Sunday, March 26, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Thursday, March 16, 2017
The great German speaking poet, Rainer Maria Rilke concluded one of his poems with the statement, “I need to change my life.” The line comes out of nowhere. It is a powerful conclusion and a proclamation stating a frustration with life that emanates from the poets own inner being. And it also strikes a chord deep inside my soul.
I wonder if this sense of wanting my life to change in some deep manner is simply a part of the existential human condition. Is it normal to struggle with angst, meaninglessness and the feeling that life remains unfulfilled? It seems to me that no matter what I obtain and no matter how much success I achieve there is still something elusive that remains just out of casting range of the rivers I fish. There is always the fish that gets away.
My fly fishing world of river, rock and sky, provides a wonderful place for me to wrestle with these questions and the existential struggles of life. My guess is that there are many people out there who at least feel some of the frustration and want their life to change. However, I think many remain silent. After all, aren’t we supposed to be happy and fulfilled? But suppose if we are not?
I prefer not to pretend and just go along and smile. I, like the poet, want to make that proclamation, “I need to change my life.” I want to change my life and take steps to make that happen, even if I do not know the first step. Perhaps, I can at least start by saying a firm no, to those paths I intuit as being a distraction.
Forget therapy. Forget the pills. I don’t need a drink. Forget all the electronic connections I can make via the social media world. And I don’t need to go to church.
Sometimes, I just need to stand on the banks of a river and cast, even knowing that some fish will always elude me.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
It was cold in South Park on the Dream Stream looking for big fish. Felt cold with each step as we walked along the fence down to the river. Or maybe it was not all that cold; But rather we were not that tough anymore.
We started talking about our younger days. Jim at 79 recalled a picture of his youth. He told me how surprised he was at how muscular he appeared as though he did not recognize himself. He said, “I never knew how strong I was back then.”
We walk on. My old knee injury aching as I ponder.
I (about to turn 57) shared with Jim how when I look back over the past decades, sometimes I am not quite able to recognize myself. I feel confused as to who I was at various stages of my life but not just physically; It was more. How I thought, what I believed, how I related to others and how I acted.
Who was that back then? Who was that younger man walking the Dream Stream with stronger strides and confident hope (and sometimes arrogance) of catching fish.
The wind picks up from the north and chills our fingertips even while wearing big ski mittens. The cold wind bites through us and intimidates. I am not feeling very confident of enduring the cold, let alone trying to make a good cast to a large finicky trout.
Over the wind, Jim paraphrases a quote by Rohr, “You need to remember who you were before you became you.” Before I became me? What was he talking about? Jim and I have a way of talking about such deep things when we fish.
Who was I before I became me? Maybe I need to think of the young man I was in innocence before life and the world hardened me and wore me down. Who was I before I put on various masks, that have now grown old and brittle and fallen off.
We step into the chilly river with ice along the edges. We make some casts and drifts as I daydream back to my youth and a pond where I taught myself to fly fish.
As a child, I remember in solitude walking the pond and casting to large fish forever hopeful that a fish would take my fly. Forever hopeful; in spite of being ignored for hours without a turn of a fish. I can almost remember the intensity of that hope as I watched the beautiful forms moving below the surface. The intense longings for not only the fish, but for love, meaning, and connection. An intensity that told me I was alive.
A longing of such intensity that I now wonder, if such hope, like a prayer, can turn not only a fish, but also, even the heart of God.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Emily Dickinson once compared herself to being like a Robin in “humble circumstance.” Emily felt small and unknown. With only several of her poems published in her lifetime, she never achieved status, renown, or popularity.
Was this lack of status Emily’s choice? Was it her destiny? What is interesting is that captured in Emily’s poetry is the belief that the angels had something to do with her lack of status and her humble circumstance. She projected this belief to the Robins she saw in her garden when she wrote, “Angels have a modest way to screen robins (and apparently her) from renown.” Whether this is true or not, it seems that Emily felt as though the angels were screening her. Did some angel conspire with her in some manner offering to guard her from gaining popularity? Did the angel screen her from becoming a renowned poet in her lifetime? Was this the price or sacrifice asked of her, and/or that she demanded of herself, that would allow her to remain in a place of humble circumstance, and perhaps the only place she would be able deliver her deepest and most passionate poetry to the world? Certainly, Emily would not be the first gifted individual who felt the need to remain free from the limelight.
