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“Leave Something for the River”

Fly Fishing

photo by Greysen Johnson

There are rivers in my life, so many rivers. Systems and cycles fed by snowmelt and bug hatches, leaf fall and deep freeze. So many rivers.

I guide these rivers and fish these rivers and wander along these rivers and sleep beside these rivers. Rivers that run gold or red or nearly black at dusk. Rivers that run clear or jade green or pea green or soil brown. I fish all these rivers like my life depends on what can be caught there; sometimes my life has depended on what could be caught in these rivers.

In October I need most the fall light lingering buttery and heavy and in March the midday sun blazing like fire from banks of snow. I need most to forget cities, to forget drudgery, to forget self.

To have purpose, to have repetition, to have a container to hold onto and pour into and become lost in. Canyons to descend darkly. High plains to meander. Mountains to climb. To riffle. To pool. To collect behind deadfall. To undercut. To see the repetition of moving water over and over as the repetition of life. To be captured by gravity and collect and descend. To evaporate and ascend. To fall and accumulate and nurture and flood.

To catch over and over and over and over. To embody completely the focus of a predator. To disembody completely into tired footfalls, heat radiating into more heat, clear blue sky to fall forever outward into the dark matter of space.

It was simply because I held a fly-rod in my hand and the line floated and the fly floated and what had been hidden suddenly rose, breaking the surface and taking the fly. What had been hidden suddenly came alive turning in the current, against the current, with the current, and pulled me with it. What had been hidden I saw and cast to and stripped and stripped and set.

The river carried me away, and I went away. Fighting against the current I came back. All my life has become currents of water and tides; slicing through wind. Unfurling. Laying out. Presenting. All of life has become presentation in current. Presentation in the currentless. The driftless. The drift. Leading. Thinking ahead. Casting ahead. Repeating, repeating, repeating.

It is time to leave something for the river. More than laying the rod against the tall grass or sagebrush or willows and sitting for an afternoon tossing grasshoppers into a riffle watching trout feed. More than choosing not to fish during drought when fish have nowhere else to go. More than choosing not to fish during spawn when fish are reproducing. More than barbless hooks or banning lead weights and anchors. More than just keeping fish wet, or a minimal amount of water moving between parched boulders. More than the grind of boots through gravel or scrape of boat against boulder. Dusty parking lots. De-vegetated camp sites and riverbanks. It is time to leave something else.

It is time to leave something for the river. For our lives composed by rivers, because their music is our music, their seasons are our seasons. Because a river is everything in this life.

What will you leave?