Over the winter of 2021 and the spring of 2022, I wrote The Mend, a story of a man named Joe Barden, who experiences the heartbreaking loss of his wife, Jody, to cancer. With her passing, Joe loses his identity and mental fortitude. Knowing Joe as only she could, Jody left a gift and note urging him to find a way to mend his heart. His grief nearly swallows him until he finally follows the urging of her message. Reconnecting to fly fishing leads Joe on a journey where he connects to the past in an unexpected and complicated way. He hopes standing in the flow of a river and turning over rocks will help him find his footing again.
Inspiration for the book came from a variety of sources. Several years ago, I witnessed my mother-in-law opening a box of items packed from her parents’ home. With care, she slowly opened the box, preparing herself for seeing the contents and protecting whatever treasures she may find. The intense emotion she experienced from opening a box, especially that included unknown items from a cared loved one stuck with me. Connecting to grief, affection, and memories of the past, while finding ways to move ahead produces complicated and powerful emotions. Being with my mother-in-law in that moment, cemented in me an understanding of how much love and lessons from the past can carry us forward.
I also have been inspired by fly fishing and writing this blog, Fly Fish Mend. Stress from life can at moments overwhelm me and fly fishing has served as a calming and centering activity. I believe that the more I care about, the fuller my life becomes. Caring for my family, the environment, streams and water quality, fly fishing and the fly-fishing community expands my life and connects my emotional well-being with my intellectual pursuits. Writing helps me to express all those things and share them with everyone I care about. While I have taught myself to be a good public speaker, I am introverted and uncomfortable with larger groups of people. I find myself hiding or removing myself from loud, crowded, and emotionally charged spaces. Writing helps me find a place to have my voice and improve connections.
I wanted to tell a story that shows how people can honor the past, hold on to love they have received, and mend themselves from pain the world inflicts. Finding our resilience requires we hold onto positive energy and invest it in caring about life even more. Caring about the people and the activities (like fly fishing) in our lives provides fuel to be excited about the future. I need to remind myself of that lesson when I am struggling and I hope the story of The Mend can remind readers that even in the darkest times, there are communities to help, people to love, and fish to catch. I hope you all get a chance to read it and enjoy it after it is published in the next month or so. In the meantime, here are two paragraphs from Chapter 15.
His feet shifted as his weight settled on the slippery cobbles. The force of the water pressed his waders tightly against his legs, causing his knees to bend to brace and balance himself. The feeling of walking into a stream and feeling the power of the flow was a sensation he had forgotten. Flow paths formed in the downstream current, accelerating in short bursts around large boulders and a fallen tree on the other side of the stream. The irregularities of the channel bed created seams in the flow where depths and velocities vary, creating holding spots for the brown trout. His dad would always call them “primary lies.” Holding spots for trout could also be an injury for Joe, and he knew it. One wrong step and he could twist an ankle, blow out a knee, or take a spill into the cool water.
A majestic and beautiful creature, brown trout have such camouflage with their surroundings that only the most patient observer staring intently for many minutes can see a flash of movement, the slight adjustment of a white fin or the flick of a tail to give away their position. When trout are feeding near the channel bottom, even in very shallow flow, their presence cannot be assumed. It is not until the emergence of aquatic insects from the cobbles to the surface of the water that trout then show themselves. Insects emerging from the channel substrate through the water column create a piñata effect for the trout, like a toddler birthday party, jumping from their spaces in line to grab a vulnerable insect like a liberated piece of candy.