The walk to the stream
I try not to get too zen about fly fishing. There's already too much of that stuff around (The Dharma of Dry Flies, The Satori of Steelhead). Even so, I can see how some guys get that way. The elements of the pastime--streams, currents, nature, sky--lend themselves a little too easily to reflection and metaphor.
In his wonderful essay Everything that Rises, Everything that Flies, the author and fly fisherman Ted Leeson notes that the surface of the water is a border between two worlds: the world of the air and sky, where we reside, and the mysterious watery world of fish with its depths and currents, a world the fisherman can only imagine. Leeson writes,
A drifting fly is a series of questions inscribed on the surface: "Are the trout here?" "Have I alarmed them?" "Does the fly pattern resemble something that belongs in this place?"-- in short, "Have I accurately inferred the principles by which the river works?"It's an understanding that doesn't last long. The next run or pool creates a new mystery. Even walking to a stream is an exercise in expectation and imagination: what's going to happen today? I was at a catch and release stream one day last spring and was so struck by the walk to the water that I snapped the photo above.
At the instant of the take, the boundary of the surface is shattered. Hidden things are disclosed. We have tempted a separate world to reveal itself to us, to our eyes and our imaginations. The take is the visual analog of the answered question, a curiosity satisfied, the visible confirmation that we have, if only locally and temporarily understood some small thing...
The trout stream lies just beyond those early spring trees that have yet to leaf out. The grass, however, has already been greened by sun and snow melt. The first few yellow Celandine have shown up, too. Spring, new life, a day of fishing ahead. Tell me that doesn't reek with metaphor.
On Monday I return to classes after four months of sabbatical. The next few days are a different kind of walk to the stream. I wish I could channel the twelve-year-old kid's giddiness I get walking up to a trout stream to returning to the classroom. Fishing is only a form of play and teaching is...? Well, what? I hate to admit it but after 25 years it's become a job, one that seldom provokes the mystery of what's going to happen? I pretty much know.
Damn, I've really got to figure out how to get the "play" back into it. It's still a long way to retirement.