An Agent's Calling
What makes a conservation agent? What compels a person to sit quietly in a truck on a 20-degree night, waiting for a spotlight to shine a nearby field? What motivates someone to walk a mile in hip boots at 5 a.m., only to stand for several more hours watching a duck blind?
Although men and women become conservation agents for many reasons, those who stay and like the profession must have a deep respect for natural resources. This respect and admiration is what drives me to stand in 45-degree water in a trout stream, while ice forms on my mustache and snow swirls around me.
People often tell me they would like to become a conservation agent, but even if they are qualified, only a few can become agents. The Conservation Department hires about 10 to 15 new agents every other year to fill vacancies created by retirements, promotions or resignations. Applications for these few jobs number from 500 to 1,500. Many of the applicants have the ability and desire to do the job, but only a handful will be selected.
Of those who journey to Jefferson City to begin six months of training, few will become agents for life. Some will find greener pastures along the way. Others will not enjoy the job as they thought. Those who stay have a calling and roots in the outdoors.
My roots and calling go back to my family. Like my parents, I was born and raised in St. Louis. Yet I shared their love for the Missouri outdoors. I remember early trips to the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area with my mom, dad, three brothers and sister. I remember fishing contests with my brothers to see how many bluegill we could catch on one grasshopper.
I also recall my dad acquiring several bamboo fly rods from a friend, and my brothers learning to use them through books and trial-and-error. They helped teach me how to drop a popping bug over a bluegill spawning bed and wait for that furious explosion when fish meets lure. They sound so simple, yet those experiences became the foundation for my calling.
Our family of seven could not afford lavish vacations, but my parents managed to combine thriftiness with fun by vacationing in Missouri, introducing us to many of its rivers, lakes and state parks. Several of these trips took on added fun when my mom's sister brought along her four children,