The Preservation of Fire
Updated: May 25
It snowed last night. Just a light dusting, but enough to turn things white again. We throw in another log and stoke the wood stove to warm frozen boots errantly left outdoors.
Mesmerized by the red and amber flames dancing just behind the glass I'm reminded of a quote from Gustav Mahler that my friend, Jon Osborn, is fond of: "Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire."
It's my first true "trout camp". I've never really paid much attention to trout opener, typically fishing year round on my home waters, but I was excited when the invite came. A small gathering at a buddy's northern Michigan cabin. Like deer camp, it's more about the camaraderie than anything else. The fishing is just a bonus, or perhaps the excuse to spend time with others that share my passions, provide different viewpoints and know when to call bullshit on my tall tales; not that it keeps me from sharing them.
It's a place of daily rituals.
Breakfast together in the cabin as the sun rises over the dark water, both pots brewing to keep up. To the gravely launch as we begin the day's float. Moving quietly along, the sounds of the awakening forest provide the underscore.
Lunch, a harvest from the previous season, cooked over flame, while soaking up the peace of the moment, sun on our faces. Floating on as a few bugs begin to show themselves. Trout gently nosing the surface, creating rings that extend out like time itself. Bent rods following splashy takes. Satisfied releases offered back in gratitude to the cold river.
Dinner together around the table as daylight begins to fade; swapping stories, ribbing about the fish I missed because of a bad knot, and reliving the highlights fish by fish, bend by bend. Maybe a cocktail or two and a pipe around the pop-and-crackle of the stove as the moon climbs higher. Tall tales get taller and traditions find their root.
Off to bed. Dreams of tomorrow's jeweled trout fresh in mind. Attempting sleep despite the poorly-tuned-chainsaw-like sounds rising and falling from the other side of the room, verifying last call came one drink too late.
On the river we find the current slowly pulling us into the future, while crossing paths with a few others carrying out traditions from years gone by. Some of the camps getting smaller now as age and illness and other life responsibilities thin the ranks; the hardy few carrying on to pass the flame.
We hear stories of those no longer with us, trout from back when "the fishing was better", snow so deep the trucks got stuck, camp mishaps, pranks, drinks, awards and rituals. You can feel it. The fire still burns. Preserved in the sharing, at least for one season more.
These days, my fishing isn't about the heft of the stringer, it's about making the most of the unknown handful of moments I've been allotted. Of spending the ever-dwindling sand in my hourglass in a meaningful way. Among people I care about and places that leave an imprint.
I recently read a quote that stuck with me, though I do not know who penned it."No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity." At 47, this struck home. The end does, already, seem too soon. But my fire still burns. And moments like these, spent on the water with friends, provide both the tinder and the seasoned logs I needed.
Ayn Rand famously said: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration..." And I, for one, do not intend to.