Aug 04 2008

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Wet-wading a Mountain Stream

Posted at 5:54 am under Blog Post

Sometimes I get into such a funk that I have to grab my fly rod and head for the hills in the middle of the day even though I know that summer afternoons are a lousy time to fish. While driving out of town, I make a short list in my head of the reasons why I’m in a funk. Fact is, though, I often reach a point where I just can’t handle the layers of bullshit that pass for daily life in these modern times. In the middle of winter, I use a strong cup of coffee and thoughtful essay by some dead philosopher to keep the funk at bay.  But in the summer, it makes more sense to simply get away.

Above a series of deep pools just east of Montgomery Center, the headwaters of the Trout River flow out of a forest that’s surprisingly wild for being so close to a major ski area. I prefer fishing other places when I’m serious about catching trout, but this is a good place to lose the funk. The sheer volume of water passing through this rugged terrain makes it nearly impossible to walk this stream without crossing it and getting wet, and that’s a good reason to come here. It isn’t easy to dwell upon the sorry state of human affairs while cold mountain water is rushing hard against your thighs.

Wet-wading a mountain stream, fly rod in hand, is an exercise in humility. This isn’t the idyllic fly-fishing experience painted by Maclean in A River Runs Through It, where skill, knowledge and grace induce a communion with nature reminiscent of simpler times. This is wet, sloppy, pointless fishing where the trout run small, your backcast often catches in the overhanging branches of trees, and you slip on the rocks and fall down. Perfect! Now I’m getting somewhere. Now I’m learning, once again, that the bullshit of the world is rooted within.

I curse the tree when my fly is caught in it. I curse the stones underfoot when I fall down. I curse the river when I can’t entice the big fish to rise to my offerings. But eventually I stop cursing. Once I’m wet to the waist, after I’ve stumbled up the stream long enough and lost enough flies, I stop cursing. And the whimsical catch-and-release game that I’m playing with 6-inch brookies seems pleasant enough.

I don’t know how other people do it, how they manage to keep their wits when the world around them is going crazy. My wife works for the State and deals with more bullshit in a week than I do in a year. A friend of mine seems to thrive on the kind of bureaucratic madness that would make me go postal. My stepson is doing well for himself in Washington D. C. – an environment that seems utterly toxic to me. Different people have different coping mechanisms, no doubt. Mine is an afternoon on a mountain stream when I can’t disappear into deep woods for a longer period of time.

The hike back to the car is often the best part. This is especially true when I’ve followed the stream so far back that I’m not quite sure where I am, or when retracing my steps seems like too much work. Then I climb away from the water and tag some kind of trail. With soaked boots squishing and my rod pointing the way, I tramp out of the woods with a stupid grin fixed on my face. The brush along the trail whips against me but I don’t care. An ovenbird is singing, spotted touch-me-not is blooming in the wet places, and smell of the forest is intoxicating. Yessir, life is good when you can shed the bullshit. I unload mine whenever I can.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Wet-wading a Mountain Stream”

  1. Deb Wingerton 06 Aug 2008 at 7:39 am 1

    How I envy you the mountain stream. We are extremely dry in Ohio right now and last Saturday’s stream quality monitoring was a sad state of affairs. People stating that humans are the real “endangered species” while fouling our waterways lead me to homicidal thoughts and other Commandment transgressions. Unrepentantly, we keep on cleaning up after the river pigs while cursing them out loud.
    Maybe I’ll grab my flyrod and head to the lake.

  2. Walton 07 Aug 2008 at 8:52 am 2

    Whoa, Deb, it sounds like YOU are in a funk! Don’t let the fools get to you. Patience and perseverance will ultimately trump short-sightedness. Hang in there.

  3. Deb Wingerton 07 Aug 2008 at 11:45 am 3

    You are absolutely correct. My patience wears thinner the older I get, but the perseverance to aid the environment will stick with me until my last breath. So many to teach and so little time 🙂