From the Oceans to the Rivers

| September 11, 2005

He started scuba diving in college when he was interested in a career in oceanography.

“I’d go cave diving up here in northeast Arkansas, but I don’t do that any more,” he says. “We’d go up to Norfolk Lake on the White River, and I’d scuba dive along the sand banks and gravel bottoms of the rivers, and the boys would come with me. They’d hold on to my tanks and come a little way with me, a few feet down, then pop back up to the top.”

Wilson’s daughters never missed out on the fun either. “The girls were always part of our outdoor life, scuba diving, cooking out, anything we did as a young family,” he says. “They still love being out with us. We have a big skeet shooting day at one of my sons’ place every year, a warm-up for our September dove hunt, and they are always part of that.”

In Hawaii, Wilson’s scuba diving took him 40 or 50 feet under water, which is “more like snorkeling,” he says. His deep sea fishing was tame, too, he says.

“I learned to do that in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast on vacations over the years, but I don’t get much of a chance any more,” he says. “So that’s something I made sure I got to do this year. These days, whenever I can manufacture a chance, I go. I learned last year that I had to take every chance I get.”

Last year, Wilson was diagnosed with melanoma (skin cancer), but he still managed to rack up 120,000 miles.

“I was lucky. I had a good surgeon, and now tests show I’m clear,” he says. “I went a round with cancer, and I beat it. But it taught me even more how valuable my family is, and it made Novembers even more important to me.

“Cancer gives you perspective. I’ll give you an example: time with my wife Opal has always been some of the best times in my life, and now the value of that time is sort of magnified, even more important.”

Wilson is part of a hunting club that leases 2,000 acres on the Strawberry River in northeast Arkansas, home to white tail deer, turkey, quail, predators (for hunting) and bald eagles (for watching). This is hardwood country, and the lease is alive with elms, oaks, pecans and other natural beauties.

The Strawberry River, one of the few free-flowing rivers in Arkansas, cascades out of the Ozark foothills in north central Arkansas and wanders to the southeast for almost 100 miles before merging with the Black River. It moves gently through some of the most beautiful foothills of the Ozarks, running a few miles east of the Ozark National Forest. At times in the summer, it is also a retreat from the heat with huge trees atop 100-foot high limestone bluffs sometimes overhanging and covering the water with a cool canopy of leaves. There’s a smallmouth bass fishery on the river, and the Wilsons fish stocked water.

“There have been days when we’ve caught 100 fish,” says Wilson. “They’re easy to catch, and its all catch and release. But it’s not numbers we’re after; it’s being out there with my friends and my family and catching fish. I don’t mind it being easy. Doesn’t diminish our enjoyment.”

In addition to hunting together, Bill and his boys, or sometimes just Bill and his friends, will fish from a log cabin on the White River at Calico Rock.

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