saved by a stick
I wrote this many many years ago and the post b y riverview brought it back to mind. So here it is ........ long as ususal but i hope it strikes a note with a few of you..... it is amazing to reread it now knowing how part of the story turns out.
I awoke with a start at the bump and screech of the wheels as the plane touched down. Disoriented from sleep I idly wondered what city I was in. Here lately there had been way too many cities in too few days. The “project of a lifetime” was consuming my every waking hour and minute. If I could just pull off this project my career would be made, or had I said that about the last critical business project, they all seemed to run together. I sat and tried to piece together the various cities and trips over the last couple of years and finally gave up. Leaving me with a vague guilty feeling floating around my stomach and brain, as I realized that I hadn’t been home to see my family in almost two weeks and hadn’t really spent any solid time at home in almost a year. I really did miss my family but I felt that I was on the verge of that career breakthrough that would leave them financially secure and "set for life" and after all wasn’t that the most important thing?
I realized that this was Dallas and remembered my promise to drive the hour and a half to go visit my Mother and Dad for a birthday dinner. I truly loved my Mom and Dad but somehow I just wasn’t in the mood to break my “business game face” and go be a normal person for a while. Turned out dinner at Mom and Dad’s was painless. Mom asked all of the usual questions about the status of my wife and two young children and as I was answering I realized that I was probably the wrong person to be answering, as I didn’t really know anymore. I told her everything was fine and part of me believed that .....but part of me was enough of a realist to realize that the stress and strain of this wild corporate climb was taking a pretty heavy toll on my relationship with my wife and kids. She just didn’t understand how important this was to my career and for that matter to me. Fortunately my Dad soon jumped in with a few questions about my work project and I felt myself happily launch into a spirited description of everything that was happening from a work perspective. It felt safer to be talking about business, it seems that these days that was where my comfort level was. It seems the whole family relationship thing just made my head hurt and left me confused and searching for the “right” answer. After all, problems always have a right answer don’t they.... that is what i do i solve problems byu finding he "right" answer.
After dinner Mom and Dad brought out my birthday present. My Dad was carrying a new aluminum rod tube so I quickly assumed it was a fly rod. I was immediately excited. I considered myself a "fly fisherman" because growing up I had spent a couple of weeks each summer fly fishing on the headwaters of the Rio Grande and during my high school and college years I had spent some time casting popping bugs for bream and yearling bass. But the last couple of years I hadn’t touched a fly rod, business and “life” had just kept me too busy. However I still considered myself to be a fly fisherman despite my lack of stream time and even thoughts of lfy fishing for that matter but we stick to our self-prescribed labels even if they are inaccurate at best. I quickly unscrewed the cap and shook the rod sack out of the tube. The faint musty odor of age reached my nose and I noticed how old and faded the once forest green rod sock was. I slid the rod out and felt a momentary jump as I saw the glazed warm golden brown tones of a bamboo rod slide into view. But my enthusiasm dipped a little as I realized that this wasn’t one of those well dressed presentation bamboo rods that grace the ad pages of all the fly fishing magazines. The heavy bamboo rod looked old and tired, the wrappings a faded green and yellow, the reel seat cold unfinished metal with a worn green spacer. The cork grips darkened gray from age and use. I carefully fitted it together and lifted it for the traditional waggle we all use to test a rod or should I say, “act like we know what we are doing”. As I grasped the aged cork grips I felt an odd sensation deep in the pit of my stomach as my hands instinctively slid into the worn indentions traced in the grips. It was uncanny how naturally and almost identically my grip aligned with those indentions worn through heavy use of another man somewhere over the course of this rod’s obviously long life. I looked at my father in a silent question; he said simply “it was Dad’s rod”. That threw me for a second but then it hit me in an instant that he meant his father Dick Davis , my grandfather, the man I am named after. A man that I had never met as he had died before I was born but I still felt I knew him from the loving stories my father told. He quietly continued, “This was his fly rod, in fact it was the one he taught me to fly fish with. Now it is yours from Grandfather to Grandson.” Suddenly the mystery of the matched grip became clear. The worn spots in the grip were the imprints of my Grandfather’s hands, created through many hours of fishing using an odd grip that he had taught my father who had in turn taught me. My fingers felt the contact with the rod like it was a bridge through time .... a bridge spanning 40 years ....... a bridge spanning grandfather to grandson. My hands and fingers resting in the exact spots his had. It was an eerie but somehow comfortable connection of long passed time and at least one lifetime … mine.
