Whose Woods These Are

by Steve

I went away the other weekend. It wasn’t a long away, just an overnight with a friend of mine spent camping in the mountains and fly fishing the next day. Franca had been back from France for a week and with spring and the weather turning I was eager to log some solitary time on a river somewhere. It’s not healthy to never take time for yourself, even if seems requited at the time, and while Franca and I have never treated our relationship with give-and-take reciprocity, we both knew I needed a break all right.

I am not a very good fly fisherman, I lack the resources required to give it the attention you need in order to become good at it. Often I go and never even see a trout. They are there, I know, their noses pointed upstream, wavering in the slick dark current, because I see other fisherman catch them or the satisfied angler comes clomping through the brush on the path along the riverbank carrying a string of rainbows, or browns, but mostly rainbows; nodding their head in my direction and raising their catch just high enough to catch my eye. I’ve never been that fisherman, nor that much of a braggart. Whenever I did catch fish, I let them go. It wasn’t for the fish that I went there.

The morning we woke at the campsite was cold. The firewood was damp and only would burn for a while if someone was not there feeding it twigs and blowing it back to life whenever it went out. We made coffee and ate fruit and toasted slices of bread over the stove and ate it with peanut butter while waiting for the sun to peek over the ridgeline and begin to warm things up. Afterwards we cleaned up and broke down the camp except for the tent and got into our waders and readied our fly lines and watched as the daylight slowly crept down the opposing mountainside until it reached the open meadow just to the south of our camp. Then we walked down the hill through the field and followed the sound of the river. We passed through a thin strand of woods and the river was there. It was wide and fast moving and shallow too except for a couple of deep-looking pools. Already several fisherman were scattered standing knee deep in the current in the various poses of fishing, but they paid us no attention as we climbed down the bank and into the river.

I left my friend at a wide open stretch of water where low hanging branches would not interfere with his cast and I walked up along the side current to one of the pools I’d seen. I did not see any trout, but trout like most wild things understand the importance of camouflage while man only knows how to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, so there is no guarantee I would have spotted them if they were there, which they were. I was encouraged nonetheless as I made my way upstream, choosing my step very carefully and keeping to the shallower sections where the brown bottom was clear and the current was slow and the footing on the rocks more reliable.

I stood at the edge of the pool, the water up to my thighs, my feet staggered against the undercurrent driving against my legs. In the pool the water was darker and the sunlight that passed through the glassy surface reflected off the tops of sunken boulders then was swallowed by the depths of the hole. I read the lay of the pool and fed out some line with a few false casts and then laid the fly down in a spot just upstream. The nymph at the end of my fly line lit on the water and sunk and the floating line caught in the current and brought the whole rig floating back towards me and I quickly began stripping line to stay ahead of it, feeling and watching for a strike, of which none came. I cast again. And again, and again.

For five hours I fished the river, hole after hole, bend after bend, one white-capped ripple after another. I stopped only for a bite of lunch and not once did I let my mind wander to think of needles, or of test strips, or of boluses and blood sugars. At one point a river otter passed a few feet away from me on the opposite bank and I watched after it as it went bouncing and bounding over fallen trees and rocks until it disappeared into a rock crevasse and I thought how nice it would have been for Lia and Krista to have seen it too. But mostly I thought of nothing more than just being a part of that river in every moment, letting my mind clear itself of the worry that had been with me the last three months.

Not long before this getaway I was sitting at my desk one workday when Lia called to say she was having a low. I thought about it and I told her what to do and hung up and sat there and thought of my wife and felt a bit of envy for her. How nice it must be to have a job away from home to occupy her attention. Not waiting for the school to call. Not dosing from long distance. Not sitting there wondering if the treatment I’d just given was right. That was foolish thinking of course. Occupation does little to free someone from the worry and stress that is the daily routine with diabetes. There is no such thing as down time.

But that afternoon on the river did something for me that sitting at home at my desk day after day could never do. It gave me permission to play, to take a small break from the worry. To let go. And take something back of myself.

At the end of the afternoon I sat down on the riverbank with my feet still in the current. I took off my hat and my sunglasses and closed my eyes and felt the river’s heartbeat with my own. It felt good. I felt happy.

On this Earth Day 2010 I encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy the peace and pleasure and tranquility that being in nature can bring you. It’s out there, on our planet. Go find it. Get involved.