Winter had taken hold. The temps were firmly entrenched in the single digits and I didn’t check the weather anymore; I just stopped on the bridge to watch the dark blue water sneaking past the ice, a fugitive from the floes. When the mercury bottomed out at -30, the river smoked its way up the valley like a prescribed burn. I ordered a case of rye whiskey from the liquor store in town and didn’t stop on the bridge again until March.
When the ice began to melt, I watched. When the runoff came, I waited. When the water cleared, I went. This would be the season.
I fished every day. I fucked up a lot, but rapidly learned to tie solid knots, figured out what bugs to use and developed a personal code of ethics on the river. I remember the first time I forgot to press a barb. I remember the first fish that went belly up. I remember every mistake I made and every so-called victory. But every day, I went. I learned.
One night, curiosity led me to an access on my way home from work. I’d had a long day. I didn’t know the holes here. I caught a tree on every cast. But the river just went about it’s business. Efficient. Secretive. Selfish. Despite my efforts to work this stretch as I would the section that flows near my house, I caught nothing.
Part of me wished I’d just gone home, that I hadn’t wasted my time where I didn’t know the water, but I kept at it – working the bottom of a hole below a large tree. Finally, a strike. I set the hook and that fish bent my rod end to end as it took off into the middle of the river. I struggled to stay with him, but lost my footing and the tension on my line. A flash of belly and he was gone. My white whale.
I made a few dejected casts before moving upriver. I caught small fish here and there, but my heart wasn’t in it. The river would keep her secrets, I supposed. I decided to head out with time for one last try at the hole by the tree.
I tentatively tossed my line into the gathering dusk. Even if I didn’t catch him, I knew he was in there and maybe that was enough.
As the river pushed against my legs, my indicator dipped and I felt the tug. The set was instinctive. I stripped and my rod tip curved – we moved together this time. I kept tension downstream toward the shallows until I could grab the line.
This part I knew. With one hand on the leader, I tucked my rod under my elbow and brought the fish to the surface. I removed the hook easily and kept my fingers light under his belly as he regained strength. To my surprise – and, by the look on his face, his as well – my white whale turned out to be a whitefish. But that was fine.
He finned in my hand for a moment, translucent and nearly invisible in the water, then slowly swam back into the current. I made my way to the car, sat on the tailgate to break down my rod and fished a warm can of beer from my backpack.
It was a nice change from whiskey.
29 for the seventh time 35 a week or so ago, and while I don’t think it’s halftime just yet, I decided to take a look at what I’ve been up to and how I’ve been going about things. I feel as though I spent my twenties figuring stuff out, and I didn’t really have that much solid ground to stand on. I felt like things were always shifting on me, and that was disconcerting and disorienting at times.
When I turned 30, I sat down and made a list of all the things that I’d accomplished when I was 29. The list was long. It was exciting. I made a list of everything that I wanted to do when I was 30, but that year kind of went off plan, and I remember looking back on it at 31 and thinking WTF?
This year was cool. It didn’t go to plan, but it went nonetheless. I did all the things I set out to do, but not in the way I thought I would. End result: the same. And I got some skills. Cheers to that.
Big takeaway: there are now things that I can rely on as TRUE. I have spent time figuring it out and have developed a personal methodology for doing things that works for me. I might sound self-satisfied on this front, but that feels BAD ASS.
So – the things that I know are thus:
1. It’s just not that complicated.
I don’t care what it is – work, getting dressed, decoding a text message – it’s only as hard as you make it. Most things tend to sort themselves out with minimal emotional involvement, so rather than freaking out / throwing things / calling 5 times and getting voicemail, how about we pop some popcorn and see how this shitshow plays? Free entertainment. Less stress.
2. Life happens for you, not to you.
That victim mentality that has us asking “why is this happening to me?” Yeah, ditch that. Nothing is happening to you. Things are happening around you and for you – what you do in a given situation is up to you, so take some ownership and make shit happen the way you want. If you don’t like how things are going, make a plan to set it right. If something goes awry, try to see how to prevent it from happening again, and what you might have learned that could help you out elsewhere. It’s all a step in the right direction if you view every experience as an opportunity to move forward. And #1.
