Out of Bounds

Outdoor Medicine

I’ve recently been hit by depression that I suspect most face when a serious injury alters our life

By Rob Breeding

My recovery from a broken leg is finally to the point that I’m again able to do things outdoors. 

I caught a fish the other day. It wasn’t a trophy, but a fine fish nonetheless — a plump bass, measuring maybe a foot. I caught it on a weighted crayfish fly I’d been dredging across a sheltered channel under a footbridge, hoping to tempt one of the potato-sack carp that lurks there.

The bass came as a revelation, another Dunning-Kruger moment in my eternal, dim-witted pursuit of such things.

I’ve recently been hit by depression that I suspect most face when a serious injury alters our life. I’d attributed it mostly to the inconvenience of it all, though suddenly not being able to walk without crutches is more than an inconvenience. 

One small thing that became something more was my tendency to read in bed at night. The problem is I often get up for a glass of water or a snack or to check on the dogs. 

When I do this, I walk to the kitchen where I place my reading glasses on the counter. Inevitably, I forget them there when I return to bed. 

When I merely had to walk back to the kitchen to get them, that was an inconvenience.

My daughter Zoe came to stay with me last month and she quickly learned to read the room. If I’d been hobbling around, then returned to bed only to shout expletives loud enough to be heard in the living room, she knew what was up.

She’d sweetly bring me my glasses in the time it would have taken me to scoot myself to the edge of the bed.

What I learned from that bass was those difficulties with the simple things were only part of what darkened my mood this spring. And frankly, mobility challenges by themselves are enough to sink anyone into depression. Break a leg sometime. You’ll quickly learn how ill-suited our world is for the disabled.

Losing my mobility was hard, but I missed nature even more.

I live in a city, but not a city so big that I can’t get out of it quickly. I take daily walks or runs at a place just outside of town, on a trail that crosses a river. It then runs by wetlands crowded with mallards and, off some distance from the bigger ducks, teams of green-winged teal. My run then circles a pond with lurking bluegill, bass and a few toady carp.

I always stop for a few minutes to look for fish. A glimpse of even a minnowy panfish lifts my spirit.

This trail is by no means wilderness. Though it mostly runs between pastures, it begins at an interstate underpass and the fish pond is in a popular state campground. How popular? When the cranes come through an intrepid entrepreneur sets up an espresso stand in one of the improved trailer sites.

But I take solace from that open space and the critters that live there. In the evenings I hear quail calling, sometimes just few feet into the brush. One spring I surprised a pair sparring on the trail. While their intentions were fierce, it’s impossible for even hormone-fueled quail rage to seem scary. 

As I pondered my recovery bass and what I’ve missed since I became housebound, I thought of Gretel Ehrlich’s “The Solace of Open Spaces,” a book she wrote while living on the family place of my friend, Ranch Girl. 

“To live and work in this kind of open country, with its hundred-mile views, is to lose the distinction between background and foreground,” Ehrlich wrote.

As my leg heals I yearn to lose that distinction again. My life has been all background and foreground since March. That bass was my first step. Now it’s getting time I should lose myself mucking about a trout stream somewhere.

Hundred-mile views are a prerequisite.

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