Feeling the Weight

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever. “ ~ John Muir

I woke up one morning recently overwhelmed by a sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong things. That usually means I had a dream about fly fishing. But the day job was calling so I hitched myself up and out of bed to get through the routine of another hum drum schedule.

I feel the pressure. Get up early, snake through five lanes of brake lights, a commute so familiar I arrive without remembering how I got there. Marginally engaged, I go through the motions of meetings, conference calls, and project plans, numbed to the outcomes. All of this justified by the bi-weekly direct deposit then used to pay for gas, car maintenance, an occasional pair of new slacks. Next day the lemmings are still out there headed for the precipice and I dutifully follow along, eyes glazed. And the next day. And the next.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Viewed through the lens of Western society I suppose I’m accomplished. I’ve held jobs where I’ve earned a living wage and learned a variety of skills. I’ve paid mortgages and multiple college tuitions, rescued a dog, and nurtured a partnership with a most incredible woman. I’ve had the honor of bringing into this world three compassionate, gifted children, in awe of how they navigate an increasingly confusing world. I follow a road map that seems to have been placed in front of me by someone I don’t recognize, a blueprint I didn’t create, one predestined and mundane.

It’s a strange weight I carry. I’ve lived a full life but haven’t lived fully. I don’t think I’ve connected to my most fundamental cosmic intention. Is this a mid-life crisis, a reaction to the vacuum created as the proverbial nest has emptied? The questions persist. I have somehow allowed weakness and doubt to seep into my worldview.

I’m simply not wired to work 50 hours a week, checking in and checking out, answering to someone else’s demands, following a pattern predictable and corrosive. In moments of clarity I silently shake my head at the counter-intuitive nature of this design. Archaeologists figure that our paleolithic ancestors “worked” maybe 12 hours a week. And then they would play in order to keep up the skills needed to hunt and forage. I have a primal urge to fish and hunt and forage and forge my path as artist and naturalist, philosopher and interpreter.

I’m a man too gentle to live among urban wolves. I long to stand in rivers. I seek sermons in stones. I want to live in the crepuscular moments of each day finding treasures in the daybreak and mystery in the dusk.

I spend every day reminding myself of this. I spend every day trying to sneak in moments of creativity. And of purpose. I must learn how to start trusting myself again, believing, giving myself permission to say, “my hands were meant for something else, my life can have deeper fulfillment than I originally thought.” There are other paths and other places to do what I was meant to do.

I know one path to such a place. A humble cabin in a wilderness carved by a trout stream. The moment I step into that vastness I am connected to an unmistakable divinity. My receptors become wide open, eyes dilating with rich color, nostrils flaring to draw in the waft of wood and pine needles and leaves goldening through the seasons. The spiritual energy is palpable, has substance, and I can actually run my fingers through it, feeling its weight.

I do not want to go to the mountains. I am ready to be from the mountains, to live in the woods and the waters, to paint on a canvas of sky, to stand in the tempest of storms and deeply breathe in the songs carried by the wind.

BFW Pattern

“The friends I can count on I can count on one hand”. ~ Anonymous

I have a fishing buddy who’s fond of sayings and that particular one has resonated with me. He’s always been one of the guys I have counted on. Not sure he can say the same thing about me.

We are an odd couple. He’s an experienced hunter – waterfowl, upland birds, whitetails and mulies, varmints, etc. – while I don’t have much interest (I’ve only once, accidentally, shot and killed a chipmunk with my Crosman pump-action BB rifle when I was twelve. I fired casually from my waist as it ran across the driveway, launching it two feet straight up, the poor creature dead before it landed). He’s talkative and funny, a purveyor of groan-inducing corn humor while I’m reflective and moody. He’s built an arsenal of firearms, knives and outdoor gear and gadgets while I remain satisfied with a single decent fishing knife and a pair of rugged shoes. He expresses uncertainty both in the moments that have passed and the moments yet to come while I trust that the process unfolds as it should. And I have my fishing preferences and favorite patterns while he has his own.

I’m an average fly-fisherman mostly because I stick to my home river, and beyond a handful of standard and dependable western flies that seem to work I don’t vary my routine. The dry patterns include the Elk Hair Caddis and Parachute Adams, the nymphs – Copper John, Bead Head Prince and Pheasant Tail. I do keep a local favorite in my box I call the Poudre River Special that mostly resembles a spinner.  On occasion I will work terrestrials, midges, or streamers but they’re mostly in my box for the slack times that I want to experiment and learn. When I happen to venture outside my comfort zone to new waters I simply hit up the local fly shops or guys on the river as to what pattern’s working.

My fishing buddy uses his favorite pattern, the BFW, almost exclusively and he consistently catches nice trout with it. There have been plenty of times I’ve hassled him for this choice thereby creating another subtle obstacle, another difference in perspective between us. Admittedly there are occasions I envy his productivity when we fish the same water and I happen to be getting skunked trying to match the hatch. And there are times I cringe when he lands a nice trout that has nearly swallowed his BFW whole rather than being lip-hooked. However, we both stand in the river as conservationists and the best of his compassion is on display as he retrieves the BFW as gently as possible with forceps.

With strong intent he tried to supplement his fishing with a new habit, joining me at Angler’s Covey to take advantage of a discount on a new Sage 9′ 4-weight rod. He bought a pair of high-end Simms chest waders and boots plus a really nice wader bag, all of which probably set him back a grand or so. He learned how to rig his line and leader and mastered an adequate cast. I can’t remember if he caught any fish on that rod, but I think he probably did.  But it wasn’t long before that equipment remained in the closet and he returned to a sure thing, returned to his comfort zone.

To be fair I used the BFW in my youth prior to honing my fly fishing technique and it’s surely reliable at certain times of year on certain waters when my go-to flies aren’t producing. One such time is the spring run-off when the river tears through the canyon carrying high country silt and eleven months’ worth of debris splintered from the bank’s edges. The volume of water bullies through the middle of the channel, thrusting its chest out with a primal roar. The grasses and stands of willow at the edges act as if caught off guard by the onslaught, wildly dancing back and forth while their feet catch snags of driftwood for the few weeks they are inundated by the annual deluge.

So as late May turns into early June and the river crashes through to rearrange the landscape and carve new channels, I’ll resort to the BFW pattern. While a bit tough to admit because of the nuanced guilt, I can’t go too many outings without the adrenaline hit of a trout on the line reverberating up through my hands and arms, radiating electric surges and chemical stimulants, fueling a visceral urge.

Friendships are funny things and he and I have gotten sideways for a couple of years. I believe he was pulled too fast and too deep into a series of life-changing events, and for my part I committed too many sins with my lack of support. We’ve been drifting, losing our devotion as friends somewhere along in the evolving bitterness.

I hope that fishing will be the thing that brings us back into the fold. I’ll continue to ask him to join me every time I make a trip up the river. And I hope one day he’ll accept, move past our differences, help rub salve on our wounds, and forgive past transgressions. And I’ll make it clear there’s no criticism waiting if he pulls the BFW pattern out. I just want my friend back.