Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Heading on Down

The parallel is too obvious for me to go into loathsome detail about, but there is a striking similarity between a person's life...and a stream.

A number of rivers, creeks and streams I've been on recently have been new to me. While on the water, I only rarely carry or refer to a map (if one is even available). Often, the fishing or just the surroundings are so captivating that I get very near-sighted. That has resulted in countless close-calls and trips, but it also has given me a moment-by-moment way of being on the water. That way of being inevitably leads to never quite knowing what will be up ahead, what will be brought to sight from another few steps downstream. Bends that shoot to the left have never given me warning, either on the stream or in life. They're a thing of beauty when fishing, but not always so when not. Having reality take radically new directional bents can be tiresome, stressful and confusing. I'd love life to go straight ahead all the time, at least then maybe I could see more than 50' of what's coming.

Those bends, though, are where the fishing is. Arrow-straight runs are great, especially if they're a bit roughened by a lively stream-bed or a small fall or two. The bends are more dynamic, and they always produce more fish for me. The difference between a pleasant, watery bend and a frightening, real-life bend seems to be rooted in a few different places. I let go of control when fishing, relishing all the ways I find myself on the edge of it; life, though, at least a good "American" one, is not one to be--we are taught--left to an uncontrolled state. I've been a very good American.

The bends come, though. Oh do they come. And it is in the head of those bends that I am met with uncontrolled water. It is water that misbehaves and cuts the bank, rushing forward in one spot and rushing back in a spiraling whirl in another. The very question of what to do is out of control--"Do I follow the water or do I continue straight?" If I follow the water I continue to fish, and that is a certain continuity in its own right. If I go straight, I leave the water but continue my direction. Bends, wet or dry, propose questions that demand a decision on which continuity takes priority. I have recently realized that the most important question for me to ask in light of that first question is: "Am I here for the sake of the water or am I just passing through?" If I am on the stream-path for the sake of doing what can only be done in a stream, then I had better well follow that bend. If I am only passing through, then its really only a matter of utility that I ever entered the water, and getting back out to continue straight bears no penalty.

I have never once dipped into water for the sake of reaching land, though. It is quite the other way around. I take all bends with rod in hand; I'm learning to take all bends...period, though. There is a paradox of being flexible and deathly stubborn at once. Directionally, even circumstantially, I have had to learn to be flexible on the water, going left or straight or right without question. There is a stubbornness there too, though; I've set myself to following the stream, to following where the fish live. I'm not sure if that should be said as stubbornly flexible or flexibly stubborn, but both elements have to be in you. They cannot, I've found, be isolated or ignored.

I've made the mistake before, and still suffer from the syndrome of making it now, of confusing the path with the destination (and vice-versa). I've even become so focused on the destination that I've gotten upset over the path, forgetting its necessity and ability to result in a destination. That aside, knowing to certainty one's own destination is usually impossible; it has been for me. That's why I'm writing right now.

These days, in life, I'm choosing to fish the water down from the bend. I'm fishing the water in the bend one step down at a time; I'll reach new water beyond what I can see any moment now. There are casts to be made, fish to catch and fish to lose, and water to leak into my waders. I can see the dry land that went straight, some of my friends are up there. Their waders aren't leaking, but I don't think they came to fish. I did, though, and I like it. I can't say what's around the arching corner, but I know it's wild down there and I know it's what my life will be if I just keep fishing. I'll get there eventually, and I might even find a calm stretch to patch up my waders.

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