I said my thanks, truly impressed with the gift. Packed the aged old rod back into it’s ancient rod sack and shiny new aluminum tube and said my goodbyes. But as soon as the rental car was back on the road my thoughts instantly switched back to the corporate world, the project and my career. The rod lost in the mental shuffle. That night in my hotel room I had a strange dream. I was vacationing on the headwaters of the Rio Grande River with my family, a place I loved with all of my heart. A place where I had vacationed nearly every year of my life until I was in college, but a place I hadn’t been in at least 8 years. Yet here I was in my dreams, vacationing with my wife and two young sons in one of my favorite places in the world. Yet, instead of feeling a sense of happiness or contentment, as I should have, I felt rage at the desire to fly fish and not having enough time. Throughout the dream, things kept coming up and I spent the entire dream trip without ever fishing. I remembered the frustration clearly even after I woke up. It haunted me as a vague uneasiness even into the morning shower and out the door. I passed it off as a reaction to the rod and to the normal troubled sleep of yet another strange hotel room. When I got home from that trip I carefully stored the rod in its shinny new tube in the corner of the garage. Somehow the rod faded out of my memory, but I couldn’t shake the dreams, they kept coming back to me time and time again. Soon I began to see an old man in my dream, he never said anything but he was always holding a fly rod, offering it to me. I never really made the connection consciously until one evening when I was getting ready for bed and happened to glance down at the picture of my father and grandfather that was on my nightstand and realized that the man in my dream was my grandfather.... my name sake. I realized that the rod being offered was the rod languishing in obscurity in the corner of my garage. I decided then and there that I would begin to get back into fly fishing.
I felt the antique rod was to old to fish with so I tore through the years and years of accumulated junk in the basement only to find that all of my old fly rods were broken and mangled. A result I am sure of my over imaginative boys and some sword fighting duel that they had seen on TV somewhere. My anger burst from me like an erupting sewer pipe leaving both boys in a bewildered tears as they wondered what they did to make their daddy so mad, and my wife furious at me for being so hard on the boys.... and left even myself furious at me for being such a jerk. It seems that whatever I did these days it didn’t make anyone happy, not the kids and certainly not my wife but most importantly not even myself. Once again there just didn’t seem to be any “right” answers, **** there didn’t seem to be any answers at all. I stormed out of the house wondering how things could get this messed up. I quickly strung the old bamboo rod and stalked off into the yard to try and “cast” off some of my anger. I hadn’t picked up a fly rod in almost ten years but somehow it came back to me fairly quickly. The old rod responded better than I ever imagined it could. It felt heavy in my hand but as I began to recognize the feel of when it was flexed and properly loaded before I started my forecast, I began to actually move some line. Before too long a rhythm finally fell into place and my casting returned. The clean graceful arc of the line was pleasing and somehow calming, further strengthening my resolve to get back into the sport. I felt my anger weaken with each casting stroke and soon found myself remembering and reliving my days as a kid standing in the front yard with a newspaper tucked under my arm practice casting to the imaginary rising “trout” under the azalea bush or that huge bass surfacing by the water sprinkler. My imagination numbed by age was still lively enough to mentally transport me from my yard to a beautiful mountain trout stream allowing all of my anger and frustration to momentarily float off on the white-capped riffles of my imaginary river. I knew that peace of mind wouldn’t last long but even a brief bit of escape helps.
My experience with yard casting and my imaginary river was pleasant enough that I decided to give the real thing a try. So one wintry Saturday I boldly set off on my first fly fishing adventure as an adult. When I got to the river, a tailwater that happened to run right through Atlanta, I found it a far cry from the raging Rio Grande that I had grown up fishing. It was a large slow moving tailwater with crowds of people standing around drowning worms and dunking corn. I found an open stretch of water and began to flail the water with a size 12 grizzly wulff as that was the only way I knew to fish. As you might expect, it was an unproductive strategy for a winter’s day on a tailwater. As a matter of fact the only fish I came close to catching was the one that almost passed out from laughing at my clumsy presentations. But I did get a few hours of nothing, that is right nothing, absolutely nothing going on in my head. My troubles with my personal and professional life were temporarily silenced by the sound of the water as it flowed past and the pleasant pull of the current on my legs. That few minutes of mental silence and shelter from my troubles were a pleasure beyond description. As I drove back to the house I felt calmed and relaxed in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. I hugged the kids on my return, heck I even hugged my wife and at that point in our life that was a rarity. The contentment didn’t last long but it had been there, even if just for a moment.
