Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fishing spots

My dad bought me my own little fishing pole when I was barely big enough to hold on to it and then would watch with loving patience up on the bank to make sure I didn't fall in. So last night, when I discovered a forgotten little cherry rod during a recent clean up in the shed, I walked on down to the little lake that borders my property and sat on down for a spell.

I invite people I know through work or shooting who have grade school-age kids to come fish here on the tiny little body of fresh water right behind my house or on nearby park waters. Many have taken me up on the opportunity. It's a safe, quiet place, where the kids can fish while the adults wait "safely in the jeep", as they used to say on Wild Kingdom, with a cold ice tea or beer, listening to the laughter of kids used to city homes, tiny yards. It's a quiet spot away, for just a moment, from the exhaustive clamor of the city. It's appreciated and they often reciprocate by doing something to help me around my place. Though I appreciate the thanks, just the wide smile of a kid who has caught his first "big" fish is all the thanks any of us might need.

As I walked down to the water tonight, the sun was setting, leaving wisps of lavender ribbons across the sky; clouds moving up from the Plains, wispy strands through which I could glimpse was the phase of the moon.. The bobber moved slightly, a fish, or the wind? I saw one huge fin slicing the water when I first moved in; it was either a giant carp or Nessie. I was tempted to jerk the line, to see what I had, but I waited. This is what patience is all about, being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that's unfolding, rather than yank up the line to see what's at the other end. Patience is what I needed. I've been going full tilt for so long that when it all pulled into one moment of pain, I realized I needed to take a break. That's why, as I sat, I prayed for some quiet, I prayed for acceptance and patience. Patience isn't stressed, it isn't unhappy, its a steady strength we apply to each experience we face, be it life showing it's fangs, or a quiet weekend in a simple household.

As I waited, the call of what sounded like a loon brought me back into the moment and I thought about all the things I needed to do at home. Iron clothes in prep for a couple days on the road while I'm a guest speaker at some conference, cook dinner, call Dad and Tam back. And I stopped. "Can you hear that?" I whispered to Barkley, sitting by my side, tail wagging, poised to strike in case I reeled in a slab of hickory smoked bacon. "That" being the sound of a small bass jumping on a small span of water on a planet spinning through space.This is what fishing is all about, not catching anything, not putting a meal on the table, but for me, like flying a little tailwheel airplane, simply a time with nature to be savored when the whole body is one sense with the water and delight imbibes through every pore with the gossamer cast of a line. I really don't care if I catch anything, frankly, I'm not that enamored with that part of it, I just enjoyed the communion of elemental waters.

The crickets began their chorus to usher in the night, and the note of the sparrow is borne on the wind from over the water. And from the waters edge, a salamander crawled out, that traveler of both the water and the land, equally at home in both. We're all born of water, as we emerge from the watery landscape of the womb, we discover we can breathe, and we leave behind the comforting water world of our mother's body, to become searchers of the land, seekers of adventure. What caused that first being to emerge from the womb, from the water of life? The pull of nature, or something more primal? There was a Disney movie of a redheaded mermaid, half human, half fish, who gave up the freedom of her watery home for the love of a man. What is that primal urge that drives us out and up, away from our comfortable origins to a land that can often be dry and barren? Perhaps we simply leave the water searching for that love.

As the last of the daylight seeped back into the sky, I thought back to what has been troubling me, but only briefly, for my mind now, like the lake, is rippled but not ruffled. These small ripples of water raised by the evening's wind are only a hint of turmoil in a slowly calming stream. As the day pulled out of the sky taking the wind with it, I cast back out into the now still center of the pond, the moment causing me to hold in my breath. There it was. Utter and complete stillness. I wanted to hold my breath, because even inhaling and exhaling was like a cacophony. The trees were absolutely quiet, the animals of day hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures not yet stirring. There was no breeze, no recognition of air even; it was the sound of nothing and everything. It felt like all life…and my future…and beyond was contained in one space, and I was not just casting into it, I was part of it. It's one of the most peaceful coherent moments I've experienced. A heavenly spot of time.

Poets talk about "spots of time," but its only been flying and on the water where I've experienced eternity compressed into a moment. A moment where in an instant you can see your whole life and make a choice. No one can even explain to you what this "spot of time" is until your whole horizon is a fish and then the fish is gone. I thought of one salmon off in the great North. I shall remember that fish when I'm an old lady. After fighting him until my arms groaned, I brought him up. For a moment, I saw the sun glinting off his 30 pound back, rainbow diamonds of light dazzling my eyes. I was so enamored of him I couldn't even take a breath and in that instant before he was gone, line snapped, it seemed as if time had stumbled. Then as the clock picked itself up again, I looked at the bare expanse of water while others patted me on the back, consoling me and urging me to try again. Only then did it hit me what it was that I had lost.

