Essay, Flyfishing, memoir, Nature, Writing

Existing on the River

I snipped the tag end of the 6x tippet by grinding my teeth back and forth on it until it finally broke. My gaze was locked onto the knot to make sure everything looked okay. In the background of my sight, the current of the river was blurry because the depth of field of my peripheral vision didn’t allow it to be clear, similar to a camera set with a wider aperture. The sound of the current and the haziness of my vision washed my mind clean of the thoughts that I had before I entered the river. I let the fly slip out of my fingers and drop into the water. Letting it sit there for a minute, I took a deep breath, and prepared to roll cast to the riffle above. There was a tall rocky embankment on the other side of the river, which made a nice deep pocket for the trout to hold in. The chocolate colored water sliced through the earth, creating this vast canyon that I was standing in. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was standing on the surface of Mars. The rocks were big and dark in color, with holes all over them. Sheer red brown cliffs dropped hundreds of feet to the water. With the exception of a few sparse green trees, the land seemed to be completely brown, but the bank of the river was filled with subdued green and yellow vegetation. Being here made me feel like such a small belonging of such a huge universe. But the more I stood there, the more I started to realize that I was meant to be here, that I was place here, not by coincidence, but for a purpose. This big enormous world became smaller and smaller the longer I stood there, until the only thing that existed in my mind were the things in between the walls of the canyon. My focus was fixed on the present moment.

I started to notice the things that mattered, like the life around me. In one day, I was able to watch a complete life cycle of a fragile insect. In the morning, the delicate mayflies began their life underneath the rocks of the river. And of course, as an angler, I was trying to imitate these beautiful insects to the best of my ability. Their life cycle forced me to change my fly throughout the day, making a direct connection between our minuscule beings in this vast universe, but in such a subtle way. As the sun peaked over the desert canyon and started to warm the earth, I tied on a size #22 pheasant tail nymph, hoping to catch one of the gorgeous brown trout that lurked in the water below. I roll casted the line just upstream, and watched as the little orange indicator passed by. I did this in repetition, looking for even the slightest movement of the indicator. Just upriver I saw the perfect spot to cast, there was a foam line flowing against the rock wall, which I knew held the highest concentration of bugs, and most likely trout as well. I made a cast and the fly landed in just the right spot. I gave the line a quick mend to get the perfect drift, then quietly stood and watched the indicator flow with the current of the river. The indicator did a quick pause, I lifted my rod tip and felt weight, then movement— I knew it was it a fish. The trout rushed downstream, peeling line off of my reel. My heart was pounding, and as I brought the fish into calm water, I could nearly feel his heart pounding through the vibrations of my 4-weight fly rod. Finally, I was able to get the fish into the net and realize the beauty of the native specie. He was big, an adult male, probably 22 inches long— A good-sized fish. I held him above the water for a moment to appreciate my accomplishment. I could have taken a picture, but what for? All it would have given me is bragging rights, and I didn’t feel that was necessary with this fish. My goal was to capture the moment with my eyes this time, not a camera. It was never the goal to harm the fish, but to simply test their knowledge in their own environment. I moved him back and forth in the current, running the water across his gills, until he gained the strength to swim off on his own. I felt his slimy tail slip through my hand, and then watch him swim off to the depths of the water. Watching the trout swim back to his place in this universe is a better feeling than catching the trout in the first place.

The sun had made its way to a spot right above me, and the mayflies were starting to emerge toward the surface of the water. In order to feed on the mayflies, the fish had moved up in the river column and occasionally I could see them feeding through my polarized glasses. The pea-sized brains of the fish were wearing me out, so I found a place to sit on a rock in the middle of the river. I wanted to be still for a moment and observe the calmness of the natural surroundings. Huge flocks of birds danced and chirped in the sky above me. Sometimes I could hear the sound of a chucker above me in the steep canyon. The wind spoke through the brush on the side of the river, it was always windy in the canyon. I focused my attention back toward the river and watched the trout feed on the mayflies. I found it simply amazing how each and every creature was directly connected to each other. Everything was existing together under the same sky and canyon, and doing so in perfect harmony with each other, including myself. It was a collage of living things created by God, who intended everything to react with each other, not against each other.

