September is behind us and the crisp October morning air has taken to painting leaves. For a fisherman, this is a somber and quiet time where memories of spring and summer intrude without warning leaving the fisher with a gratitude that will transform into longing when snow falls. Knowing this, it has become important for me to honor and punctuate the ending of a fishing season, a ceremony of thanks for the rivers, skies, herons, eagles, friendships, post fishing coffee outings, colorful fish, and moments of pure peace that found me in water.
This Fall, I have convinced my friend Art to let me organize an overnight float on one of our favorite rivers. A forecasted overnight temp of 29 degrees required that we dress and pack accordingly;winter bags in 3 season tents did the trick. I added an additional comfort for my sleeping satisfaction which included Hot Hands stuck in my socks, pants, hat and wherever else I could get them to stick close to my body. Hot coffee in front of a fire after a chilly night in the bag is a pleasure hard to describe and Art and I quietly colluded to stretch this activity out late into the morning. We decided a hot breakfast would be the pinnacle of delight and drove to the nearest restaurant treating ourselves to a full plate of eggs and bacon, a hot water soapy rinse in the diner bathroom and MORE coffee resulting in a late start on the river.
The river was high offering 4 sets of class 2/3 rapids consisting of waves that felt Hawaii “surfable” from the perspective of our tiny boats. The sound of this kind of water is a pulse raiser for both of us. We have a tendency to use caution when there is a potential for an injury consequence. So we both reel in for these sections and find our route through the waves avoiding the many boulders that can’t be seen until…well, when they are immediately in front of you. We learn that even 2 foot waves make it nearly impossible to see bad things that lurk behind them. We tackle the route together and meander our way through with nothing much to talk about other than the thrill of a little adrenaline.
The weather is 50 in the afternoon with a chilly breeze and a warming sun. Perfect for lunching. We take long pb&j breaks taking every opportunity to experience the combination of color, temperature, and light that are ever changing as the sun arches over the river throughout the day. Poking fun at each other and reliving memories of other trips this season are important past times that are slipped in between the currents.
At this point you may be wondering how the fishing was, I mean this is a post about a fishing trip, right? Additionally, the above telling of events seems to indicate that our fly lines spent more time spooled up tight rather than unfurled in water.
Well, the fishing was “what it was” and to spend any effort reporting on it further would be a distraction. The most important lesson I have learned this year was highlighted on this outing: whether it be mile 21 in the marathon, a slow/no fish day, a tough life transition…the way to find lasting meaning within the variable momentum of life is to accept and appreciate what things are for the moment. “It is what it is for now” was my mantra at many difficult points along the 26.2 journey. Some people are smart. They can read and practice Eastern philosophy and integrate this way of being without resisting it. Not me. I had to run a marathon, get skunked on the river repeatedly , and waste lots of energy before getting good at patience. Enjoy the extra moments for sipping and conversing with a friend (even when the fish are biting). Take time for the simple sensations that remind us of our primal selves (i.e. a warm mini tubby in the diner bathroom). All together, these moments are the path to realizing an empty net… full of uncrushable hope.
On a final note, if you are are a social scientist buff, you may be aware that there are markers that can sometimes indicate a pivotal shift toward a more “evolved” species, group, or society. In the fly fisherman niche, I think the following exchange would be a good marker of such a shift:
Fisherman #1: “Mornin’. Catch anything?”
Fisherman #2: “Yeah. Lots of fish, too many to count!”
Fisherman #1: “That stinks. Sorry to hear it…better luck next time”
It wasn’t until recently that I came to understand just how unfairly the decks are stacked against the trout that keep me out in waters beyond the point of reason; unyielding to hunger, discomfort, or lack of appropriate lighting. In fact, the specialness of water capable of supporting trout other than those raised and relocated by government entities is, sadly, an anomaly that is hard to truly comprehend unless you are in the business of science. For those of us who are not scientifically inclined, we may learn the value of healthy waters through our relationship with fish. Where are they? Why are they there? If they are there, then why aren’t they here? Learning to how find an audience for your fly is the obsessive (yet strangely soothing) mental troubleshooting that draws many of us to the past time of fly fishing. It is the fish that teach us… every failure, success, and unexplainable lucky happening.
And I wonder, what if I had never come to the water? How did I come to strike up a friendship with these trout? It was my Dad’s experience of fly fishing that brought me to the water. This is not a story of….”as a young girl, I remember long days on trouted ripples with my father, casting in seesaw like alternating rhythm. You, me, you, me”…nope. I just figured that if it was something my Dad spent his time doing, its probably something worth doing. So, on my own, I made my way to the water and began the process of figuring out how to get a fly somewhere it looked like it ought to be. And given modern culture, this is probably a common scenario. I mean, most of us don’t grow up with nightly fishing opportunities with our extended families at the trout stream down the road. If you are fortunate enough to live close to a water body that can support trout, it’s likely you live rurally which translates to 60 hour weeks at low paying jobs. So getting to the water in the company of a parent or influential adult is still an endeavor that requires planning and sacrifice. But, as my experience demonstrates, the absence of being engaged in the actual activity with that influential adult does not negate the influence of relationship. The simple act of dedicating attention to any given idea, activity, or belief has a legitimizing effect that can have profound influence on young people when conveyed in the context of a safe, predictable relationship, no matter how brief the exposure. It’s a sort of human version of “catch and release”.
This month, I was invited to attend a summer camp experience provided by the “Clean Water Healthy Trout Initiative”. This endeavor is an example of resources collaborating to capture and leverage the power of relationship in the lives of young people who may face socioeconomic challenges. Each organization brings a critical component to the project ultimately creating a pristine learning environment. The Copper Cannon Camp provides the habitat that is conducive to growth, understanding the unique needs and strengths of its population. Folks from the Ammonoosuc Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Plymouth State University, New Hampshire Fish and Game, and the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust are providing the relational context for instruction and introduction to all of the “goings-on” of rivers . All of these folks are providing the brief relational experiences that have the power to bring these campers to water’s edge at some point in their lives. Whether to cast with their first fly rod, to peer deep into a pool for a glimpse of a swimming fish, or to pause and conduct an amateur assessment of the water quality…these interactions have planted seeds that have the potential to influence future attention and behavior. And for some of the kids at camp this session, a seed may be the equivalent of a tree itself.
As a clinical mental health counselor, it is shown to me time and time again that it is often the most unexpected relationships that later reveal themselves to be catalysts for resilience in the lives of challenged youth. Next time you are compelled to inquire of a high achieving adult who faced serious challenges as a young person “How did you do it? How did you overcome the challenges of abuse, poverty, and neglect?” Don’t be surprised to hear them reply, “It was the lady who ran the cash register in the cafeteria…she winked at me every single day of 3rd grade and gave me double dessert on my birthday.”
I’m loving getting to new and complicated lines to fish in my Kodiak. The entire undertaking feels so effortless and non-lethal, I find myself nearly hypnotized when riding the river. Trouble is, it’s hard to be prepped for the hit in such a state of relaxation. And when some one does come knocking, it feels a little like being “pants-ed” in gym class: a BIG emergency. But,as the video demonstrates, even fisherwomen who are half asleep can catch a fish if allowed 3 shots at it!
I think half of being a flyfisher is a love for observation. Not just the changing weather or hatch clues, but the garages, the diners, and the pastoral relics that pepper the roads to water.
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