I thought back to fly fishing in Gunnison while I went back to Colorado to visit family, watching the fly fisherman standing, rod in hand, in the rushing water making the most beautiful movements, a ballet of line and wind and hook. A ritual of the chase, the cast like a tease to the unsuspecting trout, placid in their world, until he pulled them into his. As the trout took the bait, the man would smile, that quick knowing smile, and pull with a quick flick of his fingers and hands, like lightstrokes on a keyboard, and plant the hook. Then after reeling the trout in, he gently pulled the hook from the mouth, gently cradling the fish in his hand as a way of speaking his peace. Without a sound and a quick unemotional tickle of her belly, he said goodbye to her as she headed back downstream.

Catch and release.

With my house fading into shadow, darkness falling, I decided to head back. I didn't catch anything, my true catch was as intangible and indescribable as the twilight playing on the water. I think of what Thoreau said "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after". For to fish is to flirt, with dancing water and surging life, warm lips to cool water, we reach for a transparent kiss of the unknown. We willingly bite the secret barb, to be brought to shore barely breathing, gasping up into somewhere unknown, searching upward to catch a glimpse of who it was that wanted us.

Tonight I have no choice but to pull the hook of that fly out of my lips and swim away safely downstream.

Catch and release.


  1. Thank you to B.B. and clan for letting me share your picture of that great fish caught.

  2. Beautifully put.

    When I get a chance to fish, there's a moment at some point where I'll involuntarily take a deep breath and then let it out. Seems like everything just unwinds at that point.

    Happens every time.

  3. My youngest son and I go fishing at every available opportunity. We don't catch much, but then again it's not about the fish, is it?
    Welcome back.

  4. I've not read anything that moving in Field & Stream, nor any other book or publication. Your gift for enrapturing the reader is truly a wonder.

    And thank you for that moment out of time, when I experienced the stillness with you.

    (Nessie? Heh.)

  5. Times are tough. Especially for a small town concrete contractor. With no stimulus package coming my way, I listed my little fishing boat for sale a couple days ago. I read this post, and immediately called and cancelled that ad. I need more, not less of what you just wrote of. steve

  6. Insight often only comes when we are still.

    Thanks for the reminder. Thanks for sharing your still moment with us.

  7. Next you're in Gunnison, visit Ed over at the Tomichi Trail Inn. He's my buddy's dad - retired Cook Co. Sheriff who took us to all the best spots on a few occasions.

    I so love Gunnison... I feel like I could spend eternity in the West Elk Mts...


  8. As they say, even a bad day fishing is better than a good day just about anywhere else.

    I'm working on the boat right now. It's been out of the water much too long since we moved to the desert.

  9. I think you should be submitting things like this to In-Fisherman magazine. Every issue has a tail end article in it along these lines called "Reflections."

  10. Brigid,

    You are welcome and thanks for putting such a beautifully written post with it.

    A youngster thrilled at catching a fish is a great reward.

  11. I loved this post!!! I take at least one of my grandchildren fishing a couple times a week.
    BUT-- that picture of the Beaver on floats was a mind blower!! I just within the last hour came in from flying mine!! Well, it only has a 9' span and a OS Max 5 cylinder radial, but it is ALMOST as much fun as climbing into a full sized one!! Come on out, I'll let you fly it! Best to you, Everett

  12. From one who recently discovered the joy of fishing, I truly enjoyed this post. thanks!

    The beauty of it is, when you are hooked by the author of eternity you will never want to be released again.

  13. God knows you need the break, Brigid, but we miss your writting when you're gone. Check in on us once in a while......


  14. Hello Lass,

    Being from Arizona, I haven't done that much fishing. It takes more than a day to get anywhere, where the fishing is good, but I have done enough fishing to be able to have shared some of the feelings you talk about.
    Believe it or not my medium for experiencing "...eternity compressed into a moment..." has been on horseback, all over this state, especially in the Gila Wilderness. I too have been going full tilt for too long. Thanks for the reminder, and the refreshing pause. At 7:04 p.m. I am still at work. The pause your piece provided is enough to give myself permission to head for home. The work will still be here tomorrow.