Soon the mayflies were breaking the surface of the water and becoming adults that were able to fly. This is the most spectacular moment in fly-fishing because I am able to see the trout feeding on the surface of the water. Their noses break the surface as they gulp down the adult mayflies, and sometimes if everything aligns right, they will swallow my imitation of a mayfly that’s on the end of my line. During this time, I would search for feeding trout and cast to the ones that consistently broke the surface. I would change the size of my fly, the color of my fly, and the type of fly to imitate the naturals that were on the water. If that didn’t work, I changed the size of my tippet. It is like playing a game of chess with nature— It forces me to become one with everything that exists around me.

As the day came to an end and the sun started to set, the mayflies were completing their last stage of life. They swarmed into the air and started to mate, and then dropped their eggs down to the water. Once they do this, they fall to surface and die. When this takes place it looks like sparkling confetti levitating above the water with a beautiful mural of a desert horizon painted in the background. This is the moment I realize why I go fishing. After all it’s not the fish that I’m after, but something more meaningful. It gives me a moment to get away civilization, away from the mental influences, and allows me to retouch on my existence in this world.

Essay, Nature, Time, Writing

“Letting Nature do the Speaking”

Nature has always been my greatest teacher— It has spoken to the surface of my eyes and to the depths of my soul. There have been many times that I have found myself standing at the river’s edge watching the current drift into eternity. I have observed the squirrels rustling around, and have watched the leaves fall to the ground as the seasons begin to change once again. Being in solitude has a healed my heart and my mind and allows me to notice the stillness in the moment, as all creations perform in perfect harmony with each other. Nature has given me an unforgettable teaching; it has changed my perspective on how I perceive time.

Not long ago, I found a place to sit along the bank of the river. There was a small canal connecting to the river, and where I sat the river opened up to one of the widest sections on the entire river. Facing downstream at the confluence of the canal and river, I took a few moments to notice my breath with a deep inhalation followed by a deep exhalation. Each breath allowed me to become more still and more aware of my surroundings. I noticed the ducks going upon their morning business. They were swiftly moving back and forth in the current, feeding on the algae that the river carried them. I observed the trout breaking the surface of the water to feed on adult caddis flies fluttering across the surface of the water. Everything appeared to be happening so naturally and in perfect time without any force upon it. But then there were the humans and civilization frantically moving in order to get where they needed to go. I started to wonder why everybody is in such a hurry, almost as if time is running out.

It’s a race, life is a race, and we must hurry to get things done before it’s too late— before time runs out. Time controls our lives. We have to get to work, school, meetings, and everything else on time or else there is a consequence. All my life, time has been a burden, a restriction, something that forces me to do the things that I don’t want to do and something that doesn’t allow me to do things I enjoy. Why would I think about time any differently? Growing up I have seen time unfold. I have talked to elderly people and heard them say, “where did time go?” like time is running out or something. I have contemplated what exactly measures time. Is it the beat of our heart, the breath of our lungs, the rotation of the earth, or the clock on the wall?

My experience in nature instilled a seed inside of me and I have allowed my understanding of it to expand and grow. I have started to view time as an eternal gift without a beginning or an end. Instead of viewing time as an arrow shooting through the sky never to be seen again, I think of it more as a boomerang that will always return. The days repeat themselves in a cyclical manner. The sun will rise telling us when to begin our day, and then it will become dark when it is time to fall asleep. The seasons do the same thing. Beautiful colors with show up on the trees and the weather will become cold causing the leaves to fall, bringing on winter. Then we will feel the first glimpse of warmer weather as the flowers start to blossom, bring us that much closer to summer. Why would human life be any different?

Viewing time in this manner contradicts the way time is viewed in Western cultures. In America, time is viewed as the arrow shooting through the sky, which we will never be able to catch. This means that we view time as a precious commodity, in which should not be wasted because it is always ticking down and we will never get it back. We try to use our time so efficiently that our schedules become jam packed, that we rush from place to place, and never take time to notice the stillness in the moment. Our lives revolve around a timeframe; it makes sense because we are able to run our lives in an efficient, orderly, and precise fashion— especially when pertaining to business. When we think of time in a linear manner, we tend to put more focus on the future and less focus on the present moment. It seems like we are always waiting for that one moment like love or retirement to make us happy, rather than being content with the present moment. It feels like an unnatural way to live. We are trying to control something that we cannot control.

Why allow such a beautiful gift to turn into such a burden? Time is the womb of all creation— from which we all came from and which we will all return to. Rather than rushing to the end of the tunnel to find the light, nature has taught me to embrace moments of darkness and seek for the teaching within it.