quiet, lap-dog demeanor in the house, making for the perfect combination of pet and gun dog. But, like all dogs, his life is too short. I realistically have another two to three years with him as a hard working hunter. It’s time to think about a successor. I figure by the time I get the breeding I want and spend a couple years working with the pup and Pickett, the new boy will be ready to step in and try to fill Pickett’s enormous shoes, or prints as it were.

I’ve been intrigued by what I’ve read of British Labradors. They have a reputation as close-working, game-finding machines with a quiet and pleasant demeanor. Pickett would make a great British Lab, except he’s from Colorado. I want another one like him, but his breeder sold out, and I’m not sure what happened to his bloodlines. So I decided to go right to the British Labrador source and called Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels, in Oxford, Mississippi. Wildrose has a pretty stellar reputation in hunting Labrador circles, and all of their sires and dams are imported from Great Britain and Ireland.


The author’s favorite field dog, Pickett (left), meets a younger contender.
Photo by Tim Bronson

“What’s the difference between American and English Labs ?” I asked.

“There isn’t any,” Mike replied. Turns out the Labradors that were brought to this country from Britain in the early part of the 20th century to establish the breed here, were from the same foundation bloodlines that Mike now imports. While the British have remained true to their desires in breeding, American breeders have taken the same bloodlines and bred them to fit their hunting needs. Over the century of their existence in this country, the American Labrador has evolved, a product of its environs and the desires of American hunters. What Mike is doing is importing British Labradors to offer hunters the opportunity to work with the Labrador type that came here in the first place. In essence, it’s a Labrador time machine.

Is one better than the other? Purely in eye of the beholder. A good hunting dog exhibits the traits that please the individual hunter. It just happens that the advertised traits of the British Labrador please me. I’ve done my due diligence, my name is on the waiting list, and sooner or later it will be up to me and the dog. Chances are good he will be just what I want. I just hope he feels the same way.

Chef Dan Barber – How I Fell in Love With a Fish

Click here for more information on this TED talk.
There are two reasons many of us love fish. The first is the enjoyment we receive from pursuing and catching them. That is, in fact, the defining reason the Orvis Company has existed for. . .


There are two reasons many of us love fish. The first is the enjoyment we receive from pursuing and catching them. That is, in fact, the defining reason the Orvis Company has existed for more than 150 years. While we purvey much more than just fishing equipment, it’s our expertise in this one area that separates us from a hundred other purveyors of things. Fishing, or fly fishing to be precise, is our identity and our first love.

The second reason we love fish is they taste good, but that brings on its own set of conundrums, as our desire to protect fish for our love of their pursuit can be in direct conflict with our desire to eat them. Most responsible sport anglers now practice catch-and–release, understanding that the resource is not infinite and therefore needs to be protected. But most of the world likes to eat fish, and they don’t fish. Their only relationship to a fish is on the table. The result is rapidly declining populations of fish in the oceans under ceaseless pressure from those who make their living satiating the appetites of those who love to eat fish.

Click here for more information on this TED talk.

Dan Barber is a chef on a quest to find a way to keep fish on the table. What he finds is a way that not only sustains the fish, but has the remarkable ability to rebuild a once devastated coastal environment. The video above is well worth your time, particularly if you love fish for both reasons.

Video: Four Fish We’re Overeating

If you’ve ever stood at the fish counter in the grocery store or the seafood market wondering what to take home dinner, has it ever occurred to you where these fish come from and how they keep. . .

If you’ve ever stood at the fish counter in the grocery store or the seafood market wondering what to take home dinner, has it ever occurred to you where these fish come from and how they keep coming? Probably not.

This is the first of two TED talks on the extraordinary effects of human consumption of fish on the ocean. What is remarkable is the sheer scale of what we take out of the ocean and what has happened over the past 50 years in terms of the technology in targeting those fish. Among the other rather astounding and disconcerting facts is that we pull and consume the equivalent of the human weight of the population of China from the oceans in seafood each year. Think about that. Add aquaculture to that, and it becomes twice the human weight of China. Think about what this is doing to the ocean, and then watch this short talk by Paul Greenberg to learn how we can change this, have our fish and eat them too, and perhaps save the oceans before it’s too late.

