Fly fishing with a friend along a narrow stretch of Aishihik River, I let my mind wander.
Stream fishing is the perfect environment for aimless thought.
I watch my friend position a well-chewed March Brown over a shinny boulder that has broken the surface of this placid stretch of river.
We wait for a rise.
The cycle repeats itself.
He splays out another long cast.
A perfect arc of dry line, braided leader and 6x-tippet forms behind him and is immediately snapped forward.
We finally break from the good work of fishing for a cup of tea. Tucking ourselves comfortably into a dimple of thick yellowing grass we stare, hypnotized by moving water.
He dozes in the afternoon sun.
I let my mind continue to wander.
I think about all that is wrong with the world today; the dishonest election of George W. Bush, for example.
Was his rise to power the result of a rigged election, a savvy corporate media campaign, or just a very dumb electorate unable or unwilling to see through the smoke?
My guess is all three — the perfect storm.
An event — no matter how contrived or accidental — destined to replace democracy with oligarchy.
I wonder how long it will take for the storm to reach Canada.
A hatch of some kind quickly plasters the surface of the river and fish begin to feed. I fetch my box of flies and try to match the real with the artificial.
Big broad wings, short tail, bright white. In between a split quill and a delta wing with a tied-down collar. I have several that should do the trick.
But I am satisfied with thinking.
I slide the box of flies back into my vest and pour more tea.
I think about fish, fly fishing, the feel of the strong sun on my back.
Harry Middleton once wrote a marvelous book, The Earth is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Flyfishing, Trout, and Old Men.
I think about his book.
Middleton’s old men lived poor, worked little and fished as often as they could. If they weren’t fishing, they were thinking about fishing.
“Fly fishing absorbed them, touched every aspect of their lives on and off the creek,” Middleton tells us.
“To say that it was all just a matter of catching fish would be like saying that astronomy is nothing more than noticing the stars.
“Fly fishing, like the noble trout, had character, a tough eloquence about it.”
And he continues, “Once an angler took up the fly rod, he became heir to a sturdy body of opinion, belief, and notions, all of which tended to blind the angler, the fly rod and trout together for a lifetime.”
Fishing was deeper still to Middleton’s old men.
“The way they saw it, fly fishing had saved them from the dreary life of subsistence farmers, giving them a way to participate in the rhythms of the natural world other than by shouldering a hoe.”
“Too, fly fishing was great therapy. It kept them nearly sane, out of trouble, usually sober, and allowed them to pursue a life that, in imagination at least, had no limits or boundaries.”
Fishing for these guys way a way of entering into and maintaining the simple life.
It became the mental activity (never a sport) that led them into an understanding of politics, economics and friendship. It was the frame around which all their thinking could gain form.
Middleton has his main characters fill us with emotional simplicity.
One of them, Albert, laments, “Chickens are hard-core-revolutionaries out to change a fowl world.”
And, “This house is where I take my natural rest, but my home is out there, beyond the back door.”
Middleton writes up his old men in order to teach us something about what is really necessary, important.
“The outdoor life pleases these old men so because they believed any properly obsessed fly fisherman carried rivers and trout inside him.
“The addicted angler, the only kind worth being, always had a place to cast his line, no matter how deep his pain.”
Middleton reminds us his characters are “a couple of innocent oldtimers who took from the land only what it cost to love it.”
Sitting here in the warm grass with an old friend, looking out on the Aishihik River full of life, I begin to get it.
Maybe more fly fishing is just the tonic we need to refresh and enlighten a numb and twisted electorate.
It seems to me we have to first come alive, breath a bit and learn to relax.
We need to discover the differences between the real and the artificial. If we can, we will land bigger fish, elect better leaders.