The River Gives
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
It's May in Michigan. The season has been wet with weather that can't quite make up its mind. A few days ago we had the furnace running, today it will hit 90. It's a guessing game at this point. The hatches are sporadic, the rain comes in deluges and the rivers are running high and dirty. But make no mistake, we will be fishing.
There's a famous quote by Michigan native, John Voelker (Robert Traver) that, while highly overused, still remains incredibly poignant to me. "I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariable ugly; because of the television commercials, cocktail parties and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup tastes better out there; because maybe someday I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant - and not nearly so much fun."
Reading these words, I can't help but wonder if Voelker was envisioning this very spot when he penned them. Certainly I go fishing to catch fish, but it's so much more than that. I go to let my worries wash downstream like so much sediment after a hard rain. I go to listen to the quiet of nature, and hear my own thoughts more clearly. I go for the solitude that can still be gained among friends who understand. I go to smell the Cedar-tinged new-ness of a spring morning or the damp humid close to a night in the summer. I go because the river is alluring and mysterious and occasionally gives up her secrets if you are patient enough. Henry David Thoreau said it this way, "Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after." Thankfully at 46, I do know.
Like Voelker, I too suspect we are going along this way for the last time and I don't want to waste the trip either. I'm with a few close friends as evening begins to close on the nearly-deserted river tucked deep in the forested byways "up north". Our spirited conversations accented by the chorus of Peepers, the call of an Oriole, the splash of a beaver's tail and the occasional quiet sip of a trout.
The fishing is slow, but we don't mind. Our rhythms have slowed in turn, punctuated by the occasional burst of adrenaline fueled by the take of a fish. Over the course of the float we've coalesced with the river. Become immersed in her beauty and soothed by her voice. We've felt her pull. And while she has been slow to give up the fish, somehow she always knows what we need and provides.
It's May in Michigan and tonight the river gives.