Click here for more information on this TED talk.

Paul Greenberg is the author of the James Beard Award-winning New York Times bestseller Four Fish and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He has also written for National Geographic Magazine, GQ, The Times (of London) and Vogue, and he lectures on seafood and the environment around the world. He is currently a fellow with The Safina Center and a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation.

In Defense of Feeders


You can ensure your birds get the food you left for them with a squirrel-resistant bird feeder.
Photovia orvis.com

I love to hunt game birds in the fall, but I enjoy feeding songbirds almost as much (not quite, but almost). There are few things quite as serene as a quiet snowy morning and a bird feeder. . .


You can ensure your birds get the food you left for them with a squirrel-resistant bird feeder.
Photovia orvis.com

I love to hunt game birds in the fall, but I enjoy feeding songbirds almost as much (not quite, but almost). There are few things quite as serene as a quiet snowy morning and a bird feeder crowded with small colorful birds to give you a sense that all is right with the world. Cardinals, finches, tufted titmice (or is it titmouses?), nuthatches, chickadees, and a host of other small and delicate birds flitting from feeder to feeder. My wife, Mimi, and I spend a fair amount of time on the porch in the warmer months and in the kitchen during the winter watching their antics, and it brings a sense of peace in an otherwise hectic world.

But I’ve discovered over the years that feeding the birds is not a task for the faint of heart. In order to maintain the harmonious flitting, as it were, you need to have a quick mind and at times be a deadly shot in order to maintain the delicate balance of proper birds that you want to come to the feeder–as opposed to the sly and cunning intruders who steal millions of dollars in black oil sunflower seeds annually. (I’m making this number up, but based on what I spend, I believe it to be a reasonable statement).

First and foremost are the squirrels of both the red and gray varieties. The gray squirrel are simply big galoots with little or no sense of style and wit. Their only saving grace is they make excellent Brunswick stew. Their overt greed and frontal assaults on the feeder remind one of rednecks at a fish fry. They are loud, boisterous, and greedy, stuffing their faces with little or no concern for their surroundings, which makes them easy prey for a well-timed shot in the butt with a BB gun (the squirrels not the rednecks, though having grown up as one in the deep South, I’ve personally witnessed the latter).

I honed my BB gun skills on Grandma Moon’s porch and am still proficient some 50 years later. I have also invested in squirrel-resistant feeders that shut down as soon as the weight of a fat squirrel is applied. I take great pleasure in watching them try to figure out why they can’t get at the feed, while I harass them with biting commentary as to their intelligence level.

Red squirrels, on the other hand, are insidiously cunning, and catching one of them in the open is as challenging as any hunting I’ve ever done. They are constantly aware of their surroundings and will move toward the feeder step by step, constantly surveying their surroundings. Any sudden movement and they disappear like snowflakes on a kid’s tongue. Whatever success I’ve had at pinging one required as much preparation and skill as most of my turkey hunts. I’ve even gone to the extent of building a small blind on the porch in order to conceal myself. I grab a cup of coffee and the trusty BB gun and sit there with the gun pointed toward the feeder. I enjoy the coffee and watch the birds, and all in all, it is a pleasurable way to pass a couple of hours. If I’m lucky, eventually the wily red squirrel makes his appearance. I stealthily lean forward in the blind, and just when he is distracted by his first taste of the luscious black oil, I let him have it. For those of you out there who are outraged by this shooting of defenseless and furry little creatures: Tough. You are welcome to pay my bird seed bill, not to mention that a red squirrel in your walls or attic is poltergiestian torture.

