Uneven edges of volcanic rock push their jagged prongs through my thin khakis.
Uncomfortable, I shift my weight to alleviate the numbing tingle of pooled blood in my lower extremities – a fitting discomfort while sitting atop a rock-face spotted with dips and dimples home to equally as stagnant flow.
The air smells of salt. What my nose can’t decipher, my tongue can.
It runs itself over my dry lower lip, tasting the ocean’s seasoning.
I pick at the flaked skin until my fingernails pinch pain through the raw gummy flesh beneath its peel. The sting interrupts my mindlessness…
I lower my hand to my side, again staring vacantly into the cobalt blue sea.
There’s a pack of cobia working their way through the headland I patiently perch on.
I am sure that proper terminology for these creatures is a ‘school’, but to refer to them as such would be misleading; a ‘school’ of fish might be deemed as a behaved and conformed assembly – innocent children on a chaperoned outing. These fish were anything but that.
A pack of hunting predators, they churn the water beneath me, wreaking havoc into swarms of baitfish and following closely behind nonchalantly floating stingrays.
Myself a predator, I stalk them from afar and cast my lure into their line of vision. A rush and a refusal followed by a second aggressor who narrowly missed the impale through his lip. The water lightens with only a linger of bubbles from the torpedoing cobia who now shoot full speed ahead.
I feel my heart threaten to beat through my sternum – I might even actually hear it, if I could hear anything apart from the beating of the waves.
The waves… so noisy, so intrusive. I’d hoped them to be louder today; loud enough to drown out the voice in my head. My voice in my head.
So many thoughts, ideas, inspirations and questions. Like the swell below me they rolled in gently, softly even, before catapulting over themselves and crashing into my brain like white paint dropped from a two storey patio.
They didn’t mean to be violent – not all of them anyhow. Some lapped gently at my exposed emotions while others ruffled my mind in playful zeal.
Every thought that rolled in did so unapologetically, dousing me with the freshness of a spurting water hose on a hot summer’s day, reminding me that she wouldn’t allow my fires to burn on past the point of control. I let her in…
I’d always been known as the little girl who couldn’t sit still. Running life at warp speed was the norm and there was never such thing as “biting off more than I could chew”.
I had never understood the silly phrase, rather always just questioned why people couldn’t merely chew faster? At the very least, just accept that some scraps may momentarily fall from their mouths. One way or another, they’d eat it eventually.
And so I was.
A multitasking, ambition driven, fishing junkie who had the system nailed down. I worked all night, serving drinks to patrons and slobs… my notepad smudged with business ideas behind the pages of food orders and gratuity tallies.
I remember a night in the grungy staff bathroom of Langley’s Olive Garden. I hid behind its locked door and stared into the mirror.
My shirt wore marinara sauce like the primary suspect of a tomato massacre and my skin was sticky with dishwasher vapor.
My tie, supplied by Darden Restaurants, was deliberately tacky; as though to imply that if the distinguished formalities of a silk dress code were unworthy of any respect, those who had to wear it must not be either.
Complaints about food times and table size… I couldn’t wait to get back to the river.
But the summer days got longer and 4:30pm starts became more tedious.
I applied for a job at the casino down the street and celebrated my new employer – albeit only after hooraying its 8:30pm start times and presumed longer days of fishing.
The slobs got sloppier, the notepad got thicker, my bathroom breaks got longer and the silk was now a maroon bustier.
Eventually, I started a company (Fly Gal) and kept up the pace: Guide all day, fish all day off, waitress all night, draw operational strategies towards business expansion…
My home stayed clean, my files neatly organized, my fly boxes stocked and my cooking skills sharp. It was easy, sleep was overrated and my relationships could wait (I thought).
Who had time to slow down?
A year in business and the juggling act continued. I took on another commitment with Fly Max Films, balancing on one foot while I performed my routine: Guide all day, fish all day off, waitress all night, draw operational strategies towards business expansion, film it all for television…
Until one day a more senior entertainer stepped onto my platform and all five of my juggling knives came tumbling down.
Six years ago now since the day I ‘dropped the ball’ and fell off the balance beam…
Tires screeched and hoods collided – my terrified soul screaming promises amidst the wreckage. I vowed to live each of ‘one more day’ as though it were my last.
I closed my eyes through the dreaded collapse of the trucks and waited to see if He might give me a second chance. The dark of the night focused slowly through my squinted eyes and He took my hand… promises never again made and then broken.
But the bar was now raised and I felt an inordinate amount of responsibility to try even harder.
My schedule soon looked like a well executed circus act.
A different city daily, office work done in airplanes, landing time at airports only long enough to change shirts before class began, evening layovers in Vancouver to update mom & dad, and rental car treks so Colby could accompany me through it all – I loved it.
The money came – it always does. The relationships built – they always do. The passion stuck – I had hoped it would. My loved ones worried – I loved them unconditionally. The haters misunderstood – I just kept trying my best.
But it was my addiction to spreading education that kept my legs running. And so the race continued.
