This is going to hurt. That was my slow-motion thought as my foot slid off the rock.
I’ve fallen as an adult a few times. It’s way more painful than the hundreds of times I fell while growing up. The recent falls have been in streams on slippery rocks and down stairs with the dreadful socks-and-wood-floor combination. Each time I have fallen, I’ve experienced a similar sequence of thoughts. Simultaneously, I have a flash of panic, I assess if there is any way to recover my balance, and I resign myself to the pain I am about to experience hoping no real damage will be done.
Thankfully, this morning I was able to regain my balance and not experience the pain of a fall. My wading staff came to my rescue and prevented my splashy fall. The quick jolt of adrenaline quickened my heart rate, and I was shocked into gaining a new perspective. With the rain all morning, I knew the rocks were going to be very slippery, and I had forgotten my wading boots, so I was wet wading in my Crocs. I was trying to be careful, but I got distracted strategizing on how to get into position to fish the next plunge pool. A flashback of all those previous falls ran through my head, and I was saying a little prayer to remind myself to be more careful.
I got a chance to reset my steps. I settled my heart rate and looked back at where I was walking. I had missed a narrow, short but deep run on the opposite side of a large rock I had fished. Here, a small fish ate my nymph, and I had a bad hook set. As it jumped, it threw my hook and disappeared back into the stream. I had wanted to move up to the run upstream of me that was deeper and longer; I knew it held fish. That haste led me to my slip.
As I looked back, the smaller run sparked an idea. The water levels were very low, and the different bedforms are more exposed and apparent than when flows are higher. I had never noticed the smaller feature previously. The combination of hiding areas, food sources, and hydraulic patterns suddenly seemed like a perfect hiding place for a larger trout in the low flow conditions. I also thought that, due to its size and position, it may not be fished that often in the heavily pressured stream.
I casted into the run and had a great drift. Nearly at the end of the drift, I saw a flash and hooked into one of the largest trout I have caught on the Gunpowder. The slip and reset caused me to take a step back. That step back helped me change my perspective and see something I had always missed. I landed the fish and felt like I had been given a chance to solve a great puzzle–and I solved it. I wondered how many other times in life I had either taken a step back or needed to take one to reset myself. I thought about how my mind finds it so difficult to not move forward and considers taking a step back a sign of failure and retreat.
Looking at my life and my career, I have been reluctant to ever take what appears to be a step back. Julia Cameron, author and playwright, said, “Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward, one step back. Remember that and be very gentle with yourself.” Changing our perspectives helps us to understand our emotions, our values, and to know that our journeys are not always linear.
The artist Bob Ross has said, “It’s hard to see things when you’re too close. Take a step back and look.” I thought of his happy little clouds and trees and how his TV show always caught my attention. His voice and his distinctive hair helped him seem to me as someone who is entirely comfortable with who he is and what he cares about. His kindness and encouragement always made me want to make more art in my life. Embracing art and being creative allows the artist to create new perspectives and to express themselves.
I realized that even if I had fallen, my perspective would have changed. The pain would be a reminder to watch my step and that I am getting older and don’t recover as I did in my youth. I may have gotten hurt, and I may have missed the opportunity to find the new run and catch the trout. The slip and step back gave me new options and opportunities, and I did not get injured. I would have learned a lesson if I was able to be observational in both situations. I feel like in my youth, I would have likely rushed, not had a wading staff, and would have fallen. Those falls in my youth were lessons I needed to learn from pain and shock. Not that I’m getting older I am hopeful that many of my future lessons can be learned with a step back.