The sound of my alarm fractures what’s left of the night. It’s 4:30 am and I’m wide awake. Without hesitation, I rise from my bed and apply every layer of clothing I’ll need for the day. The room is dark yet I shuffle without so much as a stumble. This has become a routine to me and it almost feels sacred. A few years ago, I would have had to answer to her. “You can’t venture out into the wilderness on your own, Honey. It’s not safe and it worries me.” She knew why I did it but never accepted it.
“I’ll be fine. I love you, Mom. Say a fish prayer.”
An hour later and I am almost to my spot. It’s absolutely freezing and I have to convince myself to open the car door. I hate this part. Despite my layers, the cold air slaps me in the face and rests upon my bones. I click on my head lamp, proceed to the trail, and begin my decent to the river. Years ago I would have been terrified to be alone in the wild without so much as a nightlight to guide me. But I’ve since learned that nightmares come in the light of day and steal your breath, shake you to your core, and rob you of the normalcy that had become your life. Reality took me by the hand and threw me into a pit of grief, anger, and resentment that almost devoured me whole. Once I crawled out of the pit, I realized that I would never again be the woman I was before. I was no longer soft, I was no longer fragile, and I was no longer the doormat that I’d been for so long. I argued with God, demanding answers as to why so much had been taken from me. I screamed at Him, pissed off about the heartache, destruction, and emptiness I had been treading in. By the time I crawled out of that hole, I had to fight for my own survival and mental wellness and it was during that torturous time that I discovered this routine – a routine that has saved me in more ways than one.
I find my carved out spot on the riverbank and I wait. The way the moonlight dances on top of the black current is mesmerizing and I lose myself in it. Two very different forces coming together on one canvas as though they’re secret lovers joining for one last waltz before the morning light. In my mind I struggle with so many things – pain, guilt, grief, anxiety- but here, sitting before two pieces of the universe over 4 billion years old, I am reminded that my mere presence here is insignificant and, although I am blessed to be a witness to this dance, I am nothing compared to the journey they have traveled. As the moonlight bids farewell to the current, hues of pink, orange, and lavender blend into the canvas and the same black current that hosted the moon now shows itself in hues of green. The birds begin to wake the forest and the symphony that ensues reminds me that it’s almost time.
“Be with me, today. Please.. be with me.”
Within minutes, I cast high into the current. There is an unexplainable excitement that comes with the first few casts and my eyes don’t leave my line. Everything that pains me falls away and I’m now in a space all my own. With every cast, a newfound hope sails out with my line. I study the current, the depth, and the path that my line follows below the surface. About the time I begin to feel the effects of frost bite kissing my finger tips, my bobber goes down. Within a second my fingers come back to life and my heart begins to race. Just as the moon danced here just minutes ago, my own dance has started. As my line screams off the reel, my pole bends to the side. It’s a delicate balance of reeling in and of allowing the distance to grow. I can’t explain these moments I live. What is on the other end of my line is almost as vital to me as the moon is to the currents of the world. This steelhead, having swam thousands of miles over the course of years to reach this exact spot, reminds me that I am very much still alive. Two worlds colliding with no promise of ever meeting. I reel down with every chance I get and ever so gently steer this beautiful creature in my direction. If I am lucky, I will release it back into the water with all of the gratitude and wonder in my heart. If it’s lucky, it will release from my line before we have a chance to meet and I will be left to only imagine it’s colors and characteristics.
Steelhead fishing isn’t a passion that I grew up with. However, fishing with my father was. The home that I grew up in was freckled with addiction and alcoholism. Chaos, instability, and hostile behavior. My bedroom was often the floor of a cheap hotel room, tucked in by my loving parents who would pretend that the torn polyester comforter that encased me was a cocoon. To me, this gesture of tucking me in felt like the purest forms of love. Looking back, I can’t imagine the shame they felt each time they did it, knowing that they were drinking away the possibility to provide a stable, healthy, and warm home for my sister and me. My father would often take me fishing with him and for hours I would watch the man I knew and loved so dearly transform before my eyes. He was a broken boy trapped in the body of a sorrowful man but when I’d study him – waist deep in the Rogue River with a cigarette in one hand and his fly rod in the other – he was alive. The deep lines on his face spoke of years of abuse, of poor choices, and of sun exposure from working in construction to feed his addictions. He would lift the line from the water in one fluid swoop and tiny droplets would cry off as he whipped it behind him, catching the light of the sunset as they faded out of sight. Over and over again he did it, perfecting what had become his art form. I was too young and naive to understand why he did this, especially when it rarely resulted in a catch but years later and with tears in my eyes, I would come to understand what kept him casting out into the sunset. It wasn’t just fishing to him. It was the solace of simply casting out..
This weekend I found myself waist-deep in the middle of the Rogue. Without thinking, I whispered your name as her waters swept past me. Not loud enough for the girls to hear but with enough breath that I convinced myself the wind would carry it to wherever you are. What I wouldn’t give to relive our days together on this river. Despite the chaos and the instability, we found peace here. I remember scanning the rocky shores in-between casts and picking out her beauty. As your cancer spread, you told me how much our time fishing together saved you in life. I so badly wish I could tell you once more how much those same moments, years later, have saved me. You thought you were teaching me how to fish, when in truth you were teaching me the only remedy I would ever need to heal and find who I am. This morning I sorted through the chaos of the currents and picked out her beauty for you. I miss you. I love you. I still needed you and mom.
Until the next cast,
Twist Twist Wiggle Wiggle Crunch Crunch