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.