I keep the bird seed in a metal garbage can out on the porch. I used to use a plastic garbage can, but your defenseless furry little creatures gnawed a hole in it and emptied it. I immediately went to galvanized aluminum, but the other day I heard a loud banging on the porch. I opened the door to discover the garbage can upended and two massive raccoons feasting on the bird seed. They looked at me with utter disdain until I then opened the door wider and out came by Labradors, Murphy and Pickett. In the ensuing chaos, chairs sailed across the porch, tables were upended, citronella candles went flying, and the result of two 70-pound. Labradors and two 25-pound raccoons tearing through the outdoor décor was epic. It was like a good bar fight, and I have since had no return visits from the masked bandits. Murphy and Pickett enjoyed the exercise, and ultimately a good time was had by all.

The greatest of the predators are the bears. To them, a cast iron bird feeder pole is simply something to be bent and twisted into unrecognizable scrap metal, and the bird feeders become shattered pieces of junk. The result is another expensive trip to the bird store to replace the feeders and a reevaluation of your feeder placement. A Daisy Red Ryder is not going to faze a 200-pound black bear, and I’m not sure the dogs would appreciate the mismatch.

Other intruders include blue jays, a raucous and gluttonous group that can empty a bird feeder quicker than a toilet flush. Doves are large birds and will eat a lot of feed. Unfortunately, up here in Vermont you cannot legally shoot them, whereas in the South they are considered a game bird and are quite tasty deep fried and served with biscuits and succotash. They are also the source of one of the better social traditions in southern society, the dove hunt. This is an all-day affair with all your friends and neighbors, fine guns, great dogs, too much food, good shooting, southern hospitality, and old bourbon liberally applied after the shooting is over.

My final discovery in feeding the songbirds is that, as pleasant as they are to watch, they are a picky bunch, and if you substitute the less expensive striped sunflower seeds, these little ungrateful clowns will sit around in the trees with disdain until you relent and bring back the more expensive black oil. While I am eating Lean Cuisine, these birds are feasting on the caviar of bird food, but it’s a small price to pay for a peaceful morning of bird watching; and a good excuse for me to revert to that kid on Grandma Moon’s porch, feet up on the railing, Red Ryder in hand, the defender of feeders.

The Cape House

There are seminal moments in life when a dream becomes reality. It’s rare, as most dreams do not come true for they are, after all, dreams. For me it has been a place on Cape Cod or the. . .

There are seminal moments in life when a dream becomes reality. It’s rare, as most dreams do not come true for they are, after all, dreams. For me it has been a place on Cape Cod or the Islands. I want to finish my life by the sea–fishing, clamming, crabbing, and growing blue hydrangeas behind my picket fence. From the moment I first cast a line into this clear, cold water in search of stripers, and Patti Page whispered, “You’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod,” I’ve shamelessly sung this to myself in the night surf, making up ribald lyrics, the false casts a metronome moving back and forth in rhythm to the disturbing vocals. I fell hard.

For two decades, my love for this place was unrequited. This is where American fishing began. I’ve read histories of the Cape and Islands by Philbrick, Schneider, Beston, and Thoreau; tales of Wampanoags and Europeans in waters where I’ve drifted, or beaches where I’ve walked in search of stripers. I loved it, but it didn’t quite love me enough to show me a way to get there. As much as I love the Vineyard, it is for millionaires, and I am a hundredaire at best. The Cape offered a glimmer of reasonable hope, but the pathway to this moment was rife with job and college tuition detours. Then suddenly, a confluence of circumstances found me staring at an open road. The great comeuppance of ’08 led to plummeting real-estate prices and interest rates, combined with two college graduations (only one to go) that finally brought within reach, what I could not touch five years before.

My house is not much by today’s ostentatious Cape standards, just over a thousand square feet, but by old Cape standards it is a sturdy coastal cottage with great bone structure. There is no cheap particle board or plywood in this house. The frame is sheathed with planking covered with the required cedar shingles, the interior woodwork is solid pine boards, and the original windows still open and close flawlessly with pulley and weight counterbalance. Like the classic wooden Crosby catboats built for decades in neighboring Osterville, she was built with strong ribs by the hand of someone with pride in his craft. Perhaps he was a boat wright as well. It feels that way. I’d like to think so.

