I Fly Fish for My Heart
November 10, 2011
My brain tells me it’s too cold right now to brave blizzards, to stand in a freezing river flinging feather and fur to catch a wriggling piece of cold-blooded muscle. But my heart aches to hear the river rush and the hawk scream, smell the moss mixed with fallen leaves, to see a wild brown trout with red spots as bright as paint jump from a river as clear as gin, pulling on my rod, testing my skill.
It’s stupid to travel five-hundred miles over icy roads to catch dumb fish and drink beer and tell lies. I should stay home and do something more productive.
Not if I want to keep living.
I can drive slower and soak in more conversation from friends I’ve missed. Our stories are of life, hardships and joy, bringing our souls warmth and touching that elusive thing called humanity. The nights after the river are full of laughter at conquering a wily opponent, the brown or the rainbow that took seven changes of flies and three changes of depth to catch. Beer and gin are not the only tonic, nor required to put our minds at rest from the crazy concrete and computer worlds we have escaped, if only for a week.
When I fly fish I step into another world, one of here and now, of casting and drifting, of observing and breathing in nature: a balm that has healed my overworked brain time after time, year after year. Sharing it with friends is more than a pleasure—it makes my year. Without this, my heart would shrivel, and soon my brain and body would follow.
I fly fish for my heart.
The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth
October 31, 2011
Tons of people suffer every day. But it’s not the cards you’re dealt; it’s how you play them that make you a success. One man did it all for me: Henry Earl Mays, my dad.
What if you woke up to a disease, an imperfection that
screwed up every damn day? How could you succeed?
My dad worked through a lifetime of adversity and overcame.
His father died when he was two. His drug-addicted mom gave him up for
adoption. As a child, he survived a fall from a one-story building, landing on
top of his head, causing poor vision, an imperfection that plagued him the rest of his life.
He still played singles tennis. His grades earned him a scholarship. He graduated from college, obtained a master’s degree, raised a family, and provided well for us. He taught me, his oldest son, the value of honesty, hard work, how to throw a baseball, play football and tennis, and the beauty of the outdoors and the art of fishing. He was always there for my ball games and graduations, though he could barely see twenty feet. He taught me about love, and to put family first. His blindness forced him to retire early. Though he prided himself in his emotional control, he cried at my graduation from Annapolis. I wish he could have seen my medical school graduation, or at least heard it. He died two years before of a heart attack, at fifty-four.
Steve Jobs developed the iPhone despite cancer. Beethoven wrote symphonies even though he was deaf. Lou Gehrig, earned the “iron horse” of baseball with 2130 consecutive games, then lost his ability to even move and died at age 36. He said he was “The luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Of all these great men, I believe my dad, an ordinary family man, was greater. And I am luckier than Lou Gehrig. I am the oldest living male Mays for two generations. I hope one day to shake Dad’s hand again—Nah, I want to hug him and hold on for long, long time, and thank him for his determination and sacrifice.
His example makes me keep trying.
Love you, Dad.
Are you a closet liberal like me?
October 15, 2011
Yeah, I’m confused. I graduated from the Naval Academy, slept in the dirt with Marines—Oorah! Higher taxes—forget it. You should work for your money, just like I must—hard—staying up nights, worrying about making ends meet, not smokin’ your disability money up in dope, or scamming the USA out of trillions of dollars to keep your corporate bank making billions of dollars, so you can cruise to Vegas in a Lear Jet. I don’t really like big government, or people from the same distant planet telling me what to do all the time. But, I’ve worked for government most of my adult life. And, I love to fly fish, hear the splashing song of the river, the hawk cry above, feel the pull on the end of the rod, and see the orange and green cutthroat jump from water as clear as a Rocky Mountain morning. I never want that to end—are you kidding? When my fly, my creation of feather and fur, is taken by a wild fish, there is something that pulls loose in my head and tugs on my heart. That is real. That is precious. We should never give that up. None of us. And if you haven’t seen the stream and the fish, and felt the pull, you must. I’ll be happy to take you and show you.
