Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fountain of Youth

I’ve always thought that one of the great stages in the life of the American male is the summer of his tenth year. A ten-year-old boy is too young to have discovered the weight of the world, the angst of adolescence, or the irresistible (yet, too often unattainable) enigma that is the female of the species. Unencumbered by these stresses, a ten-year-old boy with a two-wheeled bike on the first day of summer—the long procession of sunny days stretched out before him like a century—is a free man. He is old enough to be an old hand at school and friendship and skipping rocks, yet still young enough to experience things like a major league baseball game or a high dive for the first time. Things like catching a trout.

I’ve often thought that part of the allure of fly fishing—of all fishing—is the chance to transport back to those times, at least in spirit. On every trip, for several hours (or if we are lucky, for several days) the fisherman’s adult life drifts away like the water around his boots and he is left alone with only the wondrous places were trout rise or steelhead swim and the simple yet perfect problem of how to catch them. In short, fishing has the unique power to make us all feel like kids again. Or at least it does for me.

In the past, I have acknowledged this fact and pondered it now and again. I was completely comfortable with it. But unbeknownst to my conscious self, my subconscious was perhaps obsessing over it.

I am currently reading John Doyle’s excellent book The World is a Ball, which the subtitle tells me is about the Joy, Madness, and Meaning of Soccer.* In the introduction, Doyle makes a simple observation about the nature of sports—especially about the nature of attending sporting events—and why they are important to us.

One of the great pleasures of being alive is being part of a large, unruly gathering, the majority of people there smiling with the joy of being in one convivial, unhindered mass. It is a deeply gratifying feeling, one utterly unfamiliar to most adults in ordinary life…it frees adults to rediscover the bliss of childish revelry.
*Yes, this exactly the kind of book I tend to read when I am not reading about fly fishing. Really, you should have guessed.

It is something of an innocuous statement, really, and Doyle doesn’t dwell on it. But I recognized immediately that what he said applied to me. As a fisherman and a big sports fan I perhaps spend far more time than I ever thought trying to “rediscover the bliss of childish revelry.”

I have always felt that many of the acts of sports fandom were, for me, ways of reconnecting with childhood—the nervousness of a big game, the fear of losing—it all makes me feel like a kid. Yet for some reason Doyle’s words confirmed that I spend most of my free time—especially many of the moments I truly enjoy—trying to transform back into my ten-year-old self.

So what does this have to do with fly fishing? Not that much, I suppose. Except that maybe some folks would have made such a discovery and felt slightly depressed. They might have determined that they had to change, might have felt they had to stop trying to be a 34-year-old youth and start being a man all the time—not just Monday to Friday. Maybe they would have stopped following sports so closely or quit going to games altogether or even stopped fishing so hard. Maybe.

I don’t think so, really. I certainly won’t. I might just fish harder.

I once wrote about how I didn’t really want to know why I fly fished. I suppose what I am saying here is that, at some point, the why of the thing ought to be rendered unimportant. Its my life, really, and its up to me to decide what is important. And I say it’s the doing that counts. It’s the fishing that matters. The rest—all this thinking and pondering and analyzing—well it can be fun, but don’t let it get in the way. And when you are confronted with doubt (or trouble or stress or confusion), keep it simple. Go fishing.

Or at least I suppose that is how my ten-year-old self might look at it.


  1. Thanks for a very nice and thoughtful read to start the day.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope you have a good holiday.