The house sits in the middle of the Cape in an old neighborhood with ancient cemeteries, or as ancient as American history allows. Epitaphs on worn round-top granite stones tell stories of men lost at sea and chronicle family histories long before the Revolution. Pilgrims and ancient Wampanoags struggled to find common purpose on this ground, and now venerable old architecture holds its ground against the sparkling mansions of the new Pilgrim rich. It is a never-ending evolution that began with the first faulty and stuttering steps of the white man on the sands of the outer Cape. Inevitably when I drift over the flats of Barnstable in search of stripers I wonder what fish the Pilgrims and the Mattakeese must have seen; a striped bass population untouched through its entire migration by all but the indigenous tribes for subsistence, fifty and sixty pounders as thick as schoolies mingling with hundred pounders resting from their migration, drifting in the shallows of the Cape Cod Bay.

The house is a wormhole to the fifties with a bright blue electric stove and hideous linoleum, the cabinets are butt-ugly plain, but upon closer inspection they are rock solid. Paint will do. The bathroom is pink and gray tile. June Cleaver would love this place.

But for me, the best part of the house is the garage. It was the first place I looked when we saw the house, and the dark bare timbers and plank walls spoke volumes. It will not be used for cars. In truth it’s not really big enough for anything larger than cars in which I don’t fit. It is now the fishing room, the place where all the accumulated gear of decades of fishing now reside in disorganized splendor, for what cottage near the sea is worth its salt without a room with old lures hanging above the work bench and the walls covered with fly rods, spin rods, surf rods, and cabinets full of reels and gadgets. Every angler needs a place such as this. It might be as important as the fishing itself, for it is where the memories reside, awakened by a glance at an old reel or a faded plug with rusty hooks. Poking around through old gear is poking around in the best parts of your life.

In front of the garage is the boat. The thousands of miles I’ve logged in the last twenty years towing my boat from Vermont to the Cape will vanish. From my driveway, Cape Cod Bay to the north, the Atlantic to the east, Vineyard Sound to the west, and Nantucket Sound to the south are moments away. I keep discovering little known boat landings tucked into coves and bays used only by the locals. The public state ramps on the weekends are useless for anything but the entertainment value. The Keystone Cops have nothing on a Cape Cod public boat ramp.

Sitting up on her trailer with her tall center console, she seems too large for the small cottage even, as far as saltwater craft go, she is but a diminutive 18 feet. There is barely room left for the two cars, but I don’t care. I stare at her for a while as she now sits where a proper saltwater boat should sit. She is near the sea; she is mine, as is the land and cottage where she rests. This is nothing new. I haven’t done anything beyond what thousands of others have done. Men have been drawn to the sea for centuries, but it is my dream realized and I’m going to wallow in it for a while.

Hunters and Their Dogs


Pickett and the author have been through the dog’s best years in the field.
Photos by Paul Fersen

There is a myth out there that the loss of a great hunting dog is psychologically as devastating as the loss of a spouse. Unquestionably, this originated in a posturing haze of scotch and. . .


Pickett and the author have been through the dog’s best years in the field.
Photos by Paul Fersen

There is a myth out there that the loss of a great hunting dog is psychologically as devastating as the loss of a spouse. Unquestionably, this originated in a posturing haze of scotch and testosterone around a campfire somewhere, but it speaks volumes about the relationship of a hunter and their dog. As to what it means about the institution of marriage is better left to others.

Talk to hunters about their dogs, and you will hear praise of such an effusive nature, one would think the canines were actual offspring, but even children seldom receive the plaudits reserved for a great dog in hunting circles. Conversely, the slanderous sarcasm of a less-than-stellar dog can be the catalyst for gales of laughter where hunters gather to talk guns, dogs, and days in the field.

