“The man who works does not have the leisure of true integrity”, wrote Thoreau 175 years ago. “He doesn’t have time to be anything other than a machine.
These words resonate with me every time I think of Dale Bowman.
Because Dale Is have time to be something other than a machine.
Here he is now nearby in this large aluminum boat which is essentially a stretched out motorized dinghy.
There are six of us here, including four from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, three of whom are Aquatic Nuisance Program Specialists. Today’s nuisance is the invasive carp – silver, bighead, grass and black – which have all found the Illinois River – where we are, near Starved Rock – to their liking and are proliferating wildly.
The creatures could wipe out many native species if left unchecked, with the fear that they will somehow break through locks and dams and an electrical barrier, and swim into Lake Michigan. The men of the IDNR are there, with net fishermen in four similar boats, to make sure none of this happens, or at least to slow its progress until a final plan is made. .
Which leads to a thoughtful solution mentioned by program manager Brian Schoenung: cook the damn things.
The only problems are two. Americans don’t like carp meat. And they don’t like the word carp.
A long-thought-out solution that arises again as Dale and the men chat: rename the fish and develop crested carp chefs that can turn bony spots into delicacies. Chilean sea bass used to be called Patagonian toothfish, you know.
“And,” Schoenung said with a smile, “orange roughy was a slimehead.”
It’s really hilarious, what a good marketing company and seasoning could do for these ridiculously fast growing things that are so abundant that Schoenung says there could be 20-50 million pounds that could be reaped. in the Illinois-Mississippi Basin.
But it’s Dale, the calm, observant and happy outdoor enthusiast who fascinates me the most. Yes, there are now carp jumping madly all around us as rooster net fishermen crank up their motors and hit the hulls with metal gaffs. But Dale watches everything, taking notes every now and then, calm as a man in a rocking chair.
It’s the outdoors. This is his living room.
The longtime Sun-Times Outdoors writer is a legend among those Midwesterners who follow events in nature, this real world around us that we treat almost like a toxin infiltrating our computerized fantasy land of Kardashians, games and gossip.
There aren’t many newspaper writers like Dale these days. Who wants to read about morel hunting or the precision of micro-fishing – where you to try to catch fish under an inch – when you can get fungal delicacies at the deli and a salmon fillet while you’re at it.
But Dale is the link between an inner, wired world and the outer cradle that spawned us, the one we mostly left behind, without giving too much thought to its needs, health, or sanctity.
Dale doesn’t brag about the many outdoor adventures he’s been on. I mean, have you ever gone for some 20 pound channel catfish, that is, putting your bare arm in a hole and hoping a big one will grab hold of it? Dale a.
He also doesn’t throw away his expertise like a big guy.
Indeed, the part I’ve always loved most about reading Dale is when he fails to see or land or shoot what he’s looking for, and simply sinks into reverie and look at the sky, the water, the forest, the hills around him.
It was time. I had to ask him what he liked most about his job.
Before he could reply by email – that would be after we have returned to civilization – a silver carp jumps in front of my turned head, spraying me with water and mud – landing with a I think in the boat. I used to water ski with friends on the Illinois River when I was a teenager in Peoria; I wouldn’t do that now.
Dale answered my question as I hoped. His favorite moment is the hour before the start of the deer season, in the woods, alone, “when the sound, the sight, the smell and the touch are felt intensely and I almost feel like ” have a psychic connection with the natural world. “
Thoreau would approve.