Because, I want you to get rip-roaring mad like I do at oil spills in Gulf waters, ruining eons of nature that created bayous teaming with life; clear-cut timber scars on a mountain of pines, previously as beautiful as a postcard; and natural gas rigs in the middle of a pristine prairie, obtained by fracking, which pollutes the water of hard-working farmers and ranchers—so bad you can light the water with a match. All for the sake of profit? Son of a b…! Yet all these things allow me to live in a nice neighborhood with wooden fences, in a wood-sided house, heated or air-conditioned to my comfort; or ride my twenty-seven-speed, carbon-alloy road bike over manicured bicycle trails complete with wooden bridges; not to mention pull a trailer with my SUV across two states at 9 miles per gallon to a place where wild fish live. God I’m confused: Liberal or conservative?
It seems to me others have that same question (maybe not Bill Maher: liberal in all things, or Sarah Palin: conservative forever), and are confused about which tack to take.
Until it comes close to home.
Some oil tycoon starts ruining my streams or Gulf or mountains—they’re done. I don’t own a gun, nor do I want to kill anyone (Sarah Palin shoots herself in another appendage daily. It’s so much fun watching.); however, I do think there should be three simple rules: 1) Don’t ever (yes, that is emphatic), ever spill oil in the Gulf of Mexico, or Alaska, or the Russian steppe, or any other wilderness equivalent, again. You can spill all you want inside your Cadillac, or maybe bathe the streets of your Dallas penthouse with it—those would be okay, not fantastic, but quite apropos for an oil baron. 2) You want to frack? Fine, do it under some freeway in Houston or perhaps LA. Nobody drinks the water there. If you must frack in the wilderness, try places around Three-Mile Island, or maybe Chernobyl. They won’t mind contaminated water—it probably already glows in the dark.
Finally, there is simple rule 3): If you feel like you must break rule 1) or 2), call me. I will take you fly fishing for wild cutthroats in a gin-clear mountain stream surrounded by elk and golden aspen, in a morning you must breathe in deep and hold it so it will never go away. Because if you continue to frack and spill and scar our land so you can have an island to yourself in the Caribbean, that may be the last breath of clean mountain air, or last wild trout you will see; the aquamarine Caribbean teaming with fish will be brown and dead. Please let me know, and I’ll take you into the wilderness and show you why you should stop. There are others out there, like in Dan’s War, who are not as nice as me, not nearly.
Still not sure—liberal or conservative—but more light is getting into the closet.
A comment you might enjoy, and food for thought. Do oil spills actually enhance the environment? What are your thoughts?
Comment from 10/22/11
I class myself as a conservative. I find that the positions generally attributed to conservative and liberal have little to do with the principles that go with the philosophy. Example: conservatives want to cut taxes- the conservative position is fiscal responsibility which, at present, dictates raise taxes and cut spending. Many on the other side of the aisle don’t seem to get the 2nd part. I think your essay is generally what I think. I will point out that polluting drinking water is, in fact, much different than oil spills and clear cutting. Clear cuts regrow and during their cycle allow for considerable biodiversity. (Though not related, I prefer clear cut for forest cycling to what is going on around Steamboat.) Oil spills are inconvenient but the evidence shows the systems return to usual after some time- actual useful time not geologic. Gas in the aquafor is considerably different. It is a problem now and for a long time. In the end, I doubt that anything you or I do will make much difference. Our human need to reproduce (grandchildren are really neat) will overwhelm us. Agent Smith may be right. As you can see, I have developed a major case of nihilism. I have to say, however, that the nihilism has been liberating in its way. Though I make major effort to behave responsibly and with respect for others and the environment, I have given up the angst of knowing it will inevitably be of no use. It allows me to enjoy every day to its fullest and appreciate those around me. Gary
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