3. Don’t be a douchebag.
I mean, really. What are we, 13? Don’t tell lies; don’t talk shit; don’t steal; don’t cheat. Do it right so that if anyone asks: did you really say / do / make that? You can say “YEP. THAT WAS ME.” Accountability is awesome. So is having people say “(your name here) doesn’t fuck around. What a rad person.” See also: #2.
4. Grown-ups: I don’t think they exist.
Sure, some of us have kids or pay our bills on time or own our house / car / whatever. Some of us are paying off our student loans. Some of us care more about our ski pass than home equity. Some of us still like to drink too much whiskey and make out in public and skip work to go fishing. Whatever your thing is – have a good freaking time, people. We ain’t here that long. Oh, but also: #3.
5. We can all make it better.
We might not be able to fix it, but we can always ask “how can I help?” and regardless of what you can actually do, that offer makes a lot of things easier. Sometimes just knowing that there’s someone who is willing to help you carry the burden of whatever it is, lightens it a little bit. It gives you room for some perspective. Maybe you realize…. #1.
6. Opportunity never stops knocking.
You didn’t miss your one shot. She wasn’t your soul mate. It’s never too late. You didn’t blow it. There’s another day, another chance, another opportunity to get it right. We’re never locked out of happiness, because #2.
So, this shit just got real.
I spent Thanksgiving with great friends this year, and we honored their family tradition of declaring the things that we were most thankful for.
While I would have normally just said something clever, I took this opportunity to really think about the year that I’ve had. There have been some heavy hits – to my heart, to my ego, to my well-being – but I’ve come through and am excited about all the new beginnings, and for that I am very grateful.
There have been so many times when I could have quit, given up, turned back, but I pushed through because I believe in the good things coming. And while I haven’t been grateful for misfortune in the past, this year I was able to see that I was moving toward something much bigger than my current drama – for that vision, I am also very grateful.
As for the loss, we all experience it at some point and in some way, and it always creates a vacuum that begs to be filled. But despite the grief that comes with any departure, we have a unique opportunity to change in the face of that emptiness. Picking up the pieces hurts, but it’s part of rebuilding. It is a crucial part of rebuilding, because if we don’t have a clean foundation moving forward, anything new starts on rocky ground.
That said, our lives expand and contract all the time – when we bring in something or someone, we grow. When we experience a significant departure, we have the opportunity to retreat back to our former shape or build something new to fill that space.
Out of destruction, comes creation.
What we bring in here is crucial. At first, the emptiness can be overwhelming and our inclination to just make it stop can lead to some less than healthy behaviors. For me, it used to be a vodka tonic or three (anyone have a lemon?) or maybe a text to an ex (never a good idea), but I’ve made a point over the last few cycles of expansion and contraction to bring in things that are good for me.
We have a chance to change in these moments when life feels empty. A chance to do it differently. If we give ourselves time to think, time to heal – and if we do it safely, in a place separate from what we have lost, for me usually the mat or the river – we start to see that we already have everything that we need.
I can’t even count how many people said “well, when life gives you lemons…” to me last month. So much loss – and my friends seriously came at me with “make lemonade!” Anyone with even a modicum of self-awareness knows that, in the long run, pouring sugar on our problems rarely solves anything. But I do believe that we can make shit work in the face of even the greatest struggle if we start to reframe what it is that we consider a “lemon”. I’ve written about it enough, but my breakup was crap. My grandmother dying sucked. Fortunately, I’ve realized those weren’t the lemons life was giving me.
What was in front of me was an opportunity to change – both how I view loss and how I looked at what I had left in the wake of two very emotional endings. I had been given the chance to refocus on all the things that I am capable of with the freedom that exists outside of a romantic partnership, with the inspiration from a long life well lived.
And I found so much gratitude – for what I’ve created on my own, for the capacity to continue to be creative and the possibility inherent in any change. Unfortunately, we are programmed to think that we need to make ourselves sweeter, better, more palatable after a breakup (or any kind of loss), but that assumes we want to go back, when the goal is to move forward, right?
Why should we change for what is no longer in our lives?
