***Laurel River in North Carolina
There’s something about the water and the way it flows around your legs, or the slipperiness of the mud on the slope around it. It’s the smell of the morning mist where a river can create its own fog or the constant trickle or flow that you hear in the night but can’t see. Ponds and lakes aren’t my favorites; it takes the vitality of moving water and only a river can give me what I really want.
It can be a small channel, an undercut riverbank, or a creek fed by run-off but the river contains a grace through association and mystery. The water of a moving river, even a slow one, has a thousand color and shapes but must adhere to defined and longstanding laws of nature-- A river seems to find its own level, inherent to the natural lie of the topography that contains it, and even the smallest creek mimics the natural movements of a larger river; when observed closely one can see that a twig or leaf dropped into the current follows the same laws as the larger bodies of water. The twig will follow the faster channel or flow and, when challenged with a pebble or obstruction, will follow the eddy or swirl around --and such observations might be a benefit to the angler or perhaps a laymen philosopher. These actions of the twig and the energy of the small stream are conveyed on much larger terms when the rivers grow to size. The smaller streams and tributaries, of course, feed the energy of the larger river and event the smallest event is replicated on a larger scale—not unlike how our earliest notions obtained in childhood seem to maintain a connection to our present and future adult manifestations.
It is this unity that appears in natural patterns that entrances me and I feel better, and larger, as a person for the understanding of what might be profound truths that surpass what might be considered mundane. My place in this world seems to be confirmed by my time spent on the water; the understanding of this unity in nature is hardly recognition of something that might prove useful to the gathering of practical knowledge but it seems to confer a confirmation that my body and spirit are truly palpable and heartfelt.
I’ve always told people that I consider myself similar to a round rock in a river—one can take it out or throw it as far as your arm can throw it--and the river simply doesn’t care. It just keeps doing what it’s going to do but it is the mystery and association of the premise that life (and the river) proves to be larger and more complicated than to simply be controlled.
Many days of my youth were spent haphazardly traipsing from one knob to another, errantly avoiding school and actively seeking outdoor adventures that only a couple of kids could find—caves, snakes, swimming, etc.… We were unsupervised on these excursions and the rolling hills held mystery for me and I was a redneck Hardy boy who loved finding old barns or foundations where structures once stood, left over farm equipment, and believing the day dream that I grew up 150 years before I really did.
More often than not, I came home with scratches and sprains that couldn’t be explained to the supervising adults. I like to believe that those old forgotten memories are still somewhere inside me and they are viable still today as collected life experiences simply reduced to muscle memory and old injuries.
It was during these halcyon days of my childhood spent in Kentucky’s summer haze that I learned to shoot, how to hold a rod, and how to dodge snakes. Those creeks welcomed me like an old friend and I started to learn their nuances and secrets simply by familiarity and frequency; They could often times be fickle and turn dangerous when I wasn’t paying attention and just like those old injuries keep ghosting in my life, those lessons learned in nature are seemingly on-going. One still has to respect the natural forces around us.
My grandfather had a permanently crooked finger from a childhood copperhead snakebite so I’ve always tried to be respectful of the snake. In my current state of maturity, and I stay away from the phrase “adult” because it reeks of responsibility and overrated ideals, I’ve learned that not all snakes are in the woods; Some snakes walk on two feet and don’t live in the stacked stone fencerows. And maybe that’s why I have always found the pleasure and solitude of fishing a river or small stream to be pleasing to my soul.
Those creeks and rivers are still my friends, even when I am now traipsing around the world and searching out new waters, and rarely have I met a river that wasn’t immediately recognizable to me. Three or four hours can pass by without me even looking up when I’m standing in them and have a fly rod in hand. Time doesn’t have an accurate measure when the water is flowing around my ankle or hip and the promise of a shadow flashing across the bedrock of the river catches my eye.
I would lose myself back in those creeks and woods of my childhood just as easy as these modern times, but my wanderlust is the same--but it is the water that reminds me to be a little bit more human these days.
***William Fork in Colorado