May 10, 2018
Opening Day Spiritual Enlightenment
By: Lawrence H. Balleine
It's 5:30 a.m. The sun hasn’t yet risen. As I pack my fishing gear in the back of my small SUV for a couple of hours on the stream, I recall an assumption that is often made - human beings are of superior intelligence. But immediately a follow-up question comes to mind: “If that’s so, why are we still told to 'think like a fish' when we go fishing?”
Pondering this conundrum for a moment and then dismissing it, I remind myself that I have waited anxiously for this day. I've gone through my equipment, oiled my reels, replaced my line, organized my tackle, and – since I’m a “wormer” – I gathered a slew of squirming nightcrawlers for bait. It’s the first Saturday in May – the opening day of trout season in Wisconsin – and I am ready for action.
My goal for the morning – bring home my limit of German brown and rainbow trout to go along with a batch of fresh wild asparagus and morels I will secure immediately following my outing on the stream. It will be a meal provided by nature's bounty, and I will have proven to be a proficient hunter-gatherer.
I am confident I will catch fish, for I remind myself that “I am of superior intelligence.” Therefore, should I not be able to impose my will upon the environment and proceed to catch my limit?
I navigate to the nearby stream, hike to a favorite spot where in previous years I have caught fish, and begin my pursuit of a rainbow with its distinctive pink-lateral stripe or a colorfully-dotted German brown. I make sure to approach the water's edge quietly so as not to spook my quarry. I try to read the water to ascertain where a nice native trout is hiding out, waiting to ambush the bait I will offer him. I make my first cast. No strike. I make a second. Again, no hit. I make several more attempts but fail to feel that desired tug on my line. After 15 minutes or so I move to another location a couple of hundred feet down stream. Still no success. For the initial half hour, I am intent on catching fish.
Sub: Success without fish
And then it happens. In fact, it occurs often when I go trout fishing and I fail to land a fish within the first 30 or 40 minutes. I find my desire for catching fish slipping away. I move from the eager anticipation of catching to a deep appreciation of just being outdoors as I get caught up in my surroundings.
I become fully cognizant of my environment as I feel the early morning chill on my bare arms. I try to determine the speed and the direction of the wind. I notice the variety of plant life at the edge of the stream. I look up and see the waning moon. I listen and hear the red-winged blackbirds. I smell the fresh country air. No longer do I feel I am standing apart from nature seeking to impose my will upon it, but I begin to feel myself as a part of the vast, complex ecosystem.
Rather than conquering nature, I have a renewed desire to live simply within its rhythms. I am content to let the experience of standing on the bank of the stream fill my soul with the assurance of my place – a position not superior to the rest of the created order, but rather a part of the beautiful web of life called nature. I not only feel at peace with my surroundings, but I begin to experience a wonderful sense of inner peace as well. My earlier plan to catch a limit of fish is replaced with a wonderful feeling of being “at one” with all that surrounds me. Furthermore, I begin to suspect that I am not smarter than the fish I am pursuing. For in this environment, they may well have the superior intelligence.
In the next hour I do land a couple of German browns and a nice rainbow. But since they are hooked by the lip, I follow my personal rule of keeping only those fish I feel will not survive the trauma of being caught. Thus, I release each catch back into the stream as soon as possible.
I leave the stream after a couple of hours without any trout. But I am not disappointed. For on this opening day, my eyes have again been opened to my surroundings, allowing me to see and fully sense things that I only experience on such outings to the stream. I return home satisfied for having again felt an intense, yet peaceful connection with nature.
Yes, it’s been a very good Opening Day. Certainly, all is not lost. Maybe I’m not bringing home any fresh trout, but I do know where I can get several stalks of wild asparagus, and I remain confident that I'll find a few morels in the woods behind our house.
And instead of trout, I'm quite content to put a couple of burgers on the grill.