If we like what we’re doing, we should be focused on growing those things. My ex was a drag, but my grandmother always told me to be fearless, to push for what I want, to take chances, to go big. With no distractions and more time and energy to invest in the things that I loved, what was I waiting for?
As much as I wanted to squeeze a lemon in someone’s eye, I see now that if we change what we consider a lemon, we don’t have to make lemonade. We just have to find a new market for our lemons, because someone out there wants what we’re selling, no sugar added.
“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”― Kurt Vonnegut
I like to think of fly fishing as something beautiful – quiet, even. In my head, it’s all a Norman Maclean novel, but I’m learning that there are realities inherent in the pursuit that challenge my fantasy of life on the river. I struggle with the idea of “fly fishing as a bloodsport,” I’ve spilled enough of my own and that of the fish that I’ve caught to make me seriously question my commitment. And the quiet bit, well, let’s just say that my language on the water has been called “colorful” – on the conservative end of the spectrum. The more that I’m out there, the more I see just how much there is to this game, and how much of it is anything but poetry.
There is certainly an elegance to a fluid cast, a hand tied fly, the blue cheeks of a brown trout – there for anyone to see. But for those of us who go deeper, into the sport and into the water, there is something else floating around.
Learning to cast is one thing – it’s about timing, intuition. It’s a feeling, and at the same time, just plain muscle memory. Knots: an experiment in dexterity. Fly selection: a veritable spree of frustration. And once you get through all of that, there’s the river – lined with trees and bushes hungry for your backcast, wind ready to drive your perfectly aligned set up like a rental. And we haven’t gotten to the fish yet – natives not particularly fond of your seasonal intrusion, just trying to survive while you play this trivial game of subaquatic cat and mouse. They are hungry, lured with deceptive delicacies, bearing a sharp trick. You are not welcome here.
And yet, there you stand – in the middle of it all – a dance with many partners – thorny bushes on the bank, slippery rocks underfoot, the water always trying to lead, and the fish – doing their damndest to avoid the barbed insults you toss at them with a practiced flick of the wrist.
But eventually your situational awareness becomes instinctive – managing your line and reading the water are second nature. Your cast is effortless and your timing perfect, and the dance truly begins. You dance with the fish for sport, but you dance with yourself for survival. This is the place where we are able to examine how we interact with the world, not just here on the river, but everywhere, and begin the excavation of our place in it that we are called to dig into.
“Fishing like that, it will mess your life up,” a friend warned when I asked about going steelheading. And it will, mess your life up, as will anything you do with an open heart and a sense of purpose. The more I fish, the more time I spend in the river, the more I come to simultaneously understand and question my place in this circle and the more I see that it’s a conflict that begs to be examined.
I am often asked what it is that I love so much about fly fishing, and the answer feels both unexpected and cliche. Fly fishing gives me so many of the same lessons as yoga did when I practiced with any semblance of frequency. Yoga, on the surface, is pointless. The physical practice has little bearing on how you live your life. Seriously, what does putting your foot behind your head or standing on one leg have to do with anything?
Nothing. It has nothing to do with anything. A yoga class is just a bunch of adults rolling around on the floor in spandex. It’s completely ridiculous.
Until it’s not. It’s not the putting your foot behind your head that’s the point. The point is how you go about it. The point is remembering, while you’re trying to put your foot behind your head, to engage your core, to press down, to pull up, to keep your throat open, to keep the colorful language in your head, to breathe, to focus on something other than the discomfort. The point is training yourself to be in the midst of motion, both internal and external, and keep your shit together.
The point, and the goal really, is train your body and mind to work together, so that when things get complicated, stressful, painful – you find the center that you cultivated within the safety of the practice and you breathe, ever mindful of the fact that though things may be happening around you, they aren’t happening to you. Amid these circumstances, not as a victim of them, we maintain a sense of self and place independent of whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Fly fishing, for me, is similar. The river and the mat aren’t so different. I mean, what’s the point of catch and release fishing? It’s a beautiful way to be outside, a fascinating interaction with the natural world on so many levels, but just a game, no? And to look at it, a bunch of adults standing in the water, waving sticks around, dressed like waterproof farmers, trying to outsmart rather dim witted creatures with fake bugs just to throw them back, seems a bit ridiculous.