Another wave rolls itself off the bluff and my ambling mind jars back to the remnants the wave leaves behind. Diminishing to a bowl of foam, it recedes into the main wash and temporarily opens windows of glassy boils. Exposed racing bluefish and the squeamish unease of my livebait shudder with upset under my float. A large bronze-whaler shark circles the commotion. For a moment my mind succumbs to the sheer simplicity of nature’s reality.
The float is red and it captures the attention of the large animal. I hold my breath, my knuckles white around the rod’s handle. My feet shuffle until they rest into small grooves of safety and I lower my weight onto them to avoid being torn from the ledge.
The steep incline and razoring rock almost guarantee failure with a fly rod. I secretly praise the impossibility of it all, the reminiscence of conventional gear warming me with thoughts from my younger days before vanity or challenge ever mattered. My thumb rests on the still monofilament and waits to feel the burn.
The wide head of the shark nudges the frantic baitfish and for one second patience is all that exists before the reel is screaming and the shark is gone. Flipping the lever and thrusting the rod tip into the air, I connect with a dull thud and a weight that bends the entire pole. It doesn’t stay dull for long as the hooked bronze-whaler realizes the interference and beelines it into the vastness of the open ocean.
The water erupts in the distance as the enormity of her slashing body jolts into the air, not willing to slow its emergence until only the tips of her tail are left skimming the water’s surface. Gold and silver paint the sky in a metallic rage before she lands on the leader and the line goes slack.
Again rhythm fills my limbs and throat; my heart throwing my body into dance.
It fades to subsided cognizance. My mind embraces it and mimics the next foam bowl. Opening windows of glassy boils expose the reason I sit here today and I mindlessly fall back into thought.
This January I felt the brunt of change.
I suppose it was to be expected. Something peculiar beset my stride – scheduling obtrusion into my agenda and slowing my enthusiasm for inconsistency.
Suddenly a simple commitment to the middle of the country seemed undesirable, my longing to board another airplane lacking drive. I felt tired. I finally felt tired.
But it was a different kind of tired. Not a burn-out or a mouthful of more than I could chew. It was the sort of fatigue that spreads when passion isn’t pursued, dreams not chased – left unattended to aimlessly weed and smother the security of one’s inner garden. There were dreams at the very root of my core that I had been ignoring; one of which had been waiting patiently since my days as a young girl.
I had denied them the nourishment they rightfully demanded and only watered them occasionally with promises of “next year”. The seasons changed and “next year” finally came, revealing itself by my extinguishment. I was ready for more.
I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t seen it coming. As a result, I had taken precautions. The year before I hired an office manager, Catherine, who took on the responsibility of emails, invoicing and shipping.
She had come into my life bearing resemblance of a saint and gave me the gift of time.
Like a self-brewing cappuccino machine sans instructions, this gift of time sat on the shelf unused while I stayed unnecessarily busy fiddling with coffee filters and messy grounds.
I didn’t know how to use this foreign tool but upon pressing all the buttons, together we learned how to make it function and I was free to find energy for my two most persistent dreams.
The first thing I did was stock up on reading material and Keurig cups.
The second thing I did was book a ticket to Australia, giving myself plenty of time to brew.
From my first days of grade school I had wanted to be a writer; one with a talent for simplicity and boldness emulated from the likes of Mark Twain (a household name in my youth).
From my first years of adulthood I had wanted to be an exceptional fly-caster with the grace and class of Joan Wulff.
Both of these desires remained constant in my life, neither of them dwindling yet neither of them transpiring. For such dreams need patience, practise and polish – each of such requiring copious amounts of time.
Abroad and unsettled, the smell of crisp book pages soothed my ache to immerse myself in literature (outside a plethora of business and self-improvement manuals).
Time spent with casting students broadened my insight to the mechanics and physics of the perfectly loaded fly rod.
My newly relaxed agenda accommodated the learning curve I had desired to indulge in, so I took two months to dive into my library: literature from talented authors, casting gospel from the old guard and a freshly lined five weight as my bookmark when I needed a break from the reading.
Again I was driven… revitalized with a desire to grow, to build, to cease any smothering of my emotional flame.
I made goals for myself to reach: a Master’s exam for the end of the year, a book deadline devised, a devotion to the history of steelhead and Atlantic salmon – even the committal of a TV series based on an educational journey of each species and the associated class within the fly fishing industry.
I knew my comprehension on each of these subjects would naturally heighten. What I didn’t account for was just how much it would draw into question just how little comprehension I really had of myself.
Blue Eyes shouts me back into consciousness.
He assumes I’m reading my book; eyes never straying from the task at hand.
“Tuna are in strong”, he brings me up to speed and my eyes lock onto a dark patch in the water that is moving towards us in a hurry.
They flutter into the cove with forked tails bounding aerially – narrowly escaping collision with one another – black snake tongues tasting the air.
He throws a lure into the stain of fish and a bullet-like body pierces the sea, taking the lure firmly in its mouth upon its descent.