    Take care Lass.

  15. Of recreation there is none
    So free as fishing is, alone;
    All other pastimes do not less
    Than mind and body, both possess:
    My hand alone my work can do;
    So I can fish and study too.

    - Isaac Walton, The Compleat Angler

    If you're ever in England, Winchester Cathedral is worth a visit. Not only is it amazing as a Cathedral, but it has a chalep devoted to Walton, who is buried there.

    And I also recommend The Half Moon pub in the village Windlesham, on the way back to London. They (used to) keep Old Peculiar on tap.

  16. Am I the only one who read the metaphor?

  17. You shoulda seen the sunburn I got the other day when the Monkeys twisted my arm and made me take them to the ditch-pond and go fishing! Silly me, I forgot the sunscreen, then I forgot to watch the time, and before you know it I was fried!

    I have more fun fishing with my Monkeys...we love catchin' bluegill!


  18. I haven't fished in years but there have been many times I have been tempted to get a rod and just put a sinker under a bobber and sit there and daydream or sort things out without being disturbed, not even by the fish.

    Another beautiful story, well written and thought provoking but tell me....given his history, how did you keep Barkley out of the water?

  19. The beauty of your writing, your ear for it, your love of it, your eye for stark truth in it, leaves me (almost) wordless and in wonder how another can see the memories that remain visible, but silent in me.

    Thank you, friend.ofa

  20. Fishing is one of life's greatest pleasures. My son and daughter and I enjoy every chance we get.

    Catch and release so wonderfully described. Thanks again for a great post.

  21. Here I sit, foot tapping, while I wait for your book.
    Beautiful writing. Thanks.

  22. Linked you up today at ThunderTales. Great stuff!

  23. Brigid, I grew up less than a quarter mile from Barkley Lake in Ky. Your beautiful writing brought back memories of my dad, papaw, and cousins fishing and just sharing family time. I am currently working the kingfish tournament here in Jacksonville, Fl and we had the Junior Anglers tourney on Tuesday. 200+ kids, sixteen or under, taken out on a boat under adult supervision and just let to fish. While most of the kings were 14 pounds or under we did have a few in the 30 pound range. A king that size can be longer than the kid catching it is tall. Short version, out of the 200+ kids, every one was grinning ear to ear whether they caught a big one or not. Thanks for the memories.

  24. Someone commented on a previous post that you should write a book. And their right. Your "Philosophical" writing would be a good thing for more people to read.

  25. Brigid,
    You make your readers a part of your work by stealing their hearts and enfolding them into the scenes envisioned. Great writing and emotional entrancing, as always.

  26. Welcome back darlin' girl,

    The Gunnison, the Lake Fork, the Williams Fork, the Yampa...and the big rivers...The Colorado, North and South Platte, the Rio Grande and the Arkansas...all of the watersheds whose headwaters rise out of the Colorado Rockies make for fine fishing.

    You might want to pick up one of John Gierach's tomes on fly-fishing...My favorite to date is:
    "Standing in the River Waving a Stick."

    As for "catch and release"...I am back in Tucson. Mom died Friday night. She was ready. It was time.

    I have cobbled together a lil' memorial write over at Elegant Dust:
    ( God bless her journey.

    As to life and fishing, I still believe Norman McClean said it best in the last few paragraphs of his novella, "A River Runs Through It"


    "Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.

    Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fisherman in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not stare fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a fourt-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

    Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it, The river was cut by the world's great flood and runns over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

    I am haunted by waters.

  27. Brigid- I just wanted to say that I read many blogs but yours has become my favorite. It is difficult to put feelings and emotions into words. You do it VERY well. Thank you.

  28. When a select few friends and I just have to get away from Byzantium-on-the-Potomac, we head for the North Carolina outer banks. Tuna off Hatteras area.

    Just to be on the open ocean with friends, and away from D.C. is enough. The tuna are extra, albeit tasty. Got some out of the freezer for lunch today. And I will re-live the trip.

  29. Thank you m'dear for another wonderfully-written piece - and a reminder to slow down a bit every now and again. As I wrote earlier -and anonymously (before figuring out I can use my nom de guerre/plume) - take your breaks when you need them and we'll be waiting here for you.
    This latest piece reminds me why when I "fish" I don't put a hook on the end of my line ...

  30. "Tonight I have no choice but to pull the hook of that fly out of my lips and swim away safely downstream."