But when you’re out there, when you look around, fishing is a remarkable opportunity to see parts of this place we call home in ways many will never venture forth to see. And when you hook a fish – big or small – there’s a thrill, a sense of victory, but also one of connection – you to rod to line to hook to fish, and further on from there. To the water, the river, the ocean, as far as you care to take it. And there is a life at both ends of your line, a life that you have to trust yourself to know what to do with. A life that may test your convictions and commitment to being your best self.
This is the connection – the life of a fish, your life – and a chance to ask: where do I fit in? And how?
When I stumbled on those questions, yoga gave me a place to seek answers. Time in my head was part of it, certainly, but my responses to what was going on around me physically – my reactions to certain poses, my ability to connect movement with breath – always parallelled what was going on in my life. If things felt unbalanced, I couldn’t stand on one leg, but I had a chance to get comfortable with feeling off kilter. When I found myself torn between options, I explored the possibilities of trying poses I’d never done before – maybe I was capable of more than I gave myself credit for. Maybe I tried something that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Fly fishing has been similar. It demands my attention to the small things in the same way that standing on my hands does – in remembering to keep my elbow down, to wait on my back cast, time my stop, mind my presentation – there isn’t room for much more in my head. I am at once in and of the moment, conscious of my reactions to the frustrations that inevitably arise – a wind knot and an arm balance aren’t so far apart when it comes to taking the time and finding the patience to break them down. Rushing only makes things more difficult.
Now, when things in my life on dry ground seem sideways, I know that if I can get to the water, I’ll work it out. I can be in the middle of something that is at once peaceful and demanding and, somehow, find the space to sort through it. With my active brain occupied with the obstacles inherent in fishing, I move through a process that I know by heart, and my subconscious mind has a place to focus on whatever it is that is pulling me off center. I move through the motion, paying attention to the nature in which I address each step, and I see, usually quite clearly, where it is that I’m stuck and how I will able able to right the ship.
Fishing isn’t any more about the physical act of catching a fish than yoga is about performing a complicated pose – both just ask that we find a mental peace amid multiple variables, conflicts and frustrations – happening around us, not to us. Our devotion to this practice is what will change how we move through the world, and the more work we’re willing to do, the more complicated we’re willing to let it get just to see what we can take, the more we’ll learn to be softer, fluid, maybe even poetic in the middle of the shit that life inevitably throws at us.
It’s a game, to be sure. But how we play and what kind of players we are, that’s up to us. And it just takes practice to get it right.
There are things that happen on the water that you have a very slim chance of seeing if you’re not out there regularly. I’d heard stories of behemoths chomping stoneflies, patterning sippers on glassy lakes, epic drake hatches, but I’d never experienced those things first hand. This past summer, I hung up the climbing shoes and mountain bike, and just fished. I wouldn’t waste my afternoons deciding what to do, and I’d make sure I was there when the days that we’re always waiting for finally happened.
I hit a drake hatch on the Gallatin that had trout leaping from the river like they were auditioning for Sea World. I found myself in the right place at the right time for the nocturnal stoneflies, had more nights than I can count throwing PMDs until well after dark, and caught almost every species of trout that swims in the state of Montana. I thought about how much I’d come to love my time on the river, and how much the investment I’d made in getting to know it meant to me, so when I was asked to speak at TEDxBoulder last month I knew that this would be a big part of my message.
I spoke about how our commitment to the things that we love enriches our ability to enjoy them. (And though I wasn’t talking about marriage and kids–I was talking about fishing–my theory certainly applies there.) I think that it’s important for us to see how investing our time and energy in the things that we care about perpetuates a cycle of conservation that not only benefits us personally, but benefits our greater ecosystem.
When we try to do too much, or when we sit the fence and avoid commitment all together, we are denying ourselves valuable experiences and wasting energy. I knew that by giving up the trail for the river, I might miss out on a few things, but I was sure that by focusing on what I really loved, I’d get to do it more and wouldn’t waste time figuring out my post-work and weekend plans. My gear was always packed and I didn’t think twice when someone asked if I wanted to go fishing.
