Henry David Thoreau once said, “Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
So true. Sure, I go to the river to catch trout—and hopefully lots of them. But I go to relax. I go to experience the great outdoors. I go to get lost in my thoughts.
I also go for the conversations.
Words and Silence
My podcast partner, Dave, and I are close friends. That might even be an understatement. When I think of Dave, there’s a proverb in the Bible that says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” So when we are together, we engage in a lot of conversation. We debunk the stereotype of men who simply grunt at each other. Real men do more than grunt. They talk.
Now this doesn’t mean our time on the river is a constant barrage of words. We do our share of grunting. But the sound of silence is frequent. There can be long stretches of hiking or fishing or even driving with no words.
When we do talk, though, the conversations seem to run much deeper than they do when we are eating lunch in a café in one of the towns where we live. Certainly the longer stretch of time we spend on the river or on the road to the river (compared to a booth in a café) makes this possible. But I suspect that the environment has something to do with it too.
So what do we talk about?
Well, fly fishing, of course.
We talk about the day ahead and what we hope it will be. We talk strategy, and we trade information on patterns that might work in the stretch of river we’re going to fish. We discuss the pros and cons of the gear we want to purchase. I suppose all the talk about fly fishing is a diversion from the stress points of life.
But I like to think it is a parallel challenge which keeps our minds sharp and our spirits refreshed.
We also talk about people — how they fascinate us, frustrate us, and inspire us. We talk about our wives and how we both married up. We’re grateful for how supportive they are of our friendship and our fly fishing habit.
We trade stories about our children — their challenges, their futures, and their dreams. We talk about our friend, Dennis, and the journey he and his wife are taking into the darkness as her memory loss becomes an increasing reality. We talk about Marty, a college friend, who has shockingly been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. We talk about the career of Don Henley, the drummer and co-lead singer for the Eagles. We talk as well about fly fishing guides and shop owners we know.
Then, we gossip about ideas.
That’s preferable to gossiping about people. We talk business strategy and political philosophy, though we quickly tire of politics. We discuss the big ideas we encounter in literature. On our last fly fishing day trip, we talked about some great lines from Wallace Stegner’s novels. Dave shared a quote from Remembering Laughter, while I brought up a poignant statement in Crossing to Safety.
Our faith is always a topic of conversation. Our worldview springs from this and provides our lives with ballast. Occasionally, we’ll circle back to the how the river is such a key metaphor in the Bible. Rivers figure prominently in both its opening and closing chapters. But lest you think our conversation is always deep and reflective, we spend a lot of time laughing (often at each other) and debating whether we should find a steakhouse or a pizza place for dinner.
On a recent fly fishing trip, we drove out of our way on the way home to eat at a supper club, only to wind up disappointed with the Friday night fish fare. We left the establishment graciously but chuckled about the third-rate experience on the drive home.
Laugh Kills Lonesome
When I lived in Helena, Montana, I would frequently go to the Montana Historical Society so I could gaze at C. M. Russell’s painting, “Laugh Kills Lonesome.” He actually painted himself in this picture. He is standing by a prairie campfire with a group of his cowboy friends. The scene evokes solitude. Yet, as the title of his oil-on-canvas suggests, the laughter effectively killed the loneliness.
I suspect that Charlie Russell liked riding the range for some of the same reasons I love to fly fish — the solitude, the scenery, the feel of freedom, the wind in his face, and the scent of sage. But he also loved the conversations and the laughter. That’s a side of fly fishing I treasure. I’m after more than trout when I pick up my fly rod and head to the river. I’m after some rich conversations.