Perhaps there is reason. Hunters and dogs have worked together for 15,000 years. For most of that time, the skill of the hunter and the prowess of the dog determined life or starvation. Were our dogs and we inept, the consequences for our families were devastating. Only recently in the span of our existence has this become unnecessary, at least in terms of sustenance, but in the souls of many of us, there is still a need to hunt, as we are only a millisecond in evolutionary time from the necessity of it.

When the winds of autumn bring the first hint of winter, there is a need to call the dog and step into the field – a desire to become for a moment what we were designed to be before science and technology sat us down and provided everything. Our dog is the connection to this genetic past. Together in the field we are once again hunter and dog in our most elemental roles. Perhaps our love of a great dog has much to do with our instinct for survival, an instinct that a few generations of progress have failed to remove from our DNA.


Murphy is the young buck in the author’s hunting-dog team.

If there is a reason to live in New England, it is autumn. For most it is a time of spectacular color and crisp air, perhaps the most iconic season of any season in any region in the world. For the upland and waterfowl hunter, it is a palette on which they practice their art. Without the dog, there is little point, and most bird hunters, upland or waterfowl, wouldn’t hunt without a dog. Shooting a bird that you’ve stumbled upon is at best unfulfilling, whereas being led to a bird by a single-minded dog, shooting it, and having the dog retrieve it to hand is an incomparable moment of cooperation between man and beast. No less compelling is a retriever hurling himself into a frozen river to bring back a bird otherwise surely lost. Hunting alone is just time in the woods. Hunting with a dog is an honored tradition.

Most of us will have many dogs in our lives, but if we are fortunate, there will be one whose memory stands staunch while the others fade with time. If we are truly fortunate, that time is now. When it comes, there is only one dark reality, the disparity in our time on this earth. When hunters talk of great dogs, it hangs in the air like wood smoke in a cabin – palpable and understood, but tacitly ignored. The prime years are precious few, and invariably the moment will come when time will take our erstwhile companion and we are forced to search for another – a bittersweet search fraught with sadness, but tempered with the hope of another grand companion and treasured days in the russet hills.

Photos: For You Lovers of Labradors


This portrait of Daisy captures Claire Norman’s love of Labs.
All photos by Claire Norman

A Labrador is an easy dog to fall for. I know, as I have two and am pretty partial to them. When I stumbled across Claire Norman and her Labradors, I instantly began to follow her, if for no. . .


This portrait of Daisy captures Claire Norman’s love of Labs.
All photos by Claire Norman

A Labrador is an easy dog to fall for. I know, as I have two and am pretty partial to them. When I stumbled across Claire Norman and her Labradors, I instantly began to follow her, if for no other reason than to brighten my day every time I popped open Instagram and found the remarkable photography of her dogs.

Claire, a professional photographer, lives on the Hertfordshire Essex borders in England. She acquired her first three Labradors—Mocha, Jemima, and Izzy—in 2007, and then Daisy arrived in 2013. The ensuing collaboration of her profession and her love of her dogs was inevitable. The results are striking because she seems to have the ability to get four Labradors to pose like supermodels, which from personal experience trying to photograph my two, is near miraculous. Perhaps that’s what drew me to it.

“The girls have grown up with the camera and will happily pose most of the time for me. They started modeling collars for a local company after I had shown them some of my photos of the girls. I love taking pictures of the girls and capturing their personalities on camera. How do I do that… I think it’s just love, their love for me and mine for them and of course my love of photographing them.”

Personally I think she’s holding out on some secret, but whatever it is, it works and works beautifully. You can follow Claire and her Labradors on Facebook or Instagram.

The Magic of “The Room”


An outdoorsman’s collection is like a physical memory of days in the field.

A few years ago, my friend Bob Murphy gave me a picture of a room. It’s a big glassed porch—filled with old tackle and walled with old single pane, divided-light windows—that one would imagine is attached to some late 19th or early 20th century lake house somewhere in the. . .


An outdoorsman’s collection is like a physical memory of days in the field.