Needless to say, I got pretty good at it, but something else happened that I wasn’t quite expecting. When I used to fish a few times a year, I’d see trash on the river and think, “that’s terrible – I hope someone picks that up!” But now that I’m out there nearly every day, I see that it’s my responsibility to leave no trace, to press barbs, to keep an eye on the water temps and handle fish as responsibly and respectfully as I can. I’ve gotten very familiar with the impact that my use has on the resource, and I’ve come to see first-hand the importance of making sure I’m doing everything that I can to tread lightly.
I know that I am engaging with a fragile species for my own enjoyment, and–because of what I get out of it, because of how much I love interacting with trout and being on the river–I know that it’s my responsibility not just to minimize my impact, but to get involved in maintaining the health of the resource and encourage others to do the same.
Because of a seemingly small decision that I made back in April–to focus my energy–I’ve found not just a love for these beautiful fish and their habitat, but a much deeper understanding of what they need and the importance of giving back.
When I wrote this talk, I didn’t realize that what I was really speaking towards is stewardship–an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources–but that’s exactly what it’s about. And the more you do your thing, with time and stamina, stewardship becomes almost intuitive. And to all the people who’ve asked how they can get more involved in what they love, just keep doing it – whatever it is. Do it with passion and solidarity of focus and the places where your time and energy are most needed will become obvious. Then, commit to being a steward of the resources that bring you the greatest joy. Advocate for them. Protect them. Conserve them. Share them.
Thank you all so much for the support!
True happiness comes from within.
We’ve all heard it: inner peace, self-love – it goes by many names – but happiness, the big, rich, beautiful kind, comes from someplace deep. It’s a lot like a fish.
If you want to catch the little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. — David Lynch
As someone who holds a pretty strong association between happiness and big fish, this spoke to me. If happiness is a big fish, and the big fish live in the deep water… that’s where I’m going.
I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, to fear failure or to declare something “too risky.” Usually I just jump, with an open heart and a sense of purpose. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. But I’ve never found myself at a deficit from the chances I’ve taken. I always learn something; it’s always a step forward.
I have no fear when it comes to personal growth.
But it’s dark in there.
It is, at first. But you learn your way around. After all, it’s you. Whatever your practice for going in – meditation, yoga, maybe fishing – once you know where everything is, you can navigate your own mind like you would your living room with the lights off – intuitively aware of familiar obstacles. The anxiety and fear of the unknown recedes, and the more time you spend getting to know yourself, the more love you’re able to create, just for you.
And that love becomes your center; it becomes your shelter from the storms that will no doubt come your way. You become your own rock because no matter what happens with other people, you know there’s at least one person who loves you more than anything and will always be there for you.
When shit hits the fan.
I gave my TEDxBoulder talk last month. I spoke about commitment, and how we have to get through the initial learning phase in any situation – marriage, love, work, fun – to get to a place where we start to get something back from it. Something truly worthwhile – a return on our investment in the thing – is the result of time and stamina.
A week after I spoke about commitment in front of 2000 people, my boyfriend broke up with me. He “can’t be in a relationship right now.” The irony.
A week after that, my grandmother went to Hospice. My mother has been at her bedside for weeks. I’ve made dinner for my father every night. I go to my job, immerse myself in work, fish when I can and try to see through all of this to the next thing.
On wednesday night, my grandmother died. I’m on my way to South Carolina for her funeral as I type this.
For the last two days, all anyone can say to me is “oh my god, how are you? I can’t believe what you’ve been through this month.”
I appreciate the sympathy, my friends are genuinely kind and supportive people, and I’m surprised at my response:
“I’m good, actually,” I say. And I am. It’s strange, and different and new for me to see it this way.
“I mean, all this stuff is happening around me, and it’s tough, but I know that it’s not happening to me. These situations are hard, but I’m okay.”
Amid these circumstances, but not as a victim of them, I’ve been able to maintain a centeredness that protects me from being blown off course. The love of self that I’ve created has become my refuge, and from here I can see through all of this to the next phase, when things will undoubtedly be better.
I believe in the good things coming.
There is only one way to move through this life: with love and trust and openness to possibility.
We have to love ourselves enough to keep pushing for what we want.
We have to trust ourselves to make choices that get us closer to what we want.
