What We Give

2024 Casting for Recovery~ Big K Ranch, Elkton, Oregon


Nature has this incredible way of helping us slow down so that we are able to redirect our emotions and energies. Sometimes we find healing through tranquility, other times new motivations to push and inspire. The last several weeks have been extra challenging, both personally and professionally, getting ready to take a group down to Mexico in just a few short days; busy or not, there’s no way we would miss the Southern Oregon Casting for Recovery Retreat in Elkton at the beautiful Big K Ranch if we could make it happen. 

It is a privilege and an amazing opportunity to serve as humble River Helpers to such special guests who are on their own journey with cancer; 14 women enjoy an all-inclusive weekend at this beautiful wildland preserve/working cow ranch to learn about flyfishing while meeting other individuals who are interested in learning to fly fish as well. As most of us know, flyfishing is not about the catching, but the Zen-like state which allows us to cast forward into a structured focus, surrounded by the peacefulness of Mother Nature and all her wonderment. 

Once you pull off the main road at the entrance to Big K Ranch, it’s a 4-mile drive to get back to the lodge and clusters of individual cabins. The speed limit sign reads, “Life is good at 20 mph.” we smiled as we took it at about 5-7mph, knowing full well that along this gravel road, a bounty of unexpected wildlife might be around the next turn. Usually, we are immediately greeted by a small herd of 20-50 cattle, but not today. Although a bit rainy and cool, we rolled down the windows, hoping to see what we could see past the raindrops dripping down the glass. Small clusters of deer grazed in the lush, green grasses, and flocks of wild turkeys with their young not too far away. Enough rain had accumulated that along the side of the road, a small stream flowed in the culverts at least 4-6” deep. 

Joel slowed the car down even more, peering out to the steep slope on his driver's side with his keen eyes, and within seconds, softly exclaimed, “Bear! Bear! BEARS!”. Sure as could be, Momma Black Bear and her two adorable little cubs were not 50 yards from us up on the hillside! In 4 big strides, Momma disappeared, taking cover in the dense hedgerow; one little cub hurried behind her, but curious number two cub just had to stop to take a good, long look at us, even standing up on its back feet to get a better view of the big white car we were in before scampering after the others. 

And in Nature’s good spirit, this great surprise in itself made the rainy drive down south well worth it! Only 2 miles into the sprawling Big K Ranch property, and we had already lost ourselves in this beautiful place. We could only hope that each and every participant at this special CFR event would be touched the same way. We arrived at our little cabin and went for a meandering, quiet walk, entertained this time by Mr. and Mrs Killdeer and their three button-sized youngsters. Both parents gave Academy award winning performances in their efforts to try to deter us from paying any attention to their super camouflaged little chicks. Feeling at peace, we settled in for the night, looking forward to seeing what tomorrow would bring with all the new faces eager to cast a line. 

The entire staff at Big K Ranch does an outstanding job with every detail, from room appointments to the most excellent meals. Vegan and vegetarian options, including sugar-free dessert selections, give everyone in attendance a homemade, mouthwatering menu that meets each person’s dietary needs. After meeting with the hard-working CFR staff who diligently planned out every detail of the retreat weekend, the 14 participants met up with us helpers in the main lodge. With a name tag in hand, we are paired up, with an introduction as personal “River Helpers,” and we enjoy breakfast together. 

Prior to our arrival, individuals had been taught how to tie their own knots, assemble their rods, and understand the basics of overhand and casts. Simms generously provides each participant with boots and waders for the weekend for a full fly fishing experience. Once geared up, we all head down to the stocked bass pond, as the river this time of year is generally way too high and blown out for any safe or successful fishing. 

Fishing in a pond with Reeds is always a little bit of a challenge, but newly deemed Anglers quickly learned that we’re not just out there to catch fish. Every aspect of flyfishing has a “reel” life application, and the Zen-like activity in itself lends to overall mental well-being. We were blessed to dodge raindrops, and periodically, bursts of joy would be heard from an angler, hooking up for the first time with a feisty little bass or crappie. Team spirit was strong, and everyone cheered and clapped for one another. 

As the time for the fishing portion of the day came to an end, the ladies were asked to bring their token rocks to the edge of the pond as a symbol of what they wanted to let go of that weekend. When each individual was ready, they cast their stone into the pond, some saying aloud or to themselves what it was they were ready to release. It was an emotional moment of reverence for everyone; tears were shed, and hugs were exchanged; my heart will not forget this special memory. 

CFR is always so inspiring, and the opportunity to help is something that we block off on our calendar each and every year. Joel has been a River Helper volunteer in the southern Oregon Casting for Recovery group since 2005; I’m so proud to be able to share this experience alongside him and with the gracious staff who works so diligently to provide such meaningful support for so many inspirational, brave souls. 

We all headed up to the lodge to clean off our equipment as stories of what we learned from the few hours with one another hung in the air beside big smiles and more hugs. After enjoying a final lunch together, it’s time for the well-deserved graduation ceremony! And folks, it’s a celebration that also brings tears and a warmth of team spirit that truly needs to be experienced by all. The details and connections that make CFR events what they are can not be described with words. If you have in your heart the inkling to get involved with such a nonprofit, I highly encourage you to do so. 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”- Sir Winston Churchill 

These words of truth summarize so much of what it is to volunteer, and we look forward to our next event together. 

Jennifer La Follette
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