Last weekend was Mother’s Day. My daughter, Annie, and I decided to spend it together do something we loved: we went to the Sierra to go fly-fishing. Since she was a little girl, we have been fond of the ‘Range of Light’ mountain range. It was dubbed this by conservationist John Muir for the way the light blankets the mountains. For Annie and me, the beauty of this spot keeps us coming back whenever we can find the time in our busy schedules. In truth, it seems those times are fewer and further apart as the years go by. So, I was excited when Annie suggested this bonding ‘Mother-Daughter’ getaway: to catch up with Annie and to catch fish, well that’s just heaven on Earth!
On the car ride up we chattered away like teenagers. I shared the inspirations and perspirations of my doctoral thesis and Annie shared stories of a new job and new boyfriend. As the Bay Area disappeared in our rear view we were soon greeted by the splendor we miss on a daily basis: the pine trees that line the highway, followed by the majestic mountains that open up to reveal the most glorious alpine lake in the country. Arriving at the cabin, some three hours later, you would think we would have run out of things to talk about but, after dinner, we were still gabbing at the fireplace. I am convinced there is something about the air that just makes you want to let everything spill out; but, we knew we had to get up early and reluctantly went to sleep.
Now, the best times to catch trout is very early, or very late, when the temperature suits them and they come up to the surface to feed. Annie and I were in full wading gear, in the Truckee River, during the early hours to greet those fish for breakfast. Of course, you don’t want to make too much of a ruckus or get the lines crossed, so Annie stood a distance downstream of me. If we needed to communicate we could gesture, but you really need to keep things quiet so you don’t scare the fish away. Of course, we are not really that good at fishing so it wasn’t going to make too much of a difference.
People have said there’s spirituality to fly-fishing, more than others type of fishing. I think it’s partly because you are not on the sidelines daydreaming. You are physically in the river. You are immersed, a part of it, and completely in nature. I noticed as I baited my hook that the river was beating gently across my leg; I could smell the vanilla of the Jeffrey pines, and hear the caw of an eagle overhead. I breathed it all in, feeling the magic of the moment in this endless river that eventually finds its way to the sea.
Even though Annie is about 20 feet away suddenly, I am completely alone, immersed in the moment and a part of it. Like flying, my awareness of every move I make in this environment seems hyper-realized to me. I let my fly line float down, cast it out, let it float down again. The line makes an s-loop behind me and reaches forward for a silent drop. The line stretches out across the water. I felt the grace of the movement and saw the beauty of a perfect cast as the river continued to flow around me.
It is so rare that we have these moments with the river, the mountains, and with ourselves. Perhaps through meditation one can experience that hyper-presence, but to my mind, nothing can compare with the personal bond of fly-fishing. Standing in the river, for hours at a stretch, you feel the oneness with nature. I could think of no greater Mother’s Day gift than to share that spectacular sensation with my beautiful daughter. We both were in our own worlds, but appreciating the same beauty that surrounded us together.
Eventually, the sky sent a distant thunder that would end our day in mid-stream. As the raindrops started to fall, we waded back to the banks of the river. While we caught no fish that day, we actually landed something pretty big: we caught up with ourselves. All the running around, minds racing, deadlines approaching and internal (as well as external) chatter all faded away. We found an inner calm by putting the brakes on the constant motion of our days and concentrating on just one motion – casting a perfect line. I would hope that anyone who reads this finds that splendor of solitude, that connection to nature and that unique bonding that can only happen in the middle of a river at dawn. Most of all, find your river, whatever it may be.