Wednesday, October 7, 2015

November 1 (Part 2 of 2)

As I drove up the gravel road in the Greenbrier section of the park, the air temperature was about 35 degrees so wet globs of snow were falling off trees onto the road and into the river. This was one of those moments when I had to decide what kind of person I am. Am I a manly man who will venture out into unpleasant conditions because that’s what manly men do, or am I the kind of guy who is afraid of a little snow? Because I want to be thought of as a manly man, I put on some extra clothes and slipped into my waders.

A few cars stopped to chat about the weather, or the fishing, or simply to figure out what in the world I was up to. I’m pretty sure as they drove away, some of them were saying to one another, “Now that’s a manly man.” I am equally certain that just as many were saying, “That guy’s an idiot.” I would take both as compliments, which is another sign that I’m a manly man. We manly men are misunderstood by mere mortals in shiny, clean cars. 

So, because of this imaginary peer-pressure, I walked across the road, down the hill, and into the river. I tied on a size 16 Royal Wulff – a red, green, and white dry fly with a long history of catching fish, even though it looks more like a tiny Christmas ornament than a bug. It’s what fly fishermen call an “attractor pattern,” which can be roughly translated as: it looks more like a tiny Christmas ornament than a bug.

To make a long story short (or am I too late for that?), trout like cloudy, dreary, rainy days, but they don’t like globs of snow splashing into 38 degree water. I fished for an hour, floating my dry fly along all the seams and runs in any water more than six inches deep, but without results. I continued to slosh my way upstream, casting with fading enthusiasm, when a 7”’ rainbow took my fly in a lightning-fast moment of indiscretion. I pulled him to me quickly, before he could fully grasp the severity of his situation. As I held him in my hand, he was cold and deeply-colored, and I think he may have shivered for a moment as he looked up at me, as if to say, “What are you doing out here in this kind of weather?” He seemed genuinely baffled that a human would be out in weather not fit for man nor fish. Of course, I could have asked him the same thing. He had taken a tiny Christmas ornament for no apparent reason. Maybe he was simply getting into the holiday spirit. We tend to anthropomorphize fish – they are moody, angry, curious, shy, horny, bored, etc. Why not add “festive” to the list?

I’ve never been so glad to catch a 7” fish because he had given me permission to get out of this weather and go home. I said I was going fishing, and I went fishing. I intended to catch a fish, and I caught a fish. Mission accomplished, let’s declare victory, pack it up and go home.

But as I waded back downstream, I stopped and looked back upstream for a moment in the direction of Greenbrier Pinnacle, which was hidden behind the clouds. Stop and enjoy the moment. The Smokies are one of your favorite places in the world, and Greenbrier is your favorite section of the park. This was… what? Good? Yes, of course, but it was more than that. It was… necessary. I needed this.

Sometimes I think all that stuff people say about “communing with Nature” or “cleansing your spirit” in the outdoors in just poetic hyperbole or New Age chatter, but on a cold, dreary day in November, as I stood alone in a cold river, I felt nourished and cleansed. Winter would be long and dark, and spring was just a dim light at the end of a long tunnel, but the challenge of a cold, rushing river and a seven inch fish had given me something indescribable and delicious. Not a sense of accomplishment or victory, but a sense of fulfillment, of being the kind of person I want to be in a place where I want to be. To be honest, all the talk about manliness is just empty, male chatter, and I’m really just a guy who knows where to go when my spirit needs a strong dose of Creation and a glimpse of the Creator.