With three napkins from Subway and a load of hand-picked wood, my thoughts were on coaxing up a nice campfire and setting to work on blackening some hot dogs. The day's fish were also on my mind but not on the menu.
With late-evening sights of an Iowa summer as a backdrop, I looked past my fire to the Turkey River. Just as I wished for fish-sign to ring the watery surface, it appeared in silence, and I watched the rings merge and fade with the ripples of a slow current. Locusts buzzed and the fire popped.
The waters of small rivers and streams enrich my soul and return to me the peace that so frequently slips away during the work hours, days, and weeks. No matter the rewards; the beeps, alarms, & people-sounds of my work in healthcare still extract a toll on me.
Three weeks ago, nearing the latter half of August, I sat in the same place, same chair, overlooking a campfire along this river for the first time. I never thought I'd light a campfire when tenting solo, but acting on a whim may have started a comforting new habit.
That weekend threatened wind and rain. Twenty to thirty-mph wind reigned supreme while clouds and sun battled for second place. The rain never came despite the forecast, but oddly enough, planning smallie Iowa float trips nearly always seem to elicit bad-weather forecasts.
I'd needed to escape the day-to-day world and rediscover my peace. Sharing this with like-minded friends would have been welcome, but I ultimately explored new water alone & had been grateful to do it.
And now, 3 weeks later, I sit here again in my Farm & Fleet clearance patio chair. My pen, paper, headlamp & Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale keep me company by the fire. Darkness is nearly here, & swallows, silhouetted by calm river water reflecting rays from a setting sun, will shape my memory of this extended weekend.
This time, yes, work was still stressful - very stressful - but this time I really wanted to enjoy the company of friends on what might be the final smallie float of the year. But, it just didn't work out that way. All were too busy doing other things.
So, once again, I'd made plans for a solo-camping & smallmouth float trip.
Strange, but it seems like I've returned to where I started. But there aren't many fly anglers, especially in the Midwest. Back in 2008, when my only fly fishing friend lived 8 hours away, I mostly fished, traveled, made lots of mistakes, and got lost -- alone.
Then I learned to network - at the local fly fishing club, fly fishing shows, on-line, with conventional anglers, and then slowly the world opened up. I've been able to travel to go fishing with others in NC, MI, MT, and AK. I can text, call, or email fly fishing friends anytime. I lay out our club's newsletter, and there are so many known friendly faces at the shows.
Yet, it still frequently remains hard to find someone who has the time to go fishing for a few days, especially on smallmouth float trips, which I love nearly as much as fishing for musky.
I'm pretty happy by myself, which is probably a great reason why I shouldn't be alone too much. When does finding a little peace transition into becoming a recluse?
But, I personally know people who won't go somewhere unless they have company. Some of my best discoveries & most memorable times have been shared with others. But my memories & my life would be far less rich if I'd waited for company to happen prior to venturing off on many things fly fishing. The ironic thing is that I've met many of my fishing friends because I was willing to go someplace on my own & was willing to meet others.
I wonder if coming full circle also means that I will get to meet more wonderful people.
I live my life, and life has been great. If I'd waited for life to happen to me, I think I'd still be waiting, or I'd have given up on this fly-fishing thing. Don't wait! And then someday, maybe we'll meet on the water & share some stories beside an evening campfire.
(Written fireside 9-13-15 & finished while lounging in bed 12-13-15, because 100% heavy rain forecast would make for poor fishing and unsafe driving on gravel roads...& it's deer shotgun season. But, I did fish yesterday & it was good... but it wasn't enough. I think you know the feeling.)