I’m standing in the middle of a river. The water flows indigo blue, with a gentle current. It bends and twists through ancient fir trees and wild grasses. The air smells of tree sap and a wisp of campfire smoke.
Instead of taking in the beauty of this place, I’m focused on the tiny fly I’m trying to attach to my fishing line. The eye of the hook is so small I have to squint to see it. I’m annoyed because even once I manage to tie it on, I’m pretty sure it won’t catch any of the fish in this river. This is the fifth fly I’ve tried in this hole, all of which look exactly like the bugs the trout are eating, in my opinion. The fish seem to have a different opinion. They are rising, of course. They are all over the place, near my fly and even near me. They are damn near pissing me off.
This river flows out of an underground spring just upstream, which means the water is so cold I can’t feel my toes. I can, however, feel my growing frustration. I can’t tie a decent knot today, but my stomach is bound up like one. I can’t escape my own impatience, even though I carry no devices to beep, or tweet, or buzz me. I drove four long hours to get here. I find my mind drifting back to my daily office job with its relentless tasks, meaningless meetings, and faded and outdated tan fabric of cubicle walls. The window that taunts me with its freedom. Facing deadlines while dreaming of fly lines. Wait. Why am I thinking about the things I hate, while doing this thing I love?
Remember why you came here, I tell myself.
New thoughts rise over me like a hatch of fluttering mayflies. I came here to relax. To enjoy myself. To listen to the sounds of wildlife, breathe in the earthy scents, devour the stunning scenery. To soak up some sun. To laugh with my fishing buddies.
I also came here to catch fish. But this, I realize, is mostly an afterthought.
So I climb out of the river, rest my rod against the trunk of a fallen tree, and sit down next to it on the bank. I watch a pair of wood ducks float by on the current. I listen to trout rising for caddis flies, that gentle popping sound they make when their mouths just lightly break the water’s surface. I warm my feet in the sun. I watch a friend cast for a while, skillfully and elegantly, then hook and land a gorgeous rainbow trout. Something inside me releases as she gently unhooks the fish and lowers it below the surface. It darts swiftly back into the rocky depths, to safety.
That night I sit around the campfire listening to my friends’ stories. We talk about the catches of the day. About trout we landed today, and those we lost. About how we fell in love with fly fishing, with our partners, with this magical place. About survival skills in the woods, and coping skills for everyday life back home in the city. About the time our friend bought a tent at a garage sale only to get here and discover the poles were too short—but he slept in it all weekend, even though it was only three feet tall. All evening the whiskey keeps flowing, and so does the laughter. We pause only briefly, to listen to the yips and yowls of a lone coyote, just over the hill.
Later, snuggled in my sleeping bag, I’m drifting off to sleep to these soothing sounds. For a moment my emotions bubble up again, like hundreds of trout rising to the surface to feast on an evening hatch. In my mind I am standing in the water, watching the setting sunlight flicker on the current, feeling the river wrap itself around my legs like a gentle hug.
I didn’t catch a single fish today, but I don’t care. I’m no longer frustrated or annoyed. I’m relaxed and comfy, and I can feel my feet again.
Even more importantly, I can feel my heart again.