Last Sunday it was a bitterly cold winter day in Bend, Oregon. My old foe was steadily doing it’s thing from the westerly direction, seemingly bringing frigid cheer from the stoop of Santa’s workshop directly to the spot I was attempting to cast.
With each fruitless swing and series of steps downstream, my mind drifted from the present to what was next on the playlist of life. Hope for a tug at the terminal end of my line faded away from my thoughts and was replaced by the general worry and fuss of reality.
Sigh. “There are days like this”, inner me attempted to explain away the abysmal lack of action. I stepped out of the river and thought about how to paint the outing in words on this very blog. Life is hard. Some days you just need to keep grinding. Chin up buttercup. I even arrived at the mental space of taking photos to capture the malaise of the outing.
I believe I even started to play songs in my head to go along with the down trodden plot that was unfolding in my head and filling the internal memory of my phone’s camera. Everybody Hurts drifted in the cold winds, and I walked to the waters edge and couldn’t help but think I was regressing into the mental woes of a teenage Timmy who would listen to moody Seattle grunge era anthems add get deep into the practice of self loathing in the long drizzly days of the Pacific Northwest winters.
For some reason at the edge of the water I felt inclined to pause the pity party that was gaining steam in my head and do a yoga pose I have been practicing lately where the instructor talks about doing a half forward hold and “gaze at my reflection”. I thought it would be neat to actually see a version of myself reflected back like we pretend to do on a mat of foam.
An interesting thing happened in that moment. In order to properly maintain balance and not fall head first into the river I had to bring my thoughts back to the present and silence the song and sorrow in my head. Gazing at one’s reflection has an interesting side affect ( at least for me ) that pivots perspective to the role of the observer.
Man in The Mirror drifted in through the windy airwaves, I chuckled audibly, but then spent some more time observing the story that was being written in that moment. The story was one that I would very likely turn off if I were an actual observer. Dude goes fishing in the winter. It is beautiful. Dude gets sad it is windy and feels bummed out. Dude thinks about posting overly pensive moody thoughts on a blog. Click, my remote would immediately change channels on this show. Watching the mayor of flavor town eat another sandwich at a diner would be 💯 more exciting then this.
So at that point I went from observer, to third person author. How could I make my story in this moment more interesting? A song from the ending days of grunge came into the moment. One that would not be played on 107.7 THE END, rather one that would counter the buzz of reverb with pop inspired hope. My story in this moment was still Unwritten.
As the weeks of the great pandemic gathered into months, and were quickly approaching the required number to form a year, a few residents of River Bend happened to glance out their windows on a snowy Sunday in January and they saw The Angler. There he was, again, sauntering down the block towards his muse.
“That guy is addicted!” grumbled an observer of this migration to his partner at the opposite end of the couch, and he quickly returned to drinking his bitter coffee and being enlightened by Fox News.
The Angler was aloof to the side glances happening through the windows, but instead was quietly cursing the wind that pulsed through the ponderosa pine overhead. “This will be a quick sesh” he thought and briefly wandered into memories of making this same walk wearing shorts and Chacos. Dreaming of wet wading on hot summer nights among trout hungry for chunks of purple foam strung with synthetic wings.
The daydream was abruptly ended when his frozen wading boots slipped on a concealed icy rock and the subsequent flailing snapped his mind back to the current season filled with wind, snow, and slumbering trout.
He stepped into the river with his two handed comically long trout rod. The consistent wind would make casting the heavy line on the 11′ 3″ rod a challenge. He questioned his sanity while kicking through the ice that encased the slow river shallows near the banks.
After removing his gloves, he peeled line off the reel and the wind picked it up and pulled it down the steam. He gathered the line, arced the tip of his rod towards the mouth of the wind, and then slowly back downstream in front of himself, creating surface tension on the line to energize the cast. One final methodical arc of the rod tip behind his head, and with a flick of the wrists forward, the line shot towards the far side of the river powered equally by hope, and physics.
Eternally hopeful, and outwardly insane to the random passerby out to walk their dog.
