It was hard to say when winter arrived. It kind of snuck in, inconspicuous from day to day but it settled in sometime during the fall bow hunt. Morning temps never reached their goals, the cold winds started to blow, and the trees lost their battle against the wind, and the leaves simply lost out. That was months ago and the weight of winter now feels like a burden; it has become a coat that has become too heavy to wear comfortably.
By December, the season was entrenched and the stark sycamore bones showed clearly against the monotone Kentucky skies; the boundaries of seasons were clearly defined and even the mud puddles and meadows crisped with first, a hard frost, and then, layer after layer of snow. There is something very stark about Kentucky winters, although it has never kept us out of the woods, and the wind carries a particular raw and damp coldness that makes a man burrow into the collar of his coat.
The hours of available daylight lessened and the seasonal winter trudge set in, the skies low, heavy, and a cold color of pig iron. Traffic on the nearby road seemed to even speed up, as if to outrun the season; it was a long distance line of red taillights on a road that glistened in the cold rain and reflected their hurry. If one were to squint, it would seem as if the sky was 10 feet off the ground. Neighborhood walkers became less and less and I became intensely susceptible to the images of Caribbean bone fishing that came unsolicited in the mail or on the laptop. And they were full of tanned, sun-warmed, and smiling people holding an elegant piece of aquatic silver, usually with a palm tree and white sand beach behind them. It was, as if the publishers of those images intuitively knew what would drive a normally intelligent and skeptical person who often displayed a prudent logic in their daily responsibilities, to forego their normal routine for a chance at even a day of sunny optimism.
Those daydreams are unexamined and simple images of happiness and one never truly imagines the perhaps ruinously expensive details of the journey or the effort it takes to achieve the exact location of perceived happiness as sustained by that simple image of fun, fish, and palm trees. And those unexamined details often throw the proverbial wrench into the machine, or the hink into the cast, and keep us from truly understanding the empowering process of traveling or fishing in a particular style.
If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest-including all its ardor and paradoxes—than our travels to fly fish. Fly-fishing does express, however sloppily and inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, and how it enhances the life outside of the constraints of work and the struggle for survival (if only of our soul) in this modern culture. It’s worth the effort and I love engaging the paradoxes and riddles involved in the process of fly fishing.
Those gloriously tropical images of Caribbean bonefish rarely present the deeper problems that require critical philosophical thinking that might go well beyond the box, so to speak. One must consider the practical constraints of the proposition; I see so many images that drive me to want to go to a physical location but rarely do we hear of why and how we should go. And because of this I feel people rarely allow themselves to truly feel the journey, nor do they employ a particular style that would allow them the joy of the journey. I travel for a living and it can often become a tedious trudge of airports, truck stops, and highway exits that look exactly like the last one. But I always feel a different joy when I’m embarking on a road trip for the sole reason of seeking happiness induced by the use of a fly rod. But those travels and road trips to fish have taught me so much more.
The reality of travel is rarely what we anticipate, and so is fly fishing but the ability to find joy is to seek out the details of what is simply different and it is that sense of divergence from the routine that new locations, new water, and expanded life experience/techniques offer that truly enhance our lives and perspective. So the argument could be made that the actualities of travel/fly fishing are often disappointing and perhaps avoided but to give in to the pessimism would be to devalue the experience.
T. and I chose to travel to a remarkably isolated place on the Yucatan Peninsula a couple of years ago and I was coming off a long run in which I had been gone from home for a couple weeks and I treated the trip as just another business affair leaving from just another airport. My stoic game face was on and the memories of the journey are similarly aloof but we never simply “travel” or “fish” do we? The details have faded over time, or at least my subconscious has weeded out the mundane: confining airline seats, rushed lunches or food that doesn’t digest well, the inexpert queue of all nations gathering at customs that usually drives me nuts.
But what I do remember is the sudden and momentous realization that I had inadvertently brought myself along on this trip. I had simply forgot to leave behind the critical thought processes and baggage of my personality (remember my pre-curmudgeon condition previously described in these essays?) and, as a sad result, had allowed myself to put constrictions on what otherwise might be an enjoyable experience. My eyes and presumptuous intellect were preventing me from appreciating not only the differences of warmth and sun from my previous location but maintaining a startling commitment to worry and anxiety regarding to details of living at home or working on the road. I was looking at the world through weary eyes and I was allowing myself to neglect the beauty that I overlooked as invisible as anything that is always around.
An unsuspecting result was that I was unduly impacting her joy by placing my skeptical vision on what was a shared experience. Traveling with a loved one, even for the trip of a lifetime (and we have shared many more of those than should be allowed), can be difficult and I seem to exacerbate the difficulties by placing my preconceived notions on the situation.
And, as it often happens and just like on the river, it takes a few hours/days for me to unwind enough to enjoy the simpler things but it had naturally happened by the time we were cruising a battered and sandy trail called a road to Punta Allen. There was a moment of clarity and stillness that made me stop the rented jeep and pull over to witness the supreme majesty of azure skies, empty beaches, and the warmth of sunshine on my face. Rather, the trip became an explosive memory of sight, sound, and smell once I was able to remove my own preconceived notions and limitations but I had to work to undo those psychological knots I had been tying. And not unlike fly fishing, one casting style does not meet all the needs of the day—you have to adjust.
It is easy to forget ourselves, or our seasons, when we contemplate pictures of far off places that are removed from our daily paths and the complicated knots that we use to tie our lives together. It’s easy to manifest our own ragged destinies if only through stubbornness and careless thoughtlessness and there are proportions of imbalance if one doesn’t take care to arrive to a new destination with an adjusted perspective.