Sometimes, you don't have to know someone very long or very well to know their heart. That happened to me last month on the shore of Guntersville Lake.
I was there covering the Bassmaster Classic. Public relations folks had lined up volunteer area bass fishermen with high-performance bass boats to take media members out on the water to shoot photographs of the bass pros in action. I drew Chris Rose.
Initially, we didn't talk a lot. I told Rose I wanted to shoot photos of Edwin Evers, the angler who went into the final tournament day in the lead. Rose said, "They're a long way off," as he gunned his Ranger to a cruising speed of 68 mph. All I could do was hold on to the sissy strap for dear life as we screamed 30 miles north. Once there, I was consumed with snapping pictures of Evers and second-place angler Randall Tharp (who both got beat by Randy Howell in a come-from-behind win, by the way).
When my turn on the water was over, Rose headed back for City Harbor in Guntersville. His next media man hadn't arrived, so we had a few minutes to talk. I started asking Chris, a Bass Federation Tournament angler himself, about what he does and what got him involved in the bass tournament scene.
He opened up to me, a virtual stranger, quickly. He told me briefly about his time in the military and how that didn't work out so well. He said life back home wasn't working out so well, either. It took him a while to figure out that the common denominator in stuff not working out so well was alcohol.
"I was running with the wrong people. I finally got myself into rehab," Chris told me.
He said that was when he met some of the right people who got him into bass fishing. Then, he stopped talking for a brief moment. He turned and looked out across Guntersville Lake with a telling expression that spoke more than words. He barely waved his arm over the water and said, "This ... this right here saved my life."
I was speechless, dumbstruck—not so much by what he said, but the way he said it. His words came from deep inside—from a place where demons used to live, pushed out by something far better.
"This saved my life."
It was trout stream-clear that truer words had never been spoken. All this journalist could think to do was ask him if I could share his story, to which he said, "Sure."
I've interviewed a thousand hunters and fishermen in my life. I asked just about every one of them why they do what they do ... and they all give very good and often very profound reasons for their need to prowl the woods and waters. But never in my decades of journalism has anyone explained their drive so compellingly and with so few words.
His next media man arrived, and our time was done. When I last saw Chris Rose, he was motoring his Ranger north on Guntersville Lake again. It is quite likely we will never cross paths again.
But I will forever remember the man who stood on the dock, gazed across the water and with a few simple words made me understand what the outdoors life truly means for those who need it most.