Rick and I climbed into the front of the Jon boat and settled in as David, our fishing guide, gently turned the throttle and eased us backwards into the White River at Cotter, Arkansas. A small wake from a passing boat gently rocked us as we reached for the fly rods and got ready to catch a record setting trout.
David pointed the bow upstream and turned the throttle on the 25 horse power Mercury motor while I sat back to watch the shoreline. A few homes interrupted large expanses of trees, tangles and briars. With a regularity that comes from the rhythm of the water, we would startle a blue heron into flight and occasionally we could see a trout break the surface of the water for an early morning aquatic breakfast of bugs and insects.
Throttling down to a very low hum, David set the tiller of the motor and allowed the boat to start drifting downstream. As we drifted, we cast towards the riverbank. Whenever the line looped downstream we would ‘mend’, making sure that the fly at the end of the line didn’t move faster than the current.
Several casts brought us about a half mile downstream. We pulled in the line and watched the shoreline again as David’s boat carried us back to do it all once more.
Rick had come from Fayetteville Arkansas to join Rivers of Recovery for a week. A combat veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an Honorable Discharge, Rick had heard about the non-profit program that combines quiet meditation with trout fishing to provide an exit out of the morass of horror he had witnessed in Iraq. When his counselor at the VA (Veteran’s Administration) had first mentioned the Rivers of Recovery to Rick, the nervous veteran was skeptical. Despite the old adage of “…if it’s too good to be true…” Rick thought he’d give it a try. Nothing else had worked.
His first evening at the fishing camp on the White River in northern Arkansas was spent sitting around a campfire with five other Iraqi veterans. As they watched the flames they started to share some of their stories about their time in the military. As the flames grew smaller and the night grew darker, the cover keeping demons under wraps was slowly pulled back. Slowly a bond developed and more stories were shared; some knee-slapping funny and others horrendously terrifying. But all stories of their shared experiences.
The Mission Statement as reflected on the website says, “Rivers of Recovery is dedicated to providing rehabilitation to physically and psychologically injured combat veterans through innovative, outdoor-based therapies and pioneering research…”
The program, which is completely free to the participating vet, is low-impact, requires very little walking and does not require participants to get wet. Funding comes from corporations, foundations as well as individuals throughout the country.