Belonging to an outdoor writing organization means more than meetings, meals, seminars and, hopefully, awards for excellence. It's a gathering of individuals with a common love of the outdoors, a desire to share their knowledge with others and a true concern for one another's welfare. I found comfort, solace and support when I least expected it.

I have never had a memory anyone would be jealous of. Even as a kid I was absent-minded and constantly forgetting things.

This was caused by, I believe, my active mental state. Different thoughts were always running through my mind and one thought seemed to drive out another. My inquiring mind simply couldn’t hold onto one thought long enough to remember it unless, of course, it involved hunting and fishing. When it came to the outdoors my memory was foolproof. Other people with less faith in me might have thought I was so forgetful for less flattering reasons, which I will not relate.

Two Fridays ago I was ready to depart for camp, dressed in camo, car filled with more than I would ever use, when my eye happened to land upon the most recent Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association newsletter. A faint bell tinkled in the deeper recesses of my mind and I picked it up, glanced at the yearly conference schedule and jumped 2 feet straight up in the air.

Holy cow! Registration and the opening dinner began at 6 p.m. THAT DAY in Franklin, Pa.!

I glanced at my watch: 3:30. Panicked, I quickly made a motel reservation, changed, filled a suitcase and jumped in the car. Good grief, what a shock!

The ride went smoothly until I hit Franklin and just two minutes from the Quality Inn the traffic was gridlocked; a power line had fallen across the highway and things were at a standstill. I dodged around back streets, made it to the motel, checked in, but traffic simply wasn’t moving outside. It seemed impossible to reach the Venango County Fairgrounds in time for dinner. At 6:15 p.m. I unpacked, then walked down to my car for other items and noticed the traffic actually began moving. Jumping into the car, a quick start and sneaky dodge into traffic between two 18 wheelers allowed me to arrive for dinner by 6:30. Luckily, it was a buffet and soon my plate was heaped with delicious food.

It was great to see old friends and catch up on their lives, writing, hunting and fishing. At 8 p.m. it was time for the board meeting, my first as a recently elected member. It was held at the Franklin, originally a club for young men home from college. The Queen Anne-style home was built in 1877 by Richard Terrell and the ornate oak woodwork, beautiful furnishings, spacious rooms and high-ceilinged ballroom hearkened to the splendor of those oil-rich days in Franklin.

Breakfast at 7 a.m. and the day’s meetings commenced at 8 and ran to noon. We heard some fascinating details on chronic wasting disease from Dr. Wayne Laroche, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s director of wildlife management and special assistant for CWD control. Also speaking was Dr. Kevin Brightbill of the state Department of Agriculture.

Both men went over in detail the state’s attempts to control the disease, monitor and controlling game-farm deer, hunting preserve whitetails and any other organization that receives or could move whitetails across state lines.

The good news is that as far as science can determine, CWD has no ill effects on humans. CWD can be passed from deer to deer by touch, feces, contaminated liquids, the ground itself around licks and other communal areas deer may frequent. Though cases are few so far, the disease can spread rapidly and is a cause for concern.

Another very interesting session came from John Kline, a lobbyist intimately involved in all issues regarding hunting, fishing and firearms. Many of our lawmakers are good people with grounded and reasonable ideas and respect for people and the Constitution. Others are way out there and we as citizens need to vote and voice our opinions. Our democracy works best when everyday folk speak out and don’t become discouraged by the poor stuff pedaled on TV.

Since every columnist dreams of writing a book, POWA member Mike Klimkos presented a fascinating talk on using Amazon Create Space to guide those interested. The program is very concise, walks you along, asks you questions you never would have even considered and all in all is probably the most comprehensive instructions any author could wish. You may also publish your work on Amazon for very reasonable rates and order either small or large numbers of books. I was very impressed by his talk.

Lunch was served at the Sandy Creek Conservancy, a lovely sporting center with rifle, skeet, trap and sporting clays ranges. Sandy Creek flows through the property as well and several of us were able to spend some time trout fishing. I landed a nice brown and rainbow, but lost a beauty around 14-inches long after a spirited battle. The water was up and the spunky trout used the fast current to work the hook free after quite a tussle. Linda and Bob Steiner brought archery equipment as well and many enjoyed their instruction.

After the business meeting following lunch we met again at the Franklin for the awards banquet. Here, articles submitted from 2017 have been judged by an impartial panel not directly connected to the POWA. Everyone who enters hopes to win a handsome category plague and the cash award associated with it.

The first category was best newspaper column. When the runner up was announced my name was called. I walked up to the podium to accept my award and was turning to leave when Brad Isles, the emcee, told me to wait. Puzzled I stopped and was stunned to hear, “To the End,” an article about my late wife’s struggle with cancer intermingled with fishing memories, had taken first place as well! I was overwhelmed and a little shocked.

Then, Jane’s photo included in the winning article flashed up on the screen and the honor, the sudden picture of my love without time to raise my defenses when so vulnerable, overwhelmed me. I broke down in tears, a knotting lump in my throat, sobs wrenching me. I sat slumped in my seat unable to control the depth of my emotions for I swear Jane had stood beside and hugged me on the stage.

When the wracking sobs subsided and I could once again hold up my head, breathe and talk normally as compassionate faces looked with concern upon me. Later firm hugs and kind words once again brought tears welling up. Gazing across the tables filled with my fellow writers I contemplated these fine men and women, who are dedicated to the outdoors and conservation of our animals, streams and forests, with appreciation. But more than that, they were my good friends just as eager to help me deal with a crippling loss, which has left a huge gap in my life, as to fight for the outdoor life they love.

The 2018 POWA conference wasn’t simply about education and improving our craft, excellent meals and awards for the fortunate, it was a gathering of caring hearts and minds in whose company I found healing, solace and peace.

(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is