Yet once again I lost myself in work and forgot about fishing. The dreams however continued, one short fishing trip was not enough to settle the subconscious unrest in my soul. The image of my Grandfather that haunted my dreams became more insistent about that bamboo rod and about something else, something intangible that was missing in my life. He was so insistent that I gave in and took time out of my corporate climb to drag myself on my next fly fishing trip. It was a cold trip, winter fishing has its hazards but the crowds were reduced and almost non-existent. I had a few hundred yards of stream all to myself and the day was gorgeous with a bright winter sun burning a faded hole through a cold liquid blue sky. The water was a flat gunmetal color broken with slivers of refracted sunlight. The cold of the water bit through my waders and woke up every nerve ending in my body. Leaving me almost breathless as my body adjusted to the temperature and my mind settled into the flow and rhythm of the river and of the fishing. The rod felt as if it belonged in my hand. My fingers nestled in the hollow indentations made years before I was even born, connected me somehow to something meaningful … my history. The rod and line were like extensions of my own arms. The casts rolled out in fluid waves, the bright colors of the line highlighted by the muted winter colors of the sky and river. It felt good just being on the water and out of the house. Once again my head cleared. My personal troubles and dilemmas ceased to exist for a little while and I was able to relax and think of nothing save the flowing world around me. I fished this way for several hours, not productively but happily. Finally I tired, deciding to sit down on the bank to rest for awhile. I sat examining the rod and thinking about my grandfather. I felt close to him in a way that was strange considering that I had never met him but I felt him next to me nonetheless. It was a comforting feeling like a child recognizing his father’s snoring through the frights of the night and understanding instinctively and subconsciously that they are protected and safe. It was a peace of mind that comes from a connection with those you love and those who love you as well, a connection of FAMILY. As I was sitting there contemplating that concept my eyes were absently scanning the mass of gray blue water sliding swiftly past me, not really seeing anything specific not really even focusing at all, when the shadowy shape of a trout rose and took form out of the camouflage of the riverbed. It was as if this fish had suddenly materialized by magic right before my eyes. As I watched the beautiful rainbow finning slowly in the current the parallels of his miraculous appearance compared to my own life’s problems became apparent. Where moments before I hadn’t seen any sign of life in the river or any answers to my personnel problems, here suddenly was a living flash of silver finning clearly in the shadowy current. Maybe the answers to the unhappiness in my soul were hiding camouflaged somewhere within me, hiding in plain sight just like that rainbow. The answer somehow materialized just as miraculously as that fish had. I needed, no HAD to have the comfort and security of my family. My mad dash up the corporate ladder had created a distance in my family that could potentially cost me the only thing in my life that was really important, my family. As that realization sank in I felt the world on my shoulders shift and lighten. The darkness that had held my soul suddenly lightened just slightly like the faint light of a false dawn creeping slowly over a hilltop. Suddenly I thought I knew what really mattered and what was truly important.... and it dang sure wasnt career and the corporate world. The only thing that was going to make me happy was building my family the way a family should be built .... I relaized that love and time could get me there. Across the span of time and the distance of lifetimes, somehow, somewhere I felt my grandfather smile and it warmed me through the chill of the day, even the chill of the river and for the first time in a long time my soul was smiling with him.
I would love to say that I miraculously became a better father and husband, but I didn’t. However, I certainly had a better understanding of what was important to me, deep in my soul and I began to try much harder at fulfilling those duties. I began to rebuild my life and my relationships to try and take advantage of my new perspective on life and my growing addiction to fly fishing. I began to look forward to my time on the water, not that I was becoming a great fisherman, **** I wasn’t catching many fish, but fly fishing seemed my only chance outside of my family to capture a small sliver of peace of mind. Despite my failings as a fisherman I continued to fish. Savoring those few hours every couple of weeks when I held that old rod in my grasp and felt the comfort of the worn time hewn grip in my hand, and the tug of the current against my legs. I slowly began to believe that fly fishing was a “well” for my soul, filled with cool water memories that could be used to put out the stress filled fires of my everyday life. At first it was the challenge of just catching a fish, then it became the challenge of catching big fish but the best part of all was that regardless of whether or not I caught fish I gained clarity about what was happening in my life. Rivers eventually gave way to small streams tucked deep in the backcountry of the southern Appalachians and big trout were replaced by small feisty native southern “specs”. Those hours on the stream provided a chance to get to know me again helping me achieve a fuller perspective on what was important in my life. The no win situation of balancing work, career and family began to lose its complexity. Watching the water flow around me while following the drift of my fly I finally decided that the corporate ladder that I was trying so hard to ascend wasn’t the direction I wanted my life to follow at all. I suddenly began to feel the long arduous task of re-establishing a relationship with my family was the single most important priority that I had and truly deserved all of my focus and attention.
Slowly over time, my work, my family and my life on the river began to balance. Both the fishing and the recovery of my family were on going processes, as good things are never easy. I felt like I was becoming a fisherman that my grandfather would be proud of but more importantly I was finally becoming a father and family man that my grandfather could be proud of. As I spent more time in the company of my family and fast moving clear cold water the demons that had been tormenting my soul began to fade. As those demons faded so did the dreams of wasted opportunities and lost time. My grandfather’s spirit became less vocal in my subconscious though no less present in my heart and soul. It was as if his spirit was becoming as restful as my own spirit was growing to be. I knew that somewhere in that plane of existence where old souls dwell, he was resting easier knowing that he had helped lead me toward what was truly important in life, not an artificial chase for power and prestige. A simple stick of bamboo and cork wrapped in thread combined with a lost generation of collective memory had somehow shown me the way to come back from the brink of losing myself and my family on a career path of destruction. Somehow the old worn cork grip of a time ravaged bamboo fly rod had held the values and keys that guided my soul and my family back together. To this day I truly believe that my heart and soul was saved by a simple bamboo stick that had been passed down from generation to generation, just like our love of family and fly fishing.
As i read this now some 15 years later ...... those thoughts and feeling still feel fresh .... yet my wife and i recently celebrated our 25th anniversary and my oldest is in college and my bity baby boy is a 6"2" 225 junior in high school ......... but we are indeed a family that I am proud of....... oh well lessons learned are what makes us who we are........ even if i am still a "sorry excuse" for a fly fisherman ........ i will just have to keep practicing.
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