By Otha Barham / Outdoors Editor
The Meridian Star
After signing this country's 13 colonies' Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, John Adams said, "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward and for evermore."
After the Congress adopted the document on July 4, 1776, the people of Philadelphia, where it all happened, planned just such a celebration. The party was held July 8 with an intensity suggested by Adams. And yes, succeeding generations kept on celebrating. Eventually we had to stop the firing of guns and canons because people were getting killed or injured. But we still make enough noise and pomp to express our joy.
Relating this state of independence in which we find ourselves to the outdoor life is natural. No, most of us cannot walk out our back door into a forest that is miles across and bring home fish and game without regard to bag limits or season of the year. But we have abundant wildlife, well managed for the most part, to benefit all of us; anglers, bird watchers, hikers, hunters, campers. And we still have public woodlands and waters open to anyone. Much of the rest of the world is overpopulated, politically suppressed, economically exploited or simply unfit habitat for the diversity of wildlife we enjoy.
Because we have made the Fourth of July a national holiday set aside for spirited celebration, many Fourths linger in our memories as happy times. A small group of my professional counterparts used to meet on various holidays to do some bass fishing. We selected lakes in East Texas within a couple hundred miles of our homes, which were scattered across the state.
One Fourth of July we camped at Toledo Bend Reservoir. Because the weather was typical, blazing hot under a cloudless sky, we had little confidence that we would catch many fish. So we prepared to be content with enjoying the fellowship. We paired up in our boats and began casting in the shallows on our way to deep water where the fish would be hiding from the bright sunlight. We never left those shallow coves. Bass smashed every kind of lure we threw at them! Right on up through the middle of the day; in the bright sunlight; in water less than knee deep! In some cases so shallow the bass could hardly swim upright! We caught bass until our arms ached from pulling them in, in conditions we had always found turned bass off.
It was days later that we understood what had happened that holiday. A newspaper article reported an interview with a fisheries biologist who explained that the lake had "turned over." This was my first experience with a lake in which the cool, oxygenated water temporarily moved atop the warm water that is so undesirable to fish. The phenomenon occurs as a result of several factors, including air temperature.
On that special Fourth of July, we had all the bass in the lake in the top several inches of water and they were cool, frisky and ready to hit our surface plugs. I remember that Fourth quite well, though it has been many years ago.
It persists in my memory alongside the years we rode the metro train from our apartment in suburban Washington, D.C. downtown to the Mall and sat on the Capitol lawn overlooking perhaps a quarter million others picnicking, watching musical performances and waiting for nightfall and the mother of this country's fireworks shows. Yes, we get reflective on the Fourth of July, and we should. And the memories beget gratitude that often leads us to, as John Adams suggested, "solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."