31 – exercitatione
Sometimes, life is routine stuff, and that’s o.k. Get up, go to work, finish the work day, stop at the grocery store, go home, dinner, kid’s homework, bed, start over. A few hundred times a year. Nothing exciting, no big travels, no births, no deaths, no disasters. Sometimes the routine is comfortable.
In 2004 when I returned from Belize I settled into a routine. I was running my law practice, attending church, raising kids, and being a husband. I often under-value the “normal” part of life, but that’s the foundation of everything else, and the comfort that makes you want to come home.
I was given the opportunity to help teach a class for juniors and seniors at my kids’ school – Conway Christian – and enjoyed the opportunity. Teaching can be a very satisfying job. If I could teach, without having to grade papers and tests, and without having to deal with the students who aren’t interested, or parents who think their kid deserves special treatment, and be compensated like a lawyer, I would do it in a heart-beat. But I’m told that won’t happen. Teaching did give me a deeper appreciation for those who do it full time.
With that said, the 2004 and 5 portion of my journal is pages and pages of notes on everything from existentialism to deism to C.S. Lewis’s logic to reasoning methods. Any writing on all that would come out like a text book here, so I will skip over it to the fishing trips within the routine. Even a pathetic day fishing is better than a good day working, right?
In March of 2006, my pastor and I were deep in the Ouachita National Forest at a secluded creek. After roaming up and down the bank a bit to find a suitable spot where we wouldn’t have trees feasting on our flies and tippets, we settled in. The preacher made one masterful cast and got a bite. He played the smallmouth bass just enough to pull him in gracefully, cradled him in the water to dislodge the hook, and let him swim back out. After a few hours, we determined that we should have killed him and put him in the ice chest, as a show of mercy to save him from the life of utter, hopeless loneliness he was apparently suffering in this water. There wasn’t another fish in sight and not another bite was had. Even still, a day on the bank or in the cool water of a mountain stream with the sun shining through the trees and the water rippling over the smooth rocks always beats a day behind a desk.
The last time I fished was at the Little Red River, and a guy just upstream was catching when I was not. I noticed then that he was wearing a pink shirt, and since I had no idea what fly he was using, I just concluded that the salmon egg color shirt was the key to attracting the trout.
So in July, when I next made it back to the Little Red, I took my wife’s pink folding camp chair and sat in it in the water of Cow Shoals as I tied my tippet and fly in the misty morning light. The pink chair accomplished nothing. At all. So I moved upstream, closer to the dam, where there were large browns splashing in every direction. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it wasn’t a “trout rising to feed” splashing, so much as trout saying “SHUT UP” to the loud people invading their space.
There were even more people than fish here, and sadly, the people were splashing as much as the fish. Noisy people wearing shirts with the sleeves cut off, or no shirts at all, apparently to show off their hairy backs and drooping tattoos, partially hidden under folds and hair. Every time I heard a raspy voice scream “Git ba-ack up har, ya’ll! Come on don har whar they ain’t no wee-eeds!” or something similar, trout darted in every direction but where they were, and I was. As they yelled and splashed the water began to rise as the generators in the dam began to churn. So much for fishing. I packed up and returned home.
Only a week or so later we (DMCL) had the opportunity to join some friends at their house on the White River at Cotter. This is where my luck changed. The first afternoon was spent on the back porch, overlooking the river with a view of the bluff at the opposite bank. Dark clouds were rolling in over the bluff and birds were drifting on the breezes as the air settled down to the water. The rain – huge drops hitting the leaves and metal around me – started just before thunder boomed and the river began white capping. This scared away the hummingbirds that were there at the beginning, and as they left so did the warmth of the air. Through all of this, a tall gray heron remained practically motionless in a shallow pool at the base of the bluff, until she took a single step back to brace herself against the swift water.
The rain finally stopped with the sentinel still at her post. As the post storm mist begins to roll downstream in the suddenly cooled air, the heron spreads her broad wings, shakes the rain off, and with squawk and a single wing stroke lifts herself to a tree branch just above the fog, presumably to keep watch for the flashed of emerging trout. The hummingbirds return as the rain stops, and butterflies re-inhabit the garden below the deck from which I watch. A motorboat interrupts the environment as it rumbles down stream but it seems to annoy me more than anything else. The heron completely ignores it. The drips on the nearby leaves now punctuate and accent the tunes of the songbirds which are returning with the squirrels. As the sunlight makes an encore for the day, just in time to light up the remaining clouds in a multitude of colors, a heavier, thicker mist rolls down the river, pushing the heron upward again with another squawk.
The deepens and the sky darkens. Everything grows quiet, for my favorite time of the day – as mentioned in harmonia – waiting for the whippoorwill to make her entrance.
And there she is.
The whippoorwill is sort of like a miniature owl in appearance. Maybe that’s it makes a similar sound. After enjoying her song for a few choruses, I go to bed, hoping to wake up to a halcyon fly-fishing day.
At 6:30 a.m. the boiling and rumbling mass of river water has moved on toward the mighty Mississippi, leaving neatly folded and pressed grasses and inviting shoals under another mist colored pale pink by the morning sun beams from my left. A sole hummingbird is looking for breakfast in the feeders hanging on the porch and a fat little armadillo scurries by, or maybe it ambles. I can’t tell by looking whether he is in a hurry or not – much like a teenage son I know. And he doesn’t speak my language enough to find out – again – nevermind. At this time of the morning the crickets still have the stage, as the songbirds are still in the dressing rooms.
I’m taking it all in and letting the Maestro clear my head from the problems and politics of home. A chipmunk runs the length of the porch, passing under my chair.
As the sun rises the mist morphs from pink to a dull white turning brighter as it moves downstream to the sun. All the shadows are cast parallel to the flow of the river now, making the leaves in the sun glow an iridescent green while the shadowed leaves are a milder, darker tint.
The water has been segregated into shoals, rapids, and pools, and the pools look like someone spilled their crayon box and the markers melted. The underwater grasses are deep reddish browns, mossy greens, and black shadows under and behind the bigger rocks. All this is animated by the moving water to blend and fade in and out with the ripples and the mist in motion. Accented by the white feathers of the egret and the gray-blue of the heron – guard of the river – plus the bright red throat of the hummingbird here in the foreground. As I begin to pull on my waders under the pale blue sky, I hope that I will be more like the heron under the bluff, and less like the motorboat, as I enter the painting.
I entered the water and decided to cast downstream in lanes, working across the river. Almost every cast and every lane picked up a rainbow! Cast, catch, play, release, repeat. This is the perfect day I was hoping for last night. Finally I kept one for breakfast, and went back up to the house to enjoy some trout and then pack for home.
Maybe there is something to be said for being part of nature rather than intruding into it. The Native Americans certainly seem to think so, and I agree.