A few years ago, my friend Bob Murphy gave me a picture of a room. It’s a big glassed porch—filled with old tackle and walled with old single pane, divided-light windows—that one would imagine is attached to some late 19th or early 20th century lake house somewhere in the north woods. It’s not hard to imagine the porch jutting off to the side of a dark rambling structure perched in the pines and hemlocks above the water. Massive open porches with old wicker would surround the main house, and this porch would be the only enclosed section on the right side as you look at the house and down to the water’s edge. At least that’s how I imagine it.

In this room is someone’s sporting history, that irreplaceable collection that silently documents an even more irreplaceable story. The truth is that we lovers of the sporting life are hoarders. Murph was one of the best. When he died, I helped his wife Susan go through his barn. His life lay before us in heaps of decoys and old waders, jackets, gear and gadgets. Though he was gone, I spent the day with Bob, and there was no sadness in it. Every time I picked up yet another worn boot or tattered vest, I grinned and remembered his almost eccentric passion for the field.

Not only do we accumulate the must-have new gear at an alarming and divorce-inducing rate, but we refuse to relinquish old gear to the point of holding on to broken rods, ancient reels, old thermoses, and moth-eaten hunting jackets as if the apocalypse were upon us, but there is reason, for what is the sporting life if not the memories? Every piece represents a fish caught, a campfire, a hot cup in a duck blind. Susan let me pick a few things that Bob used when we hunted ducks together: an old thermos for my collection, a Faulk’s call, and a few cork decoys that Bob had marked with his name to add to my string. The memories were securely attached. There are fathers and grandfathers, and in my case grandmothers whose pocket knives and old tackle lie in state in our boxes and drawers, hidden gems simultaneously worthless and priceless. Their value lies in triggered remembrance, as they are the index to our sporting life and to the ones with whom we’ve shared it.

I always wanted a room like this, but life, children’s needs, and the necessary architecture never quite aligned. I have functional places where my gear is stored, but never that perfect meld of setting and gear. But it doesn’t matter. For now, that picture sits on a stand above my desk and reminds me of Murph, the days in the field we shared together, and what might be someday. Chances are I’ll never have that perfect room, but maybe one of my children will, and in that room will be all of my old collected gear mingled with theirs. They will poke through it, looking for what they need for the day, and I will be there among the knives and reels and dekes and old jackets.

Hopefully, if I have done my job, they will grin at the thought of me.

Sporting Dog Training the Wildrose Way, Part IV: Denials, Delays, and Diversions


You, not the dog, should be in control of when he retrieves.
Photo by Tim Bronson

Illustrations by James Daley

This week, I want to talk about achieving steadiness. I’ve already talked about this a lot, but that’s because it’s the foundation of a well-trained dog. A dog that does what it wants on its own is not going to be a satisfying hunting companion. It may do the right thing by instinct, but if it does the right thing at the wrong time, that’s not going to work out too well in the field, particularly if you happen to be. . .


You, not the dog, should be in control of when he retrieves.
Photo by Tim Bronson

Illustrations by James Daley

This is the fifth in a series of blogs looking at Sporting Dog and Retriever Training—The Wildrose Way, a book I worked on with Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels. It’s a remarkable book, and each week I’m going to touch on one aspect of the training. Last week, we talked about using scented tennis balls to develop good hunting skills and the use of the nose.

This week, I want to talk about achieving steadiness. I’ve already talked about this a lot, but that’s because it’s the foundation of a well-trained dog. A dog that does what it wants on its own is not going to be a satisfying hunting companion. It may do the right thing by instinct, but if it does the right thing at the wrong time, that’s not going to work out too well in the field, particularly if you happen to be hunting with other hunters and dogs.

We’ve already talked about the differences between my dogs Pickett and Murphy and how Pickett struggles with steadiness due to my inept training methods 10 years ago, versus Murphy who is much better due to the fact I was training him with Mike’s methods while in the process of working on this book.

