For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a space to call my own. A small fortress where I could be alone to reflect and dream. This space has changed coordinates several times in my life, but somehow I’m always been able to locate it.
When I was 5 or 6, it started off with the sturdy branch of a tall pine tree growing in my neighbors back yard. It stood 20 steps from my parents front porch. Close enough that my house was still in sight, but camouflaged enough so no one could spot me. It then moved to a makeshift fort in the woods across the street from my childhood home. Hours were spent collecting “building materials” (which consisted of anything that could be found in my parents garage), and creating “blueprints” on torn out notebook paper with crooked pencil lines and eraser smudge marks. In the end it turned out to be a tall (to me at the time) woodpile that was hollow enough to fit me and my dog inside, and also hidden well enough to avoid being detected by the occasional passing car. My final childhood fortress was a 5 minute bike ride from my driveway to a gravel “parking lot” down a dead end road. This “parking lot” was really nothing more than a gravel border around some apparatus the electric company had put up. The apparatus took away from the natural scenery, but did a great job of keeping me hidden from anyone walking their dog or driving by.
Libraries are filled with books teaching people how to “find oneself”. If you type “find oneself” into google, you’ll get 62,900,000 results. These books and sites recommend finding a fortress in anything from taking walks, to practicing some type of slow motion martial arts moves (I still haven't quite figured this one out yet). Today, my fortress happens to be a well worn armchair that sits behind an old wooden desk in my downstairs fly room. The walls surrounding this chair are covered with maps, pictures of fishing trips, and more feathers, fur, and deer hair than could possibly be used in one’s lifetime. It’s here that my mind has the space and stillness to sort out all those things in the world that are hard to make sense of.
So it’s only logical that reclining in that armchair is where I found myself after finishing the following conversation with my fishing partner.
Ty: Hey what’s up?
Me: Hey man, what are you doing?
Ty: Just driving, I’m headed to Tulsa to see a friend for the weekend. Man, I’m ready to get those new bamboo rods out! What are you up to?
Me: Nothing really, I was laying down trying to take a nap and couldn't fall asleep, so I started thinking about the new water we should try out once this snow finally clears off.
Ty: Yeah, I was thinking about that too. I realized, I could probably get out every weekend this Spring, I have no classes on Fridays!
The voice in my head: “Well good for you, I don't have class any day this Spring, but a wife, 3 kids, and a full time job might not allow for time on the water every weekend.
My actual response: That’s awesome! When you’re back in town we’ll meet up and put some X's on the maps.
Ty: Sounds like a plan, talk to you then.
We’ve had some variation of this conversation dozens of times since the end of Duck season (less than 2 months ago). I always start it with a: “what are you up to?” Which I’ve realized is my way of asking if he’s figured out a magical antidote to distract himself from that mind tickling fly fishing itch that I can never quite scratch enough. Our home waters are spring creeks that stay flowing year round and have no closed season. So technically, we wouldn't have to wait for the snow to clear before getting out, it’s just that dredging nymphs and breaking ice free from guides pales in comparison to throwing hoppers and chasing Trico hatches.
So what do we do? We talk about fly patterns, leader formulas, rod tapers, hatch predictions, and new spots to try out once Mother Nature starts cooperating. We spend hours at the vice, read new books and reread old ones, and occasionally peek out the window to cuss the freezing temperatures. We study State Conservation, US Forest Department, and National Geographic maps to see which blue lines we might try out this year.
Some may call these activities “passing the time”, and from the outside looking in, I can see how one might come to that conclusion. Really what we’re doing though, is imaginary fly fishing. Inside our heads, we’re spotting rising trout, sneaking up on them low and slow, wading into position for that perfect cast, watching the line’s loop unroll, seeing the drag free drift, and setting the hook on that wild brown who’s innocently mistaken our dry fly for a natural. That’s what’s truly going on between our ears.
Although time moves painfully slow and cabin fever reaches its climax during these downtimes, I’m not sure what I’d do without them. I mean, when would I ever have time to tie flies, clean out my fly room, repair broken leaders, or organize my fly box? Oh yeah, as well as all of those other “life responsibilities” like fixing loose door handles, getting taxes done, and cleaning out the garage.
Without the downtime, would days on the water be as magical? If I could get out every day, would I? Would the feeling of fly line loading on the back cast of a bamboo rod feel as sweet? Would the sight of a wild trout feeding in a foot of water still raise my heart rate? Maybe, maybe not.
For today, I’ll settle for an old pair of sweatpants as my waders, a good book for my fly rod, and my well worn armchair as my casting position.