To set the tone to this story, I can likely just provide you with a number: 2020. We all know the action packed year that was. As if events of Covid-19 erupting in March didn't already put us in a state of unease; In Utah, shortly after the stay-at-home act had brought all adults and children home in March - just 2 days into the first week, in fact - we awoke to our house rattling and swaying and the earth groaning under a sizeable earthquake that Utah is not accustomed to. We experienced (a possibly record breaking number of) aftershocks for months afterward (2320 between March 18 & June 24) and, having been taught there would be THE BIG ONE (earthquake) our whole childhood, and told that this was not it - we feel rattled to this day at the reality of it. That was monumental for us, to say the least, and a big part of what we think of with 2020, on top of the more obvious news selections.
From there, along with the rest of the world, we saw social events and racial movements and riots that broke our hearts and caused us to have a heightened level of concern, to say the least. It seemed the news couldn't keep up with the barrage of happenings hell was unleashing on us. We turned off the news and still were flooded with negativity and hardship that we were trying to manage with our children, who were simultaneously missing their teacher and friends and overwhelmed with trying to succeed in school at home. I held each of my kids and wiped tears as they had their own moments of depression, anxiety and finally broke down.
One warm day, Hyrum and I decided to take off after work, to head up the canyon to fish together. Finally away from the kids, I was struck with the realization that I had been taking all of this much harder than I had thought. Without the fires at home to put out, my brain apparently recognized that I was able to let my own emotions surface. I felt my chest increasingly tighten until my throat had constricted to the point where I could hardly eek out my words. I tried to put a voice to what I was experiencing, but it didn't resonate until I said the words, "I'm angry!" The tears broke loose and I began to be able to vent out how upset I was with the world and the impact it was having on my children, who weren't getting to celebrate their birthdays as expected, weren't able to perform the dance they'd practiced all year, not getting to have school dances, field trips, get a drivers license, attend events they'd worked towards for a year or even see their friends. Venting to my husband and getting to put a voice to these things helped a lot.. but still, it seemed to take domain within my chest.
I finished my rant just as we arrived at the spot we would leave the SUV to walk in to fish. I felt much better, but I was raw. We dressed in our gear and walked into a secluded spot between the trees, where the small river bent around the landscape and sparkled in the spots the sun shone through to meet the rippling water.
You probably think I'm going to tell you that I was healed at the moment my foot hit the water and I cast my line.. but I wasn't.
As the water washed around my feet, I took a cleansing breath and soaked in the good vibes of nature - who, unlike earth's human inhabitants, was behaving as it should - in the perfect rhythm of a symphony written by the hand of God himself. I recall the thought coming to my mind that I was meant to be there and I needed this more than I had realized.
Hyrum handed me the rod and told me where and how to cast the line to land the fish he knew frequented the area of his favorite spot. I cast the line once. It rolled out in front of me. I pulled it back, then forward - expecting it to roll out again and land in the spot I'd intended. Instead, there was a tree just behind and above me that had claimed my fly. Patiently, as always, Hyrum released it of the bond and set me casting again. The same thing happened. He broke off the dead twigs that proved to be a problem and again I tried, focusing on my backcast to only have my fly snag the tree in front of me - now ruining the spot I was trying to catch the fish in, because Hyrum would have to wade through it to untangle the nest of line from the shrub.
"Maybe you should just fish." I said, frustratedly. In true Hyrum style, he expertly cast around every limb, branch and tree that skirted our spot in abundance. He does that. For Hyrum (and much to the chagrin and amazement of those who fish with him), the line is just a poetic extension to his hand. He seemingly whispers it into places that most anglers would imagine were unreachable and then catches the fish we didn't believe were there. This is exactly what he did - on his first cast.
"See?" He sweetly said, "you just have to cast it like that and right there, and the fish are there every time!" I then smiled in an apprehensive response as he said, "Now it's your turn."
I am spoiled by Hyrum on the river. He ties my flies on and untangles my follies from the trees. He puts me in the best spots and makes sure I'm successful. I think I'm pretty good - but I admit, it's usually because of his help and patience.
I tried a few more times and got hung up again and again - or missed the fish when I successfully got the fly in the right spot. "It's my fault," he apologetically said, "this is a very technical area with the trees so tight around us. Let's move up ahead where it opens up a bit." By now, those feelings from the drive were surfacing again - compounded by my frustration of not having the relaxing experience and success I should have been finding. The river had become a metaphor for the frustrations of current events - I was getting stopped at every attempt to enjoy myself and things weren't playing out as expected. Instead of being healing; these waters were proving to add to my frustrations.