There are three basic methods to gaining steadiness and all three work in concert with each other. These are Denials, Delays, and Diversions.

Denials

This is very simple. At least half the bumpers, if not more, that get thrown or put out get picked up by me. From the very first day I put Murphy on a lead, I would toss bumpers in front of him–and then I would go and pick them up while he had to sit quietly and watch. Every drill we did of the hundreds of drills that involved bumpers, he would be denied many of them and rewarded with his steadiness by getting one or two of them. This hasn’t changed even now that he is approaching three. Once I got him steady at sit as a pup, I would toss bumpers all around him, roll tennis balls in front of him, and he was not allowed to move. I would then pick up all but one or two of them if he was steady, and he would then be rewarded with a retrieve. (It is important to note that a retrieve as a reward for a retriever is about as good as it gets for him).

The point is that, from day one, Murphy learned that I was in control of the retrieves, and if he was going to get one, it was coming at my command, not his desire. This was ingrained from the start and has paid dividends in his steadiness. Not surprisingly, when birds get involved, his desire can somewhat overwhelm him at this young age, but he can be controlled because it was built in from the start. He will only get steadier with age and experience, and that has proven true over the past driven-shoot season.

Delays

I discussed this at length in a previous post on not throwing marks, but using what Mike calls “memories.” Very simply, this is a method that is used throughout the Wildrose training to build in an automatic delay and the understanding by the dog that the retrieve command comes from the trainer and only when patience is displayed. The former post explains this in detail, so I won’t repeat myself, but it is perhaps the most pervasive tool used in the Wildrose training methods and is found in almost every drill from puppyhood to finished dog and beyond.

Diversions

Once a dog is steady at your side, the next step is to get them steady when they’re not at your side, but on the run toward a mark or downed bird. A dog that gets distracted during the action and diverts to another task is not a well-trained retriever. While he may eventually bring back a bird, it could be someone else’s bird, a dead bird while a wounded one is escaping, or even no bird. The point is, when a dog is sent for a bird, that’s the bird he needs to go straight to and bring straight back, even when other birds are shot and falling or flushing in front of him. Otherwise he’s in control (or out of control as it were), and you are not.

There are three sketches here from the book that highlight diversion training. One is a diversion when he’s returning, one is just before he is released to get the mark or long bird/short bird, and one is when he’s going out. In each case, the diversion is first thrown in an obviously opposite direction to keep his attention focused on the task at hand, but then as you progress, it is steadily thrown closer and closer to him during the drill. This serves two purposes. First it is less distracting at first because it is not near his focus point, and secondly if at first he breaks for the diversion, you are in a position to step in and stop him from going after it. By the time the diversions are near him, he should be acclimated to them and focusing on the task at hand.


Returning – In this drill, the diversion is thrown as the dog is returning, the point being he continues directly back to you, ignoring the second bumper. Start with the bumper being thrown back away from the dog and work forward, so you can keep him from diverting if need be.

 


Long Bird/Short Bird – This is the second level, where the second bumper is thrown a shorter distance away before he goes and after the original memory is set up. The idea is to ensure he goes out after the memory to which he was directed, ignoring the short thrown bumper off to his left or right.

 


Going Out – This is the third level and the most challenging, as he must focus on the memory even when birds are falling around him. Again start by throwing the bumper wide to his line as he leaves and then working in toward him. Make sure he is solid on the other two before doing this one.

It is also important to note that a diversion is always a denial. Once he returns successfully with the bumper and is sitting, then YOU walk away and pick up the diversion. The only time he gets to pick a diversion is if it’s in the water and then only after you have walked him away from the original point to a totally different angle or opposite shore and then it becomes a memory.

If you use these methods consistently from day one in every drill and every training session, you will ultimately have a dog that is calm, steady, and focused on the task at hand.

Paul Fersen is the Senior Managing Writer for the Orvis Company and worked with Mike Stewart as co-writer and editor for Sporting Dog and Retriever Training—The Wildrose Way.