Blue Eyes laughs in villainous satisfaction and braces most of his 200 pounds atop his heels as the fish nearly spools him. Much to my annoyance, my voice can’t help but raise itself several octaves amidst the excitement – its shrill and adrenalized tone adding to the kerfuffle.
I scurry to the gaff, the same high pitch noise now spewing recipes and presumptuous main course ideas to the wise, deaf ears of my partner who is cursing the fish as it runs him rightward and around an unforgiving headland.
For a moment the line stops moving. We both hold still and wait for an outcome.
The rod keeps its bend, the line stuck between two snags out of our sight. The tip heaves sharply, the line assumedly fraying with each tug.
My voice drops back to normal and I console the disappointment leaking through his deep breaths. That famed moment of anticipation and the teeter-totter of the outcome.
Would this be the start to one of our many stories? Or the end to one that we were anxiously hoping for? The line dogs itself through the obstruction, suddenly popping free!
The fight continues.
The Powerbraid leashes the tuna and Blue Eyes does his best to steer it towards the base of the cliff. We scramble down the embankment, both of us shouting safety precautions to the other.
Rockfishing in Australia is one of the most dangerous sports in the country and regardless of how many fish tacos we had hoped to feast on, it held nowhere near the satisfaction of being able to live to fish another day.
The surrendered tuna turns its head towards us. Smears of green, blue and purple iridescence entrance my gaze. And then as if to say “you’re welcome” he turns his head sharply and spits the hook, escaping into the churning chasm.
No one needs to say a word. The sound of the sea beats its chest in boasted triumph – claiming ownership once more of a fish that was not deservedly ours.
I retreat back to the only semi-flat rock I can spot and allow my thoughts to run freely.
The first of the books that I had purchased for my scheduled “break” was the newly released paperback by Joan Wulff. Truth be told, I had never read a casting book prior to last year and I delighted to find that most of my teachings were on point – the analogies and exercises similar, my raw learning valuable and rewarded.
But as I read through, the soothing voice of Joan simplified my more advanced questions. I brought her with me to the park daily, spreading the pages in the dry grass to my left, my running line adjacent to her words. Second by second, inch by inch, revelation by revelation, my stroke improved.
I spoke to her through both the tight loops and the tails, the exhaustion and the exuberance, the good sessions and the bad. Asking questions aloud throughout the entire process, dog walkers displayed confusion that a thirty-one year old woman might still have a make-believe friend. If only I could be so lucky.
The second of my books was “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. Again, having never read a book on proper composition, confirmation of my writing strengths made me beam. Contrarily, the unearthing of my writing errors caused me to wince.
“Ah ha” and “how come I didn’t know that?” mused from the couch. My brow furrowed, my fingernails between my teeth…
The days were always full of “to do’s”. As busy as they were before (pre-Catherine), only now more concentrated without the demand of travel and predetermined schedules.
My calendar ordered sequentially: emails/office work, read about writing, cast, read about casting, MCI questions, plan this TV series, research Atlantic salmon history for my book, stay in touch with loved ones, contemplate, contemplate, contemplate.
Tearing down and rebuilding such vital elements of myself was necessary to build the growth I needed to improve, to be better.
But it bore vulnerable wounds; wounds that needed isolation from viral spread.
My confidence plummeted, my intentions catching it swiftly before letting it hit the ground.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Resurfacing spews of my rateability (and the likelihood of it being unwarrantedly high), assumptions by way of misidentification (a common tie to much of the banter online), acquaintances justifying catty comments with a casual “Awww c’mon, the hate’s not new… why do you still let it get to ya girl?”
They were missing the point and I was overly sensitive, never quite able to wrap my head around cruelty or negative energy better spent on love.
My scalp hurt a little from the children pulling my hair on the playground. Assumption that support and fawning was my norm, they mistook venomous slurs for rarity – determined to stand out amidst the masses.
The irony spun me back to my days as a single woman where eligible bachelors assumed my dating life to be rich with prospect. Priding in their unique refusal to ‘join the hordes’, I sat alone, un-courted and dateless, wondering what other girls my age were up to those evenings.
Only days before, I had numbingly poked food around the edges of my plate.
Blue Eyes looked at me with compassion. He smiled warmly at my exhaustion, knowing better than to scold me for being too hard on myself or for misunderstanding the world.
He loved me for it.
Fully aware of the healthy tensions caused by the book, show and learning curve, he squeezed my hand in his, leaning his head towards mine.
Eleven years my senior, his advice was always welcome. I dropped my chin to the side to allow for his closeness. He whispered through a grin, the upturned corners of his mouth sounding unmistakably through his words. They rustled my hair as they passed into me, my typical cheeky smile now back on my face.
He knew what I needed: “Let’s go fishing,” was all he had to say.
Uneven edges of volcanic rock push their jagged prongs through my thin khakis.
The air smells of salt…
* For more blog posts similar to this one, please visit April’s new website.