In our new spot, Hyrum shadow cast to indicate the area I should catch a fish, then handed the rod to me. I cast, waited and cast again - and again. "SET IT!" He exclaimed at the very moment I attempted to do so.. but I missed the fish. "Aaaaah.. darn! So close!"
This happened a few times - where I was either missing a fish or snagging my line in a tree. The tension was building in my chest - and I was NOT enjoying myself. Finally, I thrust the rod into his hands and said, "YOU fish. I'm done." My line drifted down the river during this exchange. He protested and lifted the line as I turned away. "YOU HAD A FISH ON!" He laughed. We debated who's fish it really was as he landed it in the net, released the hook and took pictures and video of me releasing what turned out to be the fish of the day, being abnormally large for that river.. and it was a beauty! The rainbow was brightly colored and had an unusual number of spots speckling it's back.
In spite of the fish, I expressed that it was not my day for fishing - it was my day for filming and I really did want him to fish the remainder of our day. Now, a little background; This is not abnormal for us. We often swap fishing, but I find filming and photographing the process from the cast to the release to be as gratifying - or more so than casting and catching myself. I find capturing the fish on film to be where I find some of my greatest joy on the river. So this was not out of the norm for me anyway, and on that particular day - I was DONE with it all and happy to take a backseat.
I let him walk ahead, and kneeled in the river. The icy water rushed around my waders, and I felt rejuvenated by the fresh feeling of being immersed in nature as I closed my eyes and took in some cleansing breath. He had reached the bend ahead and beckoned me to join him again. I waved him away, saying I needed a minute. He nodded and fished the next spot. I heard him calling out that he'd caught another one and yet another. Finally I decided to join him.. but as I turned to cross the river, the raw sadness I had been experiencing bubbled up to join the frustration and anger that I had not been able to release and had not even recognized had been sitting under the surface until this outing. My chest tightened again, and a few stray tears streamed over my cheeks.
That's when it happened.
I tend to wade the river like I'll disturb the water if I make a splash. I delicately take each step to make sure I set my foot well and each move is careful. It's just me. Now before you think of me as pretentious or overly girly, realize that I am speaking of my tendencies, not the way I think I should be. It's how I am. Not afraid to get dirty, but I have a tendency to be the cleanest one on a 4-wheeler trip. I once worked in a paint department for over a year before I had a splash of paint on me - and that occurred at the hand of a customer. I will sit in dirt, but I don't need to roll in it - so to speak.
So at that moment, with tears bubbling over and me standing in a river, with nobody around.. I broke free. I stomped my foot down into the water, causing a splash. That felt kinda good! I set my next step down as hard as I could, and the next as well - each causing a huge splash. My chest began to release it's tension, and the tears continued to flow, but they released freely now. I kicked the water. The resistance of the river was satisfying and the water fanned out around me, before the river returned to it's normal flow. I embraced the moment, liberating my bottled up emotions and finding satisfaction repeatedly kicking water, and hurting nothing in the process. Each kick offered resistance and the effect of the splash, followed by the beautiful flow of the river in the manner it was intended to be.
After probably only a gratifying minute or so of this, I waded normally to Hyrum. He turned and grinned, "feel better?" One can only imagine how my display looked. In fact, you already have imagined it - and if you're laughing, it's okay. I couldn't help but break into a genuine smile. "Much better, actually!"
The remainder of the evening, we enjoyed each other. I occasionally stomped down instead of taking careful steps on the way to the next spot, as I recognized any remnants of my previous emotions.. but I was healing now. I filmed some beautiful releases and captured some glorious film of blue crystal water that housed a school of little rainbow trout in a pocket of bubble filled water below a cascade of water Hyrum was fishing. I now joked and laughed freely.. and as the sun set, we drove back down the canyon - bonded, refreshed and renewed. As a result of our time together on the river, his patience and the understanding ear Hyrum offered, we drove home holding hands as a couple and entered our home as better parents, more equipped to tackle the world with, and on behalf of our children.
Fly fishing is often noted as a magical event with healing properties - and it definitely is. But like life, we can't just expect to be cured by a simple action. Sometimes, we need to struggle first to be healed. Sometimes we need the help of others to untangle our lines and look forward to the next cast. Sometimes we need to take a break to realize we caught the fish afterall. And maybe, we just need to kick water. My experience on the river that day wasn't about catching a fish or casting a line. It was about my journey to healing and the opportunity that I was afforded through fly fishing. My first thought when I entered the river that day was right; I was in the right place, and I needed it in more ways than I realized.