Finding the Perfect Walking Stick

In this excerpt from his book Sex, Death and Flyfishing, John Gierach reflects on the appeal of found walking sticks, and memories of walking with his father.

| July/August 1990

  • Older couple walking on trail
    When you are out in the woods or walking along a trout stream, picking up a stick seems like such a natural thing to do, almost automatic.
  • 124-042-02
    A fancified, "boutique" stick.
  • 124-042-03
    A bestaffed MOTHER staffer.

  • Older couple walking on trail
  • 124-042-02
  • 124-042-03

I just received my first outdoor sports-related injury of the season. I was crashing around in some thick underbrush in the grove of trees behind the house and somehow managed to drive a long black locust thorn into my ankle. It could have been avoided if I'd been wearing boots instead of tennis shoes, but you know how that is. It was just 50 yards from the back door. I mean, it wasn't an expedition or anything.

I was going to write it off as a normal scrape, but by morning it was infected, and I had to make a trip to town for a tetanus booster and short lecture from the doctor about acting my age, which I thought I'd been doing.

Chances are I'll live.

What was I doing crashing around in the bush? I was cutting walking sticks. Every year I try to put in three or four good ones; not like those you pick up here and there as they're needed that are always too long, too short, too heavy, too light, too crooked or so rotten they break. I mean "perfect" sticks that are a little better than elbow high, reasonably straight, seasoned and stout—but not too heavy. The sticks you always look for when you need one, but can never find. I try to keep a few leaning against the woodpile on the front porch and another one handy in the back of the pickup.

Why three or four? Because they have this tendency to disappear.

You'll be out hiking and will come to a place where you need both hands to climb some rocks, so you leave the stick where you can find it later. But then you come back a different way and don't go out of your way to look for it. After all, it's just a stick. The woods are full of sticks, right?

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