Friday, October 22, 2010

If the Waders Fit...

My husband is an avid fly fisherman. When a much coveted fishing trip to one of his many fishing Shangri-La’s fell victim to the bad economy, I encouraged him to go anyway. He encouraged me to come along. The Shangri-La? Nelson, British Columbia--a small berg in the Kootenay Valley about 3 hours north of Spokane, Washington. Roxanne, a 1987 update of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah, was filmed in Nelson. If the story weren’t so delightful and Martin so good in the role, the backdrop of the town might well have upstaged the actors. It is that drop-dead gorgeous. So I agreed to pack my books, laptop and walking shoes. If you can’t enjoy a week in a quaint mountain town on the shores of a pristine lake at the end of summer season with the leaves turning to gold, you’re missing a pulse.

He scheduled three days with a Nelson-based fishing guide, we opened a bottle of wine and watched Roxanne again one night and before I knew it, I’d agreed to fish one day. Fishing has always been his thing and I’ve preferred to keep it that way. I believe in couples having their own space and riffs on life.

I’ve never been particularly patient—especially with myself while trying to learn something new that requires the coordinated use of body parts. My face still burns with the memory of a middle school gym teacher’s fury at my inability to coordinate hands and feet while doing a simple bounce on a trampoline. I have a permanent Ms. Martin planted in my brain when it comes to anything but the simplest sports. I can walk, run, hike, and canoe. That’s it. Fly fishing is the Zen practice of the fishing world—a skill-intensive, passion-required pursuit that takes years of devotion to master.

But I’ve also been feeling a little restless and bored with myself. My kids are off at college, doing well and coming home with less and less frequency. The house seems too big and the effort to maintain it less and less appealing. I feel the clock ticking and I watch my parents and my friends’ parents move gracefully and not so gracefully toward Dickinson’s final “supple Suitor.” I look for the more hardy and happy AARPers around me. What’s their secret? Some of it is luck and good genes, no doubt. But, by in large, they also tend to be resilient folks. They are curious and engaged—open to and in search of new adventures big and small. They are still willing to take risks—to move beyond what is routine and comfortable for the rush of a new experience. The impulse to shake things up a bit lives on.

I have never been a natural or big risk taker. I’ve never travelled alone through Africa or India or China or even Europe for that matter. I don’t climb mountains or scuba dive or spelunk. I don’t like roller coasters or Ferris wheels. The risks I’ve taken in my life have tended to be emotional rather than physical. I quit my graduate program in English and moved to a big city. I asked my now husband out for our first date. I moved and moved again, starting book clubs to find my needed quota of close female friends. I re-entered my disabled sister’s life after decades of family abandonment. I wrote a novel and asked people to read and critique it.

It was a small thing—going fly fishing—hardly registering on the risk-o-meter of life but it made me face some of my small demons—the Ms. Martin in my head. Did I snag my husband in the face with a wild cast? Yes. Did I loose countless fish to the guide’s serenade of “set the hook!” Yup. Did I let the small trout I did catch flip out of my hands before a photo could be snapped? You bet. But I also felt the exhilaration of standing up in the bow of that drift boat as we bounced through the rapids on a crisp, blue-sky day. I watched the dimpled circles of the trout rising as the day’s light danced across the water and faded into the mountains. I felt the slick, cool body of a trout, watched it flex its peached-streaked belly and arc its way back to the water.

And when, having tarried a bit too long, our guide ended the long day navigating the river’s rapids in the dark as the temperature dropped, I suppressed all manner of whine.

So am I now born again in waders? A full-fledge convert to the sport? Not likely but I’ve not set my brand new Orvis chest-highs out by the curb either. A half-day on a Wisconsin trout stream where my husband can keep a safe distance and my book waits on the river bank may be just my kind of Zen.

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