With each cast and step, I began to feel more like a child learning to ice skate than a stealthy heron-like angler. I was hanging up flies in trees and slipping clumsily with each step, nearly falling head over tea kettle into the water multiple times. I wanted time on the water–I needed time on the water–but I had built up pressure in my mind, and it was manifesting in my body as a bumbling fool. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Opening my eyes, I inspected my hand on the grip of the rod and adjusted my finger placement, turning my wrist to align my index finger with the top of the rod. Another breath. I made the cast, feeling the tension of the line as it straightened in my back cast and then accelerated forward to a stop to complete the cast. A nice tight loop and a soft landing of my flies. My focus shifted to the drift and managing the line. It was a great drift. The wool indicator paused and my reactions took over, lifting the rod and setting the hook. My brain settled and my body followed in-kind, creating a moment of peace and clarity–everything connected.
Making time to be outside and be on the water has become more important to me during the pandemic. The on-call nature of life with continual connection to devices that brings us work emails, breaking news, comments on social issues, messages from friends, and schedule reminders generates a constant perception of “busyness”. Feeling the need to be perpetually efficient with my time doesn’t provide creative and peaceful space for me. Time spent outside in beautiful, scenic places helps to engage all my senses and settle my racing, hyper-efficient, striving mind.
I was fortunate this week to meet my coworker, Lindsay, at a stream our team worked to restore. An incised stream channel with silty substrate covering a uniform rectangle-shaped channel with eroding banks was transformed into a meandering stream with cobble riffles and deep pools. Remembering the previous condition, where there were no signs of life, and experiencing the stream as it is today, with teams of fallfish, is very rewarding. Seeing the flow of the stream navigating the new boundary, materials, and vegetation focused my mind and generated a sense of pride and wonder in what our team had been able to accomplish. During this time outside, the stress of work and life was lifted and washed off me, like the water flowing over the cobbles.
Busy weeks build a frenetic space in my mind. Hard conversations, pressure situations, tight deadlines, and overlapping time commitments stack upon one another to a level where I can physically feel the stress in my joints and my heartbeats. As an observant person, I can often sense when stacked stress is teetering in people around me. But the strain is not always evident; some of us hide or disregard our stresses well. Particularly with family, friends, and others I care for and feel responsible to support, seeing moments of overwhelming stress create a feeling of helplessness inside me. I’m coming to realize that I am not responsible for the lives or actions of others. Each of us chooses our own path and has our own stories to tell. This concept is hard to get around as a parent, but even our children are living their own lives. Carrying with us the stress of our lives and our perceived stresses of others is a heavy emotional and mental burden, and part of the compassionate, caring mindsets many of us embrace.
Open hearts don’t often work well with busy “get things done” minds. They bump into each other, sometimes with the force of a demolition derby collision. People and feelings become obstacles to achievement and checklist completion, instead of blessings and gifts of life. I have to be both kind and productive to find balance in my life and to feel proud of what I accomplish. The moments of clarity help me find the place in me where I am not stacking all the things I need to complete or areas I want to improve in myself or even feel less than I want to be.
Each morning I have a moment, sometimes it’s only a few seconds, but it can be several minutes, where my “doing” or “critical” brain hasn’t turned on yet. I look at my wife and I am grateful for her in my life. I hear my dog breathing next to the bed. I know my kids are safe and healthy. I feel content and calm. Nothing beats that moment of appreciation. But when the busyness of the days adds up, being outside and casting a line can help me find more peaceful moments. Finding what can bring you a needed peaceful moment is truly a gift.