Voices from the River: Nomad

The author and his wandering daughter. 

By Chris Hunt

Several years back, I was fortunate enough to get to visit the east coast of Australia—the government of New South Wales invited me Down Under to speak to recreational anglers about the benefits of conservation ... about giving back to the resources that fuel our passion as sportfishers. 

It was the experience of a lifetime, and after my duties were fulfilled and I delivered a nerve-wracking speech to a conference full of anglers, I ventured to the tropical north amid the late-winter rains of August, and explored the jungle around Cairns and Port Douglas in search of baramundi and jungle perch. The fishing was completely new to me—the advice from the proprietor at the tackle shop in Cairns was a bit terrifying.

"Just don't stand too close to the water at the mouth of the Mulgrave," he said. "There's crocs in there. Big ones." 

Unnerving, to say the least. 

But the real take-away from the experience was the people I met. I was in my early 40s—my career was mature, my kids were coming into their own and I had forged a life to be proud of. And then I met a host of 20-somethings from all over the world who'd come to this corner of Oz, just to experience it. The bartender at the Irish Pub in Port Douglas was, predictably, Irish. Two the patrons I played darts with were from Scandanavia. I drank dark beer with two Germans, and worked through the significant language barrier with a young Chinese couple. 

After a fashion, I had to ask.

"What are you doing here?"

I mean, they weren't in the area on business. They weren't tourists. Most of them had jobs in town. I was confounded. 

"We're just seeing as much as we can before we settle in and figure out what we're going to do with ourselves," one of the guys from Norway said. 


I let it sink in for a while. These kids hadn't chosen college—at least not yet. Instead, they chose to be nomads ... to wander a bit and figure out what floated their boats. It seemed awfully ... luxurious, if you will, to be able to just get a passport and start tramping the world in search of a passion. It was a philosophy that would never have passed muster at my house, where I was expected to go to college, expected to matriculate, get a job, get married and start a family. These were never considered "optional" at my house—it was the anticipated norm. 

And there I was, some 20 years after fulfilling the expectations laid at my feet by my parents, wishing ever so wistfully that I had given this venturing lifestyle a shot. Yes, college was wonderful— I met and married the mother of my children while at school. And my career has been very fulfilling, first as a newspaper journalist and now as a much more focused fly-fishing writer, editor and blogger for Trout Unlimited. But at that moment, after visiting with those young people who were doing nothing but satisfying their curiousity, I was struck with pangs of regret. 

What if? It's a great big world, and I've seen just a sliver of it. 

It's been almost two years since my daughter graduated from high school. She had grand plans. College. A career. A family. Right after she graduated, she got a job in Grand Teton National Park, working at the grocery store in Colter Bay. The pay was marginal, but the view of the Tetons looming large over Jackson Lake made up for it. It took two weeks, but I got the phone call. 

"Dad," she said tentatively. I could tell she had something big to say. I immediately pulled out my wallet. But it wasn't exactly what I expected. "I'm not going to go to college."

Oh, I thought. OK. It's cool to take a year off and kind of figure out what what turns your crank. I get that. And, after my three weeks in Australia a few years before, I was openly supportive. Good for you, I thought, and told her as much. 

"No," she said. "I'm not going to college. Ever."

That wasn't what I wanted to hear, but I also know that things change, ideas deplete themselves over time and, I figured, once she found a passion, she might come to realize that the best way to pursue it would be to study it. And that meant, in some fashion or another, she'd have to go back to school. But that's both an "if" and "when" proposition at this point. Right now, she's living her dream. 

This past fall, she moved to Bend, Ore., largely on a whim. It was a blank spot on her map. When she told me she wanted to see stuff and do stuff, I was on board. I sent her notices about jobs in Alaska and Mexico and all over the world. Cruise ship gigs, summer fishing jobs off the coast of Wrangell, Klondike gold train jobs... I was getting really excited. 

And then she chose Bend (and, for the record, Bend is lovely). 

Then I realized that I was pushing her into places and jobs that, as a 20-year-old, I would have loved to have experienced, had it not been for the stifling burden of expectation. She's not me (but she's a hell of an angler, and she loves to sleep under the stars, so there's that). She's on her own adventure, and I'm proud of her for taking chances and figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up—and dreading the day when she really, truly does. I'm also proud of her mother and me—we didn't freak out at the "no college" news. We didn't pile dutiful expectations upon her and steer her in a direction that made us more comfortable. 

She's wandering on her own, with a lot to experience. She's taking on the world on her terms. 

She's her own nomad. 

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for TROUT Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.




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