We have to stay open to the possibility that we may not know the outcome, but it might be better than anything we could even imagine.
My grandmother lived to be 92. She didn’t take no for an answer. She wasn’t afraid of failure. She saw risk as a challenge and setbacks as an opportunity to do it better next time. To go bigger. She was a force of nature. I hope that she would be proud of the risks I’ve taken.
Balls to the wall.
I had sworn off relationships when I fell in love. It didn’t work out, but I’m a kinder, softer, gentler person as a result. My heart is still open, more so to myself than ever before. In expanding my ability to love another, I’ve expanded my ability to love me, and that gives me an ever greater sense of centeredness and even more faith that I’m on the right path.
I had never spoken in public before I got onstage at TEDxBoulder last month. I should have been terrified, but what was the worst that could happen? I pushed myself in a way I didn’t even know was possible and now, my capacity for taking on new challenges comes with a confidence in my ability to learn and grow that didn’t exist before.
“Be fearless,” my grandmother used to say. “What do you have to lose?” (She also said If you’re going to do the New York Times Sunday crossword, then you should trust your intelligence enough to do it in pen. Balls to the wall.)
We have everything we need. Right now.
Human beings are remarkably resilient creatures. We have a capacity for love and empathy that truly knows no bounds. But it starts within. Our self love is our capacity for love. We can’t love another any more than we love ourselves, and we won’t let their love for us exceed our own because we won’t feel that we deserve it. To truly love, and in so doing, to be truly happy, we have to go within. We have to find the things inside ourselves that we love and cultivate an appreciation for our stuff that surpasses the validation we get from external sources.
Those are the things that we turn to when the world goes sideways. Those are the things that are always there for us. The things that make us truly happy. The big fish.
Well, I’m back to real life. Still in speaker shock – which I learned from Andrew Hyde is actually a thing – but getting back into the groove.
I flew back to Bozeman from Denver on sunday. I spoke at TEDxBoulder on Saturday, after a month of crazy writing and prepping and memorizing. I fished some this month, not as much as I’d have (usually) liked given the high pressure situation that is speaking in front of 2000 people, but I got in some days on the river.
I wrote a story too. I even submitted it to a few magazines (a first). I made it to a big conservation summit. My grandmother’s health was seriously in question. My sister announced that she is pregnant. It was a hell of a month, but I showed up. I made it to work. I was there for the people who needed me (mostly).
And I did the things that I’d set out to do. This was a big period of productivity, and as it comes to a close – I want to acknowledge those things. Speaking at TEDx was a huge goal that I set for myself back in 2011. I had no idea when or where or how it would happen, but I knew that when the time was right, I’d be there and it would be awesome. It certainly was that, and while there are things I would do differently if I had it to do over, I did the best I could with the tools I had at the time, and that’s really all I can ask of myself.
There were parts of my talk that I had to cut, and they are all saved in a drafts folder on my Google Drive, but one that I really wanted to include was about finding movement in stillness, and stillness in movement.
It takes work – to be still and just notice the things that are happening, to avoid reacting to them, to give them a chance to play out and respond appropriately – and that’s a big part of what I hope to get out of anything that I commit my time and energy to. It takes work to learn something well enough to get past the frustrations of figuring it out and have the action committed to memory in a way that allows the process to become meditation. I did it with yoga. I’ve done it with skiing. I’m doing it with fishing.
Whenever we get to a point of proficiency with something that we love doing, it transcends being something that we do and becomes part of who we are in a way that allows us to enjoy it and other parts of our lives on a deeper level. I don’t have to think about how I am on the river. I can get there with everything I need and not be distracted by gear or navigation. I can focus on the movement of casting, stalking, setting, fighting. And in those movements, my mind is still. It’s a beautiful experience – to interact with another living thing and to find a sense of internal calm through movement. It’s something that I hope to apply to my relationships with humans too.
There was more – the part about moving so many times and being afraid to stop, with a great slide from Googlemaps showing my route over the last ten years and further highlighting my life as a commitment phobe. There was the part about the river giving me that sense of movement that I crave, even when I’m standing still. But eventually, I had to call it good and hope that I’d done enough to get my message across. And now, I have to let what I did be enough. And rest.
