In a world that insists on "means" and "ends," that dooms every path to a destination, fishing elides the categories and so slips the distinction all together. You become engaged in the non terminal, participial indefiniteness of "going fishing."
I don't know how it happened, but my 4th summer of guiding is over. I spent much of the winter months fantasizing about just how I would spend summer when it eventually arrived. Camping, hiking to remote mountain lakes for colored-up cutthroats, hiking to my favorite tributary of the Rio Chama to catch big buttery browns on hoppers, soaking up the summer's rays with clients, old and new. I had very specific visions in my mind of how my summer would look.
The reality is that at least 6 weeks of that precious summer that I had dreamt of, sometimes while sitting over a hole in the ice trying to catch a cold, sluggish fish with a mealy worm, will be spent on the couch with a broken leg.
Briefly, I would console myself with the thoughts of journaling, the stacks of books that I would finally complete and tackling those community projects that had grown stale due to neglect during this busy season. I have picked up 3 different books and can't seem to concentrate long enough to read many pages. Projects that I was now free to work on, found my time not aligning with other's time. My morning coffee hasn't tasted good. For someone who typically spends most days outside, it's now nearly impossible for me go out doors unassisted. Healing bones involves more profound changes to our bodies and minds than simply being non-weight bearing.
I had had a big day of picking up waders for clients, filling the cooler with ice and drinks and rigging up rods. I had a brief meeting in town and then I would be joined by my friend in the evening to fish and take some photos and perhaps collect some mushrooms. I had already chosen the perfect spot the night before. A high elevation spring creek near my home with brookies, bends, pools and a waterfall. 6 casts yielded 6 feisty brook trout. This would be the perfect location to spend the next evening with my friend. When the time finally arrived, we traveled to the secret spot and gathered a minimum amount of gear as we left the trucks. We began the hike down to the river, navigating the game trail carefully as not to slip on the muddy decline. The uphill bank of the trail was covered in various mushrooms and mosses springing forth from the rich black soil. The only mushroom that I have ever confidently foraged is a morel. It's pretty unmistakeable and it's nutty deliciousness is something I carry with me from my childhood. Identifying other edible mushrooms has always scared the heck out of me. My friend is a confident forager and I was excited to learn. The generous monsoon has turned the forest floor into thriving colonies of fungi. Neither plants nor animals, these fungus microorganisms are having their best summer life with our frequent afternoon rains.
After making the descent to the river, I immediately noticed something that was not present the night before on my scouting mission. Cows. The river valley was full of cattle grazing on the lush green grass near the water. Undeterred, I made my first cast. There was a brookie. He promptly unhooked himself midair and was gone. 3 more casts yielded the same result. No colorful brook trout in the net to photograph. On the 5th cast my fly went into a pine tree near the bank. Frustrated at this point, I jerked the fly toward me and dislodged not only the fly but also the final guide at the tip of my rod. We continued to walk, cast (with my now free rotating final rod guide), and talk. The sun was beginning to set. The golden hour was approaching. I decided to hop from one side of the river to the other, as we had done at least a handful of times already on our trek. As I hopped from my bank to a rock in the middle of the river, my foot slipped causing me to land crooked on my left ankle on the opposite bank of the river. A loud pop. A flash of nausea, and I knew. I tried to "walk it off" and continue; but after a few more bends in the river, and a few more casts into the remaining pools, I could no longer ignore the swelling in my boot. We slowly walked back to the trucks. My friend stayed to forage boletes, and other edible mushrooms and would check on me on her way home. We never made it to the waterfall.
I had miscalculated a rock in the river; had I also miscalculated other things? I had, for that moment, lost sight of what it meant to simply "go fishing."
I had felt the need to rush into recreating the evening before. The one where every cast produced a beautiful brook trout. The one without cows. The one with perfect lighting.
I had thought that I was physically fitter than I was. Handed some garage sale crutches to give myself some mobility, I was at first exhausted and weak. Life can change abruptly, I wasn't prepared. Although if you had asked me before I fell, I would have argued that I was.
Ultimately maybe this was the check-in that I needed to have with myself, physically and mentally. I haven't found myself frustrated or bitter. Ok, maybe a little frustrated trying to take a shower on a stool with a bag over my cast or navigating narrow restaurant seating with crutches, but definitely not bitter. Sad. Sad that my guide season is over and I have had to hand off clients and precious time on the water to trusted guides.
I thought that I had been doing my best, and maybe I haven't. I feel the need to have more agency over myself going forward. I see the gaps clearer now, where to push and where to back off.
Nature's cycle gives us an opportunity to reset ourselves with each of the changing seasons. For me, spring and summer mean earlier mornings meeting clients, being more social physically and spending less time on social media. As fall approaches, we make the final push of productivity before the calm of winter and a slower living lifestyle takes over here in the mountains. Summer fishing is long days full of dry flies eats, wild flowers and fast water. Fall fishing begins to slow down as the leaves change color and begin to tumble from the trees; the feeling is more philosophical. Fish are feeding to fill up for winter. Less anglers means more solitude. The days are already becoming shorter. I will miss the brown trout spawn; dead drifting streamers for big browns on my favorite stretch of the Chama for fall fishing. I will miss fall turkey and hiking quietly behind during elk season. I guess it's time to look forward to the quiet challenges of my local winter tail waters and once again drilling holes in the ice. To simply go fishing again.
Most fishermen find better footing in the shifting forces of current than on what is called solid ground.
I encourage you to focus on what works and contemplate what doesn't in your life. Be reflective and show up for yourself physically and emotionally. I know that I need to make space for growth in my life and business, challenge myself creatively and push myself harder physically. I don't plan to spend much more time on this couch than the doctor says that I have to.
I'm sure that I'm not the only one who didn't live out their summer fantasy. Let me know if this resonates with you. How did you heal from a physical trauma and how did it effect you long term?