In The Field: Perspective, ritual and the perfect fly cast
In The Field
When I was younger, I used to think of fly-fishing as redemptive. I would remove myself from an often-reckless life and head to the closest stream to clear my head with one of the most innocent and honest endeavors of which I was aware.
The communion with nature felt both cathartic and spiritual. Every day on the river felt like a rebirth, and I felt good again, in the appropriate sense of the word “good.” Perhaps due to a Catholic childhood, I always felt like I was vacillating between an honorable life and an undignified life. When I felt the latter, I fled to the river to unplug from a world that seemed to be filled with unnecessary burdens.
I would rise early, collect my equipment in the half-light of morning, run through the inventory of an ever-increasing list of essentials and then drive in silence to some solitary spot that I had chosen through thorough research.
Streamside, I’d slowly approach the pools and riffles that promised the best chance of catching a trout. Then, I’d enter the water with deliberate steps to get into position for the perfect cast.
Before beginning, I often placed my hands in the water to wet them and moisten the cork handle. I even held casting the fly rod in reverence: I focused on the how and where and why of the movements of the rod tip with the attentiveness of a master calligrapher transcribing poems into a text for posterity. This was a process I repeated diligently every day, and, by sunset, I always felt somehow like a better person, healthier and more grateful for having had such an opportunity.
Follow the water
A part of me knew that it wasn’t just the fishing, but I didn’t understand what the time on the river was giving me. It wasn’t redemption from recklessness, but, rather, it was simply an opportunity to get back to center. I was reconnecting with something inside of me that had been slipping away little by little each day I stayed away from the river. Once back on the water, I’d ask myself why I had been away for so long, especially when I knew how good it made me feel. I had never tried to articulate why I felt better and it took me some time to realize how this process worked.
Recently, I traveled to Colombia, and, before returning, I attended a spiritual retreat in the mountains east of Medellin. At dusk, the shaman’s apprentice had us gather around a fire and, through thick cigar smoke, explained that the practices we would participate in over the next three days were thousands of years old. What followed was a well-thought out regiment of cleanses and purges and intense mindfulness that would help us reclaim some primordial awareness of our connection with the world, with our fellow man.
“Our absolute attention,” he said, “is necessary. Man needs ritual. He needs it to slow down time, to see life as it was before we began to accumulate all the garbage we now carry within us.”
It took me a moment to understand what he meant by “garbage.” It was everything I carried with me: guilt, stress, anger, disappointment, resentment — everything that burdened me. He told us to embrace the rituals, to be mindful of every thought and act, to do so slowly and consciously so as to be present in the minutia of each moment.
Without knowing it, I already had an important ritual. From the moment I awoke, those mornings and began gathering my rod and flies to the moment I returned to the car at dusk, tired and contented by a day well spent, I was performing every step with dignity and appreciation. This brought me an inimitable peace. Though my process is different from those of others, each holds the same value.
Summit County is filled with myriad such rituals. Different seasons call for different approaches. In the winter, we rise early to ski, snowboard and so many other things. The average resident works diligently to reap the benefits of our tourism base. It is when the adage “work hard to play hard” resonates most. In the summer, there is a noticeable shift. We might camp, hike, mountain bike, practice pilates or yoga or crossfit and then spend afternoons and evenings at barbecues or attending any number of the social events across the county. We move through the days performing our individual tasks without realizing how each affects the whole. These rituals have a worth and dignity that perhaps we need to be more mindful of.
The majority of the population of Summit County knows the value of the outdoors, along with our need to spend time in nature and with others. Being outdoors is essential to our happiness here, and our goals are all the same: appreciate the outdoors and find center. While the cold winters often keep us moving out of necessity, the temperate summers afford us the opportunity to slow down and immerse ourselves in our own private rituals. What mattered most to me was not just fishing in the broad sense but acknowledging the value of each of the pieces that made the whole.
If I could suggest something to my friends living in Summit County, I would say to embrace the ritual. It might be mountain biking or rock climbing or simply walking the trails. What matters is that we see how tuning our bike, chalking our hands or lacing up our shoes are all part of the greater narrative of what we’ve chosen to do that day. Every detail matters when it comes to appreciating the passions we love.
Mark Palz teaches writing and literature at Colorado Mountain College. He is an avid outdoorsman who has also taught fly-casting for over 10 years, starting at the Orvis School of Fly Casting in Manchester, Vermont, briefly at Colorado Mountain College and presently with Breckenridge Outfitters. He lives in Frisco.
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