Scrambling down the slope and walking across the gravel point bar, I can’t take my eyes off the water. I look for flow seams, instream structure, and any movement of fish. Excitement builds inside of me for my first cast. Two months earlier I made the same walk down the same slope and across the gravel deposit. Flashing back to my previous outing, the stream is flowing at a lower and clearer discharge. Different rocks are exposed than before, and the tree roots and branches reach into the channel to different extents than I remember. I’m reminded of the quote by Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” At the moment of making my first cast, I botched the order of the words in the quote, but the sentiment stays with me.
Each time I take a step into or walk along a river, my observations build on the previous memories and add data points to how I will see the river in the future. I recently visited two rivers that I had only fished and walked once before. I had a level of familiarity with where to park for good access spots to the water and ideal water I’d like to fish. But the details of the river had changed significantly. Any river’s vegetation, flow paths, water color and clarity, bed deposits, bank erosion, and flow depth change with each day, each season, and each year. A river is never the same as it was the moment before.
“River is time in water: as it came, still so it flows, yet never is the same.” Barren Holyday, Clergyman, Author and Poet
There are certain reaches of the Gunpowder River that I have fished over 100 times. I feel like I know each rock, each tree, and where the fish hold. I can almost predict a strike if the flow is right and I create the correct drift. But there is always a surprise. Often I overlook areas that I think will not hold fish, and if I move too quickly or awkwardly near those spaces I spook a fish that’s larger than anything I will catch that day.
These moments of surprise and the observations of change on the river remind me of interactions with people in my life and moments of misunderstanding or miscommunication. My memory feels like a photo album, a series of snapshots of points that stuck with me. Moments of joy, pain, surprise, and disappointment fill the pages of my memory album. Walking down the path of life, my eyes look toward the water with the previous snapshot leading my focus. The expectations from past events often skew my mindset to look for the same result. If someone’s comment was sharp and it hurt me before, I carry that with me for my next interaction. Likewise, if it felt like I was seen in an open and connecting conversation, I approach my next interaction with excitement and openness.
My moments with my children are similar to the time spent on the river. I hold labels and trends to be true indefinitely, but I am constantly surprised. The knowledge, perspectives, openness and empathy of each of my children changes each day as they evolve and grow in relationships with me and the world. The interactions remind me that assumptions are dangerous to carry for too long. Assumptions can lead me to miss that moment of surprise. I try to think like the river with people I care deeply about, knowing the inevitable changes we all go through and the fluctuating flow of each day. Irish Poet John O’Donohue said, “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of it’s unfolding.”
SImilarly, this snapshot mentality is dangerous in the social media world. Posting on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is the ultimate snapshot. People I have known for decades can post something I don’t understand, and I can immediately get activated. I forget the time spent getting to know them and seeing the complexity of who they are as a whole. Our culture absorbs talking points and influencer opinions in snippets, memes, and headlines. Grabbing attention and inciting acclaim or outrage seems to be our societal trend. We don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t try to see things from their perspectives, we don’t look to understand, and we quickly judge then move on.
My interpretation of a river mentality is twofold: giving ourselves and each other the benefit of the doubt and being open to the moment with curiosity that builds upon but is not limited by our previous observations. Taking the river mentality to fishing on the river can also be a challenge. As I re-explored these rivers, I employed this approach. I explored more. I looked at the details. I had no preconceived notions or assumptions. I was more relaxed and more aware. I don’t know if I caught more fish, but I felt more fulfilled and enjoyed my time. I gave myself a break from all the pressure of repeating snapshots or trying to recreate a moment that I wanted to overcome from a previous outing.
Being like a river is something I want to employ in my life, relationships, and fishing. Looking through photo albums is a great way to reminisce and record the moments of life, but probably not the best way to live your life. Be like a river.
“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.” David Brower – Environmentalist