Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Call of the Beguiled - A Brigid Guest Post

The sun was setting, leaving wisps of lavender ribbons across the sky; clouds moving up the mountains, strands through which I could see the last phase of the moon. The bobber moved slightly, a fish, or the wind? I had seen one huge fin slicing the surface of the water, it was either a big carp or Nessie. I was tempted to jerk the line, but I waited. This is what patience is all about, being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that's unfolding, rather than yanking the line to see what's at the other end. Patience is good. I've been going full tilt for so long that it's time.

I learned to fish, up here on the Gray's river, within eyesight of an old wooden covered bridge that's still here today. The waders and equipment are still stored in Dad's garage if the urge to go out on the water, arises. Steelhead fishing isn't for the impatient, or the truly hungry, for we would come home without a fish more times than with.

I've had more than one female friend say"  "Aren't you bored?"
Then there was the salmon fishing,  early mornings in the back of a boat, making the treacherous trip across the Columbia River Bar, glad we went with a more expensive ride out to sea, rather than the one handed dude with a boat named "Roll of the Dice". On such trips, we usually brought home a fish but that was after being drenched with water that shot up against the bow like a geyser, the colors of the sea's rainbow glittering on the hull, as only slow deliberate movements are made, lest one get tossed into a white, hissing eternity.

I've fished both saltwater and freshwater salmon, the freshwater moving in from the oceans of their life into the rivers to spawn. There's nothing like it, that fixed spot in space when you think maybe you've snagged a rock on the bottom and suddenly the whole bottom begins to move and shake and you've got a freight train on your line. While your vision is clouded with bacon wrapped salmon and the hickory smell of the smoker firing up, your muscle memory is having a boxing tournament with a fish as big as a 3 year old, jumping out of the water, dancing on his tail like a washed out celebrity, then diving back into the water.

The male salmon is, as they say, all show and no roe, cocky and overambitious, The female, though, not inclined to bite, when she does will liein with a heavy and placid stubbornness that begs you to start something. Like arguing with any female of strength and persuasion you had either be prepared for a long drawn out test of will or simply get out the scissors, cut the line and admit THAT was a mistake

Bored? Never.
Patience isn't stressed, rushed; it is a steady strength we apply to life as we face it, be it staff to train, forms in quadruplicate or aging parents. As I waited, the call of a loon brought me back into the moment and I thought things happening back at home, rather than why I came here. And then the sound of it reminded me. "Can you hear that?" I whispered to the old dog sitting by my side, poised to strike in case I reeled in a pound of 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 for supper, but simply a time with nature to be savored, when delight imbibes through every pore with the gossamer cast of a line. I really don't care if I catch anything tonight. I just enjoyed the communion of elemental waters.
This is why I hated the modern version of camping. Huge motor homes, where roughing it means doing without ESPN. Neighbor's closer than found in any subdivision. My camping was a fire built with magic and swear words, burned wienies and good beans, wood smoke and bug spray, paper plates that fell apart. My camping was the sound of a hoot owl as the sun sets, itw dying rays reflected in a cup of beer as a black lab snoozed happily by the fire. I'm here, for those times when I don't wish to sacrifice the wonder of the present moment to work, society or noise. A loner always, I want a broad margin to my life. I can sit in the fading sunlight of a doorway between two trees from dinner til dark fall, rapt in a revere in undisturbed stillness and solitude.

As dusk settles in, I wonder about the lapse of time, the evening seeming like a mere moment, time like a season in which I grew like flowers in the night.
Philosophers talk about contemplation and the forsaking of work and out here I realize what they meant. The day advances as the light comes into it, it's morning, and now it's evening, and nothing memorable is done. My days are not minced into deadlines of a ticking clock or the perusal of things no longer breathing. Let mornings be lazy, afternoons pass by in long walks or a flip of a fishing pole and if the day becomes wasted in the warm rapture of a sunset as nature sings its song in my ear - what's the harm?
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 large fish up in Alaska. I shall remember that fish when I'm an old lady. When I brought him up and saw the sun glinting off his back, rainbow diamonds of light against the waves, I was so enamored of him I couldn't even take a breath and in that instant, before he was gone time stopped. Only then did it hit me what I had lost.

I thought back to fly fishing in Montana, watching the fly fisherman standing, rod in hand, in the rushing water. His movement the languid strokes of a lover, 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, content 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 light strokes on a keyboard, touching yet pulling, desire planted, hook in place. Then after reeling the trout in, he ever so gently pulled the hook from the mouth of the trout, gently cradling her in his hand, a tender goodbye. Without a sound, just a quick unemotional tickle of her belly, he released her back downstream. He never looked back.


Catch and Release.

This was the outdoors. Splashes of daylight that recharged what you came here with. This was our outdoors. Unidentifiable sounds in the darkness that made you hold your breath at the bottom of your sleeping bag. A good book read with a dying flashlight, shadows dancing on the wall of a small canvas tent, and the musty smell of freedom and adventure. A quiet prayer to my God over a meal garnered by my own hand and cooked over a campfire.  A time when growth may not be on the surface but may be internal, and the weekend quietly drifts by in the warm embrace of the woods. But even in the woods, any good day must end.

As the last of the daylight seeped out of the sky, I thought back to work, but only briefly, for my mind now is rippled, not storm-tossed. These small ripples of water raised by the evening's wind are the only hint of turmoil in the calm. As the day pulled out of the sky, taking the wind with it, I cast one last time out into the still center of the water. There, utter and complete stillness, holding my breath, because even inhaling and exhaling was like a cacophony. The animals of the day were hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures not quite yet stirring, there was no breeze, no recognition of air even; it was the sound of nothing and everything. It felt like all my life past and present was contained in one space, and I was not just casting into it, I was part of it. Where for just a brief moment in the universe, the clock stopped ticking, and the world hushed.
The last night I went fishing back West I didn't bring a trout home for dinner, my true catch was as intangible as the starlight now playing on the water. I think of Thoreau's words "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after". To fish it to flirt, to flirt, we fish, dancing with fate. Icy water and warm lips, we thirst, we reach with that last translucent breath, closing our eyes to softly bite the secret barb. We are drawn in with a soft gasp of breath, chest softly heaving, as we look into the unknown, up into the eyes that desired us.

This was my catch. Some nights in the woods, where I was able to pull the barb of civilization from my lips and swim rapidly to where the wild called to me. Where my heart is always at home.


3 comments:

Nomar Garcia said...

Awesome! Inspiring. I have a memory of camping alone at about 10,000 ft at a place called Breeze Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. So cold. The longest night of my life. Waking every hour or so to stomp around in place for warmth as I watched the Milky Way move across the night sky. The wind cut through everything as if I had no clothes on. I wish I had your word talent to craft a good yarn worthy of your name. I will work on it having faith that my best will suffice. Thank you.

Old NFO said...

Wilderness camping above Tahoe... sigh... FOND memories.

Brigid J. said...

Nomar - thanks for sharing your experience. I lived in California for about 8 years and spent a lot of time up in the Sierras camping on my own.