An Outdoor View: Distractions

While mindlessly surfing the Net the other day, I got to thinking about distractions.

According to Macmillan Dictionary, a distraction is “something that gets your attention and prevents you from concentrating on something else.” It’s also “an activity that you can do for fun or entertainment.” In other words, if you’re fishing, and the guy standing beside you is talking on his cell phone, he’s distracting you from your distraction.

To someone catching fish and releasing them just for the fun of it, a sea lion stealing the fish would be a relatively minor distraction. But to someone who depends upon fish for food, a sea lion would be a major distraction.

As a boy, I used to lie on my back in the grass, searching billowy clouds for animals and other shapes. Kids nowadays spend their time texting, gaming and visiting “friends” on Facebook. Are distractions in the form of gadgets taking the place of our imaginations? Are all those images in the clouds just going to waste?

Distractions have severely damaged good manners. TV put a dent in them, but the smart phone, being so portable and so capable of multiple uses, is a real culture-changer. We seem to be giving up all pretenses of politeness. To me, it’s rude to be on your smart phone while the rest of your family is watching TV while eating dinner, but I may be a bit behind in what’s trending.

Distractions can be useful. Let’s say you’re flipping flies for sockeyes, and the guy beside you says you’re too close. He’s worries that you’ll hook him. The next thing you know, you’ve set the hook in his ear. That’s when you need a good distraction. Try yelling “Bear! Bear!” and pointing behind him. That’ll distract him long enough for you to get a good head start.

Another kind of distraction is when someone horns in on your fishing spot. Depending on the size and demeanor of the perp, you might feel everything from anxiety to anger. One way to resolve this situation would be to fight distraction with distraction. You could point behind the intruder and yell, “Bear! Bear!” When he looks, you take back your fishing spot. It won’t work every time, but it’s worth a try.

Distractions can destroy any pretense of a wilderness experience. At 4 a.m. one July morning, I went fishing for Kenai River sockeyes in the Sterling area. The only reason I was up that early was to have some peace and quiet. I no sooner started fishing when the distractions began. The first was the persistent crowing of a rooster across the river. Then, just as the rooster had signed off for the day, a woman emerged from a nearby cabin and engaged in a long and loud cell-phone conversation. Disgusted, I went home to check my emails and play a game of on-line Boggle.

Distractions can be good and bad. A good distraction on the river might be looking up from tying on a new fly and having an attractive woman walk right up to you, smile, and say, “Hi, sailor.” A bad distraction might be if your wife is standing right behind you, and the attractive woman is or was your girlfriend.

Distractions apparently cause great suffering to anglers who fish in tournaments. In a Sept. 9, 2016 blog, Patrick Pierce, who competes in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, wrote: “Things like families, kids, jobs, weddings, funerals, oil changes, doctor appointments, band recitals, soccer games, football season, sponsor obligations, birthday parties and electric bills all conspire to take our minds off fishing.”

One of the best things about distractions is their ability to take our minds off unpleasant things. My dentist likes to talk about fishing. Sometimes I’m unable to respond, but that’s OK. When I’m thinking about fishing, I’m feeling no pain.

It has been said — and I believe it — that many wars have been started because someone needed a distraction.

Humans are always wondering about the purpose of life. I’m just casting this out there to see if anything bites, but could it be possible that life is just one big distraction?

Les Palmer can be reached at

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