We are three fly fishers with a bird hunting problem. Or the other way around. Whichever it is, two of us have been meeting twice annually since we left music school some three decades ago. The third joined us when he took up fly fishing 15 years ago. They are a good friend and brother, and I hope they would say the same about me.
We plot these trips, conspiring from afar with maps and Google searches, recalling distant rumors and eavesdropped conversations. Our hope is to find places with the promise of birds or trout that are equidistant from all of us. We often succeed.
But the true measure isn’t quantifiable, measurable, tangible. It is not a tally of birds shot or trout netted. We keep score in different ways.
There’s quiet talk of those who can’t share the diamond-studded night skies we sleep under or sparkling waters we wade. We’ll hoist a tall one to a mentor no longer treading rocky chukar slopes in this realm. And we commiserate about the thousand mundane details that make life a little less elegant, then celebrate this brief weekend where the natural canvas is a perfect composition of colors, textures, smells.
Microsoft Outlook lets us declare emails as “urgent,” but there is no icon for the communication that takes place while resting a trouty pool. Video games can’t match the adrenaline rush of a chukar chittering up in front of your young dog’s wide-eyed gaze. Both are better, still, when someone close is there to share them.
Conversations come in bits, observations in pieces. Totaled, they comprise a 48-hour string of communiqués that enrich our lives for another six months, tiding us over until we can again share the stillness of a new wild place.
It’s not all deep and serious. We drink too much and eat stuff our wives won’t let in the kitchen. (Maybe in truth we are bird hunters with a drinking problem. Or drinkers with a bird hunting problem!) Pleasure comes from different sources than during our Little League years: rising fish get five casts, then you’re out and it’s someone else’s chance to hook up. Dog breeds are disparaged – in jest – and shooting skills are mocked. We embark on our share of wild goose chases, some literal, some in pursuit of mystical places and legends.
We open our hearts and our minds (politics and religion are fair game), our 30 years of tolerance dictate when to change subjects. Besides, there’s more fun in comparing Charlie Parker to John Coltrane. Or in standing under a sky so rich with stars there is more light than dark. (On the former: it’s unanimous – Bird rules. You gotta problem with that?)
We try to walk canyons without footprints other than ours, wade streams too small for anglers seeking validation in their trout. Consequently, our bags are lighter and there are few hero shots of squirming fish. We’ve been there and done that, would rather be here and do this in the company of souls who don’t need the affirmation that comes from tape measures and “legal limits.”
Once you “grow up” there aren’t a lot of experiences that qualify as fun, in the yahoo-roller coaster-look-ma-no-hands sense. Yes, more subtle, but catching four jewel-like rainbows from one tiny pool qualifies. As does a tumbling downhill one-legged shot at a towering chukar that connects, especially when your young dog pointed it. I’ll take them over the stuff of adolescence any day.