For all of you who’ve supported me (especially my man), I certainly hope that I came through. I hope I came through for me too – since speaking in front of an audience that big is a damn trip and I don’t really remember anything that happened up there except that I made you laugh (and that part when I spaced my line), and that’s enough for me.
So cheers to September. To crushing goals and kicking ass and pushing the limits of what I think I can do. I have seen the possibilities of putting myself beyond my comfort zone and I couldn’t be more excited for all the things that lie ahead.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For the support, for the feedback, for the inspiration. These are the moments that make everything worth it.
I’ve always been a fan of road trips. I think that there’s something about feeling the highway moving beneath you that gives a sense of time passing, an amount of time appropriate to the distance that you’re traveling that gives you a sense of place and an awareness of the change in location that’s happening. I think that it’s easier to arrive somewhere new when you’ve had a chance to process your departure.
I got on a plane from Bozeman to Denver yesterday – I covered 700 miles in a little over an hour. I got off of that plane and onto a train and then a bus and then into my friend’s car and was deposited at my favorite coffee shop in downtown Boulder less than three hours after leaving home. The line moved faster than I was anticipating, and I couldn’t even remember what I used to order here. When my drink arrived, I looked at it, somewhat confused, and asked the barista what it was. I apologized profusely. I clearly didn’t have my Boulder words in order as I’d wanted an iced soy semi-sweet chai, not the hot 2% half-caff I’d apparently ordered. (It’s Boulder, just roll with it.) I left my water bottle at the coffee shop on my way to the office I’m sharing with a friend for the week; clearly my brain was still in Bozeman.
It was strange, to feel so discombobulated in a place I’d known so well for so long. I spent most of the day trying to keep up with work back in Montana, prepare for meetings in Boulder, connect with friends I haven’t seen in over a year, and stay awake. By the time I’d made it through dinner and found myself at my old yoga studio with one of my favorite teachers, I was starting to get my bearings, but wondered if I’d be able to hang after a year away from my mat.
The class began and I fell right into the movements that I knew so well. It was good to move my body in a sweaty yoga class again – to think of nothing but the motion, to leave everything else going on in my life right now at the door – I’d missed this.
Part of me was happy to know that I’ve still got it, and my initial thought was that I needed to make sure I brought this back to Bozeman with me. But as the class progressed, my head went in a different direction – I don’t have this community in Montana. I used to know everyone at the studio and now I only recognize three or four people. How am I supposed to keep growing in this way without my teachers? Why did I ever leave this place?
By the time class was over, I was worked and happy, but questioning my decision to leave Boulder – something that I thought I’d put to bed a while ago. As I was leaving, my teacher asked how I was going to survive for four days without fishing. I laughed and said “yoga, duh!” And then I realized that it works the other way too. Fishing is how I’ve survived without yoga. The river is my studio. The drift is my downdog, casting is my sun salutation. The cool water pushing against my legs is my meditation. I haven’t lost anything; it’s just been transformed over the last year and a half in Montana. I’ve adapted. It’s taken time, but my place is there now, not here in Boulder where I write this.
Parts of that are hard to let go of – some of my best friends are in Colorado; Boulder is beautiful and full of very dear memories, but I’ve made my choice. I’ve invested in my life in Bozeman in a way I’m no longer willing to give up; I am past the point of no return. All these parts of my life that I’ve left behind have merged into the way I live now, and I’m excited about where this new path will lead and what I will bring into it.
And so, for the next three days, I will enjoy all the things that I love about Boulder. And then I will fly home to Bozeman, and get my feet in the river as quickly as possible – connected, once again, with everything that I love about home.
There are only two kinds of anglers: those in your party and the assholes. – John Gierach
I had a chance to spend a week fishing in the Yellowstone backcountry this summer – chasing cuttys, exploring new water and getting off the damn grid for a bit.