    Life is full of hooks, some meant for harm, some carelessly left dangling in the water and some with someone attached at the other end that is in need of what you have to offer. I pray that one day there will be a hook that you gladly and willingly allow. You are much to precious to be...unattached.

  31. Ah, mermaids...I once knew all the tales - so to speak.

    Sadly, tho, the original story holds that whilst human every step she took to be with her love was matched with the pain of walking on knives.

    No thing in this world comes clean or free. And I've never forgotten that story...

  32. Here in Florida, the really big fish ride Miami's mass transit system. :)

  33. It's the latter part of the evening here, Brigid ... but your words took me years and miles away. The task for your words was effortless ... as I seem to be well in tune with your writing. Like you, catch and release is preferable ... but I think that metaphorical hook will stay ... invisible, perhaps ... for a very long time.

    Thank you for blessing us with the gifts of your soul, Brigid.


  34. How amazing that "as lovely as always" fits your writing so well.

    I loved Barkley's cameo. Made me chuckle.

  35. Laura - yes. Thank you for the lovely note. Hope you and the Trooper are well.

  36. A wonderful post. I wish you continued safe swimming ... and may you one day joyfully find and accept the right fly!

  37. There I was. Just reading along and "feeling" your words. Then I scrolled down far enought, and there it was.

    The Beaver.

    So many memories came flooding back that I took a little break, closed my eyes, and listened to the echos in the recesses of my memories.

    Sitting on the shores of unnamed lakes, at the end of the day, in Labrador, waiting for the pickup. Hearing the roar of that big radial engine as the low pass was made to locate us and our canoe. Canoe lashed between the floats, rock samples packed in the back, and then the pound of the engine again as we climbed out for the trip back to camp. Just to do it all over again the next day.

    Days fogged in, so far back into the Ungava that we weren't sure where we were, and even the Beaver not sure where it was. Watching the still waters, and waiting for that sound that won't come that day.

    Waiting on the banks of rivers in the Northwest Territories, listening for the sound that only that engine can make. The workhorse bringing supplies in and drill core back out. Even trade... :-)

    Swatting flies at sundown, on the island in a big lake in the James Bay Lowlands, waiting for that magic sound.

    That image brought back wonderful memories three and four decades old. That time before GPS. Just old maps, older photos and seat-of-the-pants bush pilots.

    Thank-you for your insightful writing. Thank-you for making one take the time to think and consider.

    But a BIG thank-you for the unexpected trip back in time. Funny what that particular plane means to so many.

  38. Really odd that I have three brothers and two sisters, and of all of us I was the only one who, as a child, expressed any interest at all in fishing.

    So I was the lucky one when my Dad decided to go down to Barnegat Bay in NJ and rent a boat to go fishing for flounder. Your words brought back memories of floating there on the still waters, my Dad and I leaning back to back to relieve the stress of sitting for so many hours.

    But that "Utter and complete stillness." didn't come until years later when I was bass fishing, sitting on the bank, line in the water. I leaned back to look at the brillian blue sky dotted by huge white clouds, and became mesmerized by the stillness and beauty.

    And suddenly I fell up into the clouds!

    Your beautiful words brought back so many such memories of fishing moments, many of them surf fishing along the craggy shores off Pescadero and Half Moon Bay, CA.

    Thank you, my dear, for sharing so incredibly brilliantly the most precious experiences and memories of life that one needs to hold onto for comfort and healing during life's other unpleasant times of stress and duress.

  39. Fishing is a great pastime. I seem to remember somewhere about a comment made of a retiring judge who oversaw juvenile cases. His comment was that in the 4 decades of his sitting on the bench, he could not recall a single case where the defendant was involved in fishing. I think it was in a foreward of one of Col. Whelan's books, but I may be mistaken.

    Fishing give you great time for introspective thought (much like sitting on stand). How life is going, the peaks and valleys. Good for the soul.

    Love to see and feel that flash of bronze scales and sudden pull of line when that largemouth hits the lure - thats a good adrenaline rush in my book.

    I miss some of those old fishing writers of years past. Ted Trueblood had a fine talent - his columns in Field and Stream were my go-tos when I received magazine.

  40. Kendra - you are very welcome.

    Yoop - ah yes, the glorious Beaver on floats. That photo was taken about 20 years ago when I took a leave from work and college classes and went to Alaska to visit a friend and bum around for a while in airplanes. Married a bush pilot from Texas. Not exactly what I'd planned. :-) That summer changed my life, for good and for tragic, but many many memories there.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..