And the world, still so wild, called to me.Wild – Spoon
Two years ago I was, like many folks around the world, attempting to survey the future and having a hard time finding a logical path through the news of the emerging pandemic. I was scared. I feared my wife and kids going to school and getting sick. I was worried. Worried about my family, my friends, and my colleagues.
So I decided that I needed a rock – a constant during the uncertain times. I decided to go fishing. We were being urged to stay distant from others, so the river across the street from my house seemed like an obvious refuge from the turbulence of life.
Just Keep Fishing soon became my mantra. Like Dory from Finding Nemo, and her reminder to keep swimming, regardless of what life brought my way – I just kept fishing. Historic wildfires, sub-freezing temperatures, mild concussions, nothing would stand in the path between me and some time on the water.
A year ago the family and I traveled to the Oregon Coast for Spring Break. A melt-down at work right before our planned departure rocked me to the point of almost calling off the trip. My 365th day of fishing in a row was a memorable one – hooking a wild steelhead while Kaydee and Becky watched. It seemed like a perfect day to end my “streak” – but I kept fishing.
While fishing most definitely helped me get through that year of uncertainty- I was mentally unwell. Those daily trips to the river became a crutch to help me get through each day. A little time at the river became a glimmer of hope in the gloomy fog that had settled in my brain. Many days I would cast for about ten minutes, and sit on the side of the river and cry.
Most definitely the streak was beyond cool and a wonderful novelty for conversations – I realized that my daily casts were seemingly targeting something besides trout. I was casting for something inside myself – I had no clue the quarry I was seeking in my own personal waters though. I felt there was something there I was chasing, but it was unseen. The daily fishing trips gave me hope that one day I would finally hook into it.
Visiting the same section of river on a nearly daily basis also brought me to a new level of intimacy with the wonders of the wild world we live in. Nature, unlike us humans, does an elegant job of flowing with change. Seeing and feeling these changes on a daily basis was life changing for me. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From my daily meditation on the river I finally understood and accepted the fragility of my own place in nature. I learned to flow with the currents with minimal “drag” – because that is when you catch the most fish.
I just kept fishing while I started up a new job last summer. In fact I worked from the basement in Bobbie’s place, so the river was right out my door while I logged into zoom meetings back-to-back for days on end. But I think I kept fishing because deep down, I still had yet to connect with that big fish that was still lurking just out of sight in the river out the door.
The hope fishing brought me helped me gather the courage to finally, really, “log out” of the tech world. So much of my identity and self-perceived worth was wrapped up in my career. Turning my back on that part of me was one of the most challenging moments of my life… financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
Finding the trail out of a mental place like that is a process. I just kept fishing. I had lots of ideas for a way forward… many of which involved utilizing the technology “crutch” that I had hung on to for so long. But finally in late October 2021, I decided on a whim almost to test out the waters of life as a substitute teacher.
The idea of me being a teacher seemed beyond WILD to me. I often would muse during conversations about how amazing I thought Becky was for being able to work with 3rd graders on a daily basis. Sitting through zoom calls seemed like a cake walk compared to being always “on” in front of dozens of seven and eight year old kiddos.
Seeing and hearing about the need for substitute teachers was enough reason for me to give it a try. Sub jobs were consistently going un-filled, so the staff of schools were having to give up planning time, and breaks, in order to help cover the vacancies.
Employees who typically work desk jobs for the school district were being asked to act as subs. It was an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality to keep the schools open as the omicron wave hit Central Oregon. And right around then, at the start of January, I took my first trip into the classroom as a freshly minted substitute teacher.
Starting a new job is scary. So I just kept fishing. Daylight is a scarce commodity in the deep of winter, so it was a challenge to find daylight to sneak down to the river ahead of a job in a classroom, or at REI. But I felt I needed that daily meditation to help me get through the challenges of a new job.
And indeed life as a substitute teacher has its challenges – but in many ways I thought I finally “hooked into” what I had been casting for. When I’m working in the classroom I feel like a light burning brightly 💡- it reminds me a bit of performing on stage… the energy of the students becomes a source of power for me, and I just have so. Much. Fun.
I quickly moved from being nervous about teaching to wanting more. I configured my phone alerts to ring during the night so I could be alerted of openings. It was as if had stumbled upon a new favorite fishing hole, one that I can’t wait to revisit as often as possible.
Feedback started to flow in from various directions. Students seemed to like me with my quirks and curiosities. Teachers started to request me to watch their classrooms again. Administrators and other staff thanked me often for being there. Nothing feels more wonderful then doing work that makes you feel alive, and being thanked for it.
And then just over two weeks ago, as my April and May dates had just started to book out – I got a call from the principal at my daughter’s middle school. She was wondering if I would be up for taking on a long-term position for the balance of the school year as a Social Studies teacher.
Last week was my first full week in the classroom. Long-term sub life is substantially more challenging then standard sub work. Popping into a class for a day or two is kind of like being that weird uncle who comes by to play for a day. Now I need to balance that fun learning vibe with planning lessons, responding to parental inquiries, and assigning and grading things.
I have so much to learn, and I haven’t worked this hard in years – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Thankfully I have so much support and a loving mentor in my wife Becky. Likewise my daughters have given me so much love and stoke in this new career endeavor… Kaydee even pops into my classroom multiple times a day with friends. I am living the dream.
Fortunately it is spring break again this week. This is letting me catch my breath after the whirlwind of events leading up to this new role – and giving me a chance to make lesson plans and rest. And of course do a little bit of fishing.
Yesterday was day number seven hundred and thirty in a row of this experiment. Two years. I’m humbled and awestruck by what I have hooked into in life during those past two years – and so eager to wake each day and excited to see what the day’s catch might yield. I realize that someday the streak will end, but for now I guess I’ll just keep fishing.