Monday, October 3, 2005

The Numbers

I’m picking up where I left off last spring, using quotes as inspiration. Lew sent me this one in April:

“We must learn to live with the quietness of process rather than the franticness of goals." -Robert Theobald.

Well, this got me to thinking about some things. Right away I thought, “This is a good way to approach fishing!” Ritual and process are very important, especially to a fly fisher. We can’t be getting caught up in “how many fish.” We must have evolved beyond that. We MUST have…

I went on a trip to the Green River in Utah with the guys last spring. We had a great time – sweat, cold, rain, wind, blisters, boats, crowds, ospreys, golden eagles, vultures, otters… oh yeah, and trout.

I discovered something about myself on that trip. I learned that, as a fisherman, I haven’t yet progressed to the stage that I thought I had. You’ve heard of the four stages of a fly fisherman, where the goals are something like: 1) catching a fish, 2) catching a lot of fish, 3) catching big fish, 4) just being out there to take it all in.

Here, for some time now I’ve thought I was at that fourth stage – just being out there, to enjoy the eagles and the otters, the hot and cold and blisters, all of that and fish too. After all, I’ve fly fished for fifteen years. I’ve written about it. You’ve read some of what I’ve written.

Well… Bill, Brian, and Bob will tell you, the first thing I asked every night was, “How many did you get?!”

The franticness of goals… Stage Two at best.

Why am I confessing this, when I thought this column was going to be about the quietness of process? I meant to write about the ritual of gearing up at the car: attaching a reel, stringing a rod, selecting a fly and tying it on. Why this, when I thought to talk about turning over a stone to look for nymphs, the gentle release of a fish who fought for its life – and won, about a cigar and a sip of whiskey with good friends at the end of the day?

Why numbers, when I truly do believe that it’s who you fish with, not where you go or how many you get, that matters most? Well, I think the key is buried in that last phrase. “Matters MOST.” Perhaps numbers matter too. If, as I do believe, we fish at least in part to satisfy the ancient hunter that we haven’t quite bred out of ourselves, then numbers have to matter. In our Cro-Magnon – some would say Neanderthal – minds we need those fish to feed our families and ourselves. If we don’t catch fish, we don’t eat. If we don’t eat for a few days, we starve – and eventually we die if that kind of thing goes on for very long.

So I guess the numbers do matter. They still matter to the 10,000 year-old pre-modern human who still lurks just inside our temples. They still matter to the networks of muscles, tendons, and bone that exist a fraction of an inch below the surface of our skins and remember across the millennia just what they were meant for. They still matter to a being who, for a time, doesn’t care about heat, scratches, bruises, sunburn, bugs, cold, wet, light, dark, or anything else as long as the numbers come.

Even today, as long as we get those numbers, we live. Without them, we die… spiritually at least.