Slow swings, sudden jerky strips, and pulsing twitches… he would change the animation of his bait on each cast in an attempt to unlock the daily code of the resident trout. After a few casts from this starting position, he would gather his line, along with his remaining scraps of hope and take a handful of steps downstream. And so it went for the Angler this day like many before; Eternally hopeful, and outwardly insane to the random passerby out to walk their dog.
Upon completing three casts at the tail end of the pool, the Angler chipped away at the ice that had clogged the eyes of his rod in order to put his line to rest on its spool. He turned his back to his muse and stepped onto the snowy bank. Fingers frozen, and ego bruised, he stood beside a tree to escape the bite of the wind and reflected on the moment.
At first it appeared that the Angler had issued the verdict for this day of fishing. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a decision on Angler v. Trout today?”
“Aye, we vote the Angler skunked! He is clearly not a fishy fellow today.”
And so the Angler stood at the riverside, mentally deliberating his judgement. Moments later the Angler, in a shocking move, objected the verdict, and called for a motion to gather more evidence down steam. The jury laughed in the wind, and a few audibly taunted this motion.
“You are going to wade ALL THE WAY DOWN THERE? IN THE WIND AND SNOW!?”
“Madness Mr. Angler! Least you forget you must wade all the way back here after more fruitless swings!”
But so he went, not ready for the story of the day to be finished quite yet. Powered by memories from the past he grabbed his wading staff and headed down steam.
After arriving at the next run, the Angler seemed to be reenergized by the water the laid out in front of him. A fast riffle gave way to a slick of velvety softness, a perfect place for a wintering lunker to conserve energy, and smash the occasional snack that the river drifts past their face.
He affixed a confidence fly on his line and went to work prepping to cast. The line failed to shoot out of his rod as expected, and at his feet the reason became apparent – the muse had snatched up the belly of the line in an icy grip next to the rock.
The jury, still observing the actions of the Angler erupted with laughter at this mishap. “See! Foolish Angler, go home to the warmth of the fire!”
Alas the Angler seemed to be drunk on hope still, as he freed his line from the icy grip, and took it as a clue from his muse that he needed to slow down in that moment and pick a new fly.
and so he went, a conductor of a one person orchestra of hope… playing a tune in the winter wind.
Cold hands make for challenging work when tying knots in monofilament line, but a few minutes later he was ready to cast again. Line was deiced and ready to fly, and so he went, a conductor of a one person orchestra of hope… playing a tune in the winter wind.
With each swing, and step downstream, the hope would fade again. The demons in the jury would replace it with thoughts from outside of the river. The Angler launched another cast and muttered out loud “I should have brought a hand warmer” clearly he was getting close to accepting the verdict from the prior run when it happened.
The line nestled between his frozen digits and the cork handle of his rod went tight, and the energy pulsed out from the fish down the yards of line and into the soul of the Angler. In an instant he was overflowing with hope again.
The trout who was tricked by a muddler minow did it’s best to return to it’s prior hideout under a large boulder in the soft water. When the Angler directed it elsewhere, it then made a run for the strength of the current. The Angler was no longer cold, and the warmth of adrenaline made his arms pulse with excitement.
The ice which had formed once again on the tip of his rod made the battle more challenging, but after a few minutes the dance of opposites ended with a brown trout in the net.
Adrenaline seems to also obscure common sense as the Angler felt inclined to hold the fish for a moment and take a photo of happiness to counterweight the ones of defeat from earlier in his day. The jury had left the river in defeat, their taunts of doubt and uncertainty washed downstream.
After releasing the trout to return with ease back to the shadows beside the rock, the Angler gathered his line once more to its spool, stood there for a long moment, and again gazed at his reflection in the water swirling at his feet. Though the image was a dark shadow on that grey day, the Angler could clearly see a smiling face gazing back at him.
I rather like the ending of that story better, and I hope you did too. Each day is a new beginning, and in each little mundane decision of life we craft our personal story. Here’s to many more happy endings.