I received a photograph in the mail the other day. It was of a Magnolia tree that I planted some 20 years ago as a two-foot sapling. In the picture the tree is fully grown, thick with leaves and tall enough to shade the two young ladies standing beneath it. Magnolias are usually associated with the American South, but I planted this tree in a small town called Crickhowell Powys, in rural Wales, UK. How and why did I travel so far to add one more tree to an already verdant, forested landscape? Well, it started with fish, and the route went through Alaska. I was on a trip to Bristol Bay, the easternmost arm of the Bering Sea, fishing for rainbow trout and wild salmon, and staying at the Mission Lodge, a huge but comfortably rustic, all-inclusive fishing hotel. I met Paul and Phelam one evening in the lounge, and we struck up one of those easy, pre-dinner cocktail conversations that can happen when the liquor is free. Paul was a filmmaker of wildlife documentaries and Phelam was a producer with the BBC. Nice fellows and pleasant to visit with. During the conversation they mentioned that they were both from Wales. My adventure bucket list started to rattle. I mentioned I had read about the wildlife in Wales and would love to visit some time. We drifted off to dinner that night and the next day were out early on the Beaver Floatplanes to our various fishing destinations.
We never crossed paths again at Mission Lodge, as Paul and Phelam were en route to northern Alaska to camp out and fish for Arctic Grayling. When I returned home later that week there was an email from Paul inviting me to visit their fishing lodge, Gliffaes House in Powys, Wales, for the following year. I didn’t need to be persuaded. I went the next spring and Paul and Phelam introduced me to the wonders of trout fishing the magnificent River Wye. My gift to them was the American Magnolia tree, which I planted during that visit. Paul is a superb fishing guide and I have joined him on a number of trips since that first one to Wales. Today the tree stands as a symbol for the friendships that evolved from a common love for fishing and the outdoors that crosses all boundaries and borders.