Did Emily genuinely fear that popularity would spoil her and take something away from her message? Did the angel, perhaps her guardian angel, continually warn her, screen her, protect her, and sustain her in her solitude and innermost being, so she could live an austere life writing her poems? Or, was she simply neurotic as can be true of many gifted artists?
What about us? What about us more down to earth, common folks who will most likely not leave behind a profound legacy in any form. Can an ordinary individual such as me still have a similar experience of feeling screened away from most of society to protect and enrich my unique life message? Or, am I neurotic and crazed with a special touch of vanity? Perhaps if someday I can leave a humble legacy that speaks to even only a few people, is that not of infinite value to society. Emily also said, “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. . . or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
I know my humble life as a fly fishing guide is not worthy of being considered renown in any manner, yet, when I read Emily’s prose and her life story, and consider my life experiences, I wonder if in some small way, I’ve been screened from success and recognition. How could I as a child fishing alone at a pond and teaching myself to fly fish think all that highly of myself when there was no one around to validate or recognize me? There were no pictures; no handshakes or ‘high fives’ when I landed fish. And, certainly nothing was ever posted on the internet for everyone to see.
I often felt that in the few areas of life where I achieved a certain level of success; fly-fishing being one of them, the level of achievement and what I truly had to share, came about because of my lack of popularity in mainstream culture and from a feeling of remaining in humble circumstance. I rarely felt highly successful (there is always someone of greater renown and catches bigger and more fish!), and perhaps, this humble awareness was the only place I felt comfortable. So, in the end, what I have to leave others, (if I have anything to leave at all?), is the humble solitary path I once walked to the pond.
Yet, in spite of this humble path, I realize I have done my share of boasting and feeling proud of certain achievements. And I know I often tried to find paths that gave me recognition. Yet, mysteriously, there were limits, a type of screening and sometimes, things seemed even to back fire. Even while successful, there was often a sense that I would not be able to feel too highly of myself, because if I were honest with myself, I had to admit that at times I was simply lucky?
All too often, it seemed that life events tumbled down the river. While gazing off, suddenly a fish found itself on the end of my line (and I knew it was not my talent as an angler). Or, while feeling proud of how well I was fishing, the currents suddenly knocked me off my feet into a hole and I know I looked quite silly. It seemed that just when I may have thought I was the best at something such as in fly-fishing, or any number of endeavors, something would happen that would cause me to fall back into humble circumstance. Sometimes, while feeling grandiose, and stalking a fish, I lost my balance and literally fell backwards in the river. Did the angels have their way of screening me and laugh? Did the angels have a way with the fish and laugh at me? Did both fish and angel work together to keep me in humble circumstance? I doubt such falls from our hubris are posted for our fans to see.
Like many fly-fishers, sometimes I can hook fish after fish and I enjoy showing off. It is hard to feel of humble circumstance while actively successful in fly-fishing and everyone is asking, “What are you using?” Yet, I fail to tell the whole story. Often there was some other angler across the river, (who I did not want to notice), who was doing just as well; or even better than I was. Or, the next day I might return to the same spot in hope of repeating the performance only to learn the fish will not touch anything I cast. I try every fly and technique but nothing works. I try even harder but I cannot turn a fish. Something seems to “screen me” and I fall back into “humble circumstance.” I realize that on any given day, anyone, including the fish, can out fish me. Being a renowned fly fisher is only an illusion inside my own head.
If this is true, that angels, or life or what we call God, has anything to do with screening me from renown, then I ask why this might be important. Surely, God has better things to do than to keep me humble. At the very least, for me, if I am going to view myself of being of humble circumstance (which is not easy to do in this culture, since it wants to make everyone popular! ), then in that lowly place, I might learn to pay attention to some of the deeper currents of my life. If I can come down from the high place from which I often cast and learn to pay attention to the “bigger” life around me, and of others, then, I might truly learn to live in humble circumstance. Then and only then, I shall not live in vain.
If our lives are a story, song, or poem for others, then from that place of more humble circumstance I might deliver my best life poetry, offering up the best parts of my life story, and be able to make the best casts to fish and people in my life.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
We knew the big fish were not up from 11 mile reservoir but that also meant the crowds were not here yet. Why fish anywhere else when we could wander the meanders of the Dream Stream in relative solitude, in search of big trout under such a surreal sky?
The sky teaches me that I am not all that important and my all too often demanding ego can settle down. Feeling small allows me to simply wander, consider my insignificant place among the natural world and to not even care about catching fish.
Why would I want to hold up my small catch (of any fish, no matter how big) against this vast sky?