I’ve been to Yellowstone (literally) hundreds of times – but this was the first time I’d gotten to camp in the backcountry or fish there, and to say it was an interesting experience doesn’t quite do it justice.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe that anyone who had the time and inclination to get off the trail in a park like Yellowstone knows what the f*ck they’re doing. Maybe I thought that everyone up Slough Creek would know that you don’t take a shit in a riverbed or that people who carted their kids in would cart their dirty diapers out. Hell, I might have been crazy enough to think that people read the rules and regs about barbless hooks and catch and release, or to think that I could outrun a mosquito, or that I couldn’t eat a pound of beef jerky, but I certainly didn’t expect to find so many people in the woods with no clue how to use the place in a conscientious and sustainable manner. Or safe. How about we start with safe?
The absence of education became grossly apparent as we were walking back to our campsite on our first night in the park when we ran into a park employee who asked us, “do you guys know how to get back to the trailhead” and “how far is it from there to the road?”
This kid had no bear spray, no map and no clue. I felt bad that we sent him on his way with nothing but a headlamp and a GoPro, but seriously, how do you work in the park and find yourself out in the bear-iest part of Yellowstone (the bear-iest part of the country, for that matter) at night, lost, four miles from your car?
Now, to avoid coming off as an elitist, I’ll admit that I set off with new boots and had blisters the size of half dollars after seven miles (we did a little over twenty) and I forgot my wading boots, so I made do with a delightfully European combination of neoprene socks and Chacos. I also attempted to plan food for the trip while impressively hungover from my best friend’s wedding (and after an ill-advised 8am flight the morning after) – so resorted to MREs after the first night’s meal. Amateur moves, no doubt.
And I’m not saying that everyone I saw in the park was an asshole, but I did run across some folks who’s choices – in gear (or lack thereof), method and motivation left me confused. I mean, I get that a lot of people who buy waders might only get to use them once a year, and if that time happens to fall on a ninety degree August day, well, God bless ’em. And I know that a lot of people like to throw spinners and bonk trout on the head for dinner. I mostly shake my head and move on, but I was actually shocked that when we left the Backcountry Office with our camping and fishing permits, there were no instructions from the Ranger other than “hang your bear bags!” Maybe we just looked like we knew what we were doing?
Regardless, the whole idea behind making videos with a camera mounted to my net is that I want to raise awareness around when and how to appropriately handle fish. Trout are an especially fragile species, and to see them so casually and so often mistreated makes me concerned for both the welfare of the current population and the future of an industry dependent on their health and ability to thrive in our rivers. I’m doing my best to learn as much as possible about how to minimize my impact on a resource that I frequently make use of for recreation, and I feel that it’s my responsibility as an angler to help educate others on best practices when it comes to life in and on the river.
And so, I conclude my rant with these reminders: wet your hands, press your barbs, keep ’em wet, let ’em live!
I watched as the man across the water held a beautiful 20+ inch trout aloft for a photograph. He had a wide smile under a gray mustache; his two teenage children laughed and congratulated him. The son held a camera. I looked toward my little dry fly, adrift and ignored. A few fish had shown interest, but no appetite to speak of. The day was hot and the water was warm here where it flowed through the dam from the lake above.
I looked back at the family gathered on the opposite bank. The father had dropped the fish and was trying to pick it up out of the grass. “Dad, I didn’t get the picture!”
“Ok, OK – I’ve almost got him.” The father got hold of the fish and held it out in front of the camera. “Did you get it?”
“Yeah, I got it. Let me get one with my phone so I can put it on Instagram.”
The father dropped the fish again. “Damn, dad!”
“I’ll get him.” He did, get him, and proceeded to wipe the fish with a paper napkin when his daughter complained that the trout was covered in grass and dirt. I watched, mouth hanging open, much like the trout gasping for breath, as the son got his pic and the dad threw the trout back in the water with a joke about his failed career as a quarterback.
I was speechless.
My concern wasn’t with their method of fishing, though I have my opinion of treble hooks, and I certainly don’t take issue with a dad who spends a sunday on the water with his kids. However, watching this whole scene take place made me wonder, is a picture more important than a fish?
In the name of conservation, I’m trying a new way of capturing my experiences on the river. I’ve seen too many fish held out of the water, fatigued, dropped on their heads and found belly up as a result of improper handling and the quest for an epic grip and grin to put on social media. When I catch the big one, I’ll certainly want the pic, but I’ll do my best to respect the resource and keep ’em wet! So, I put a camera on my handnet and made this little video. Hopefully it’s the start of something new!