Thursday, July 18, 2013

Anticipating Alaska

Every serious fly fisher -- serious as in seriously mad as Jack Ohman wonderfully observes in this essay -- carries with them a dream stream. In this stream the water runs clear and the trout are strong. Sometimes the stream is a memory of a past place, but for most of us it is of a future place, an unexperienced place. Fishing, and fly fishing in particular, is about what comes next. The next rise, the next bend, the next pull.

My dream stream flows through a meadow surrounded by mountains that look to be only a double-haul away, but are so vast that I know I could never really begin to touch them. It flows under an overcast sky so that the trout are less shy. It flows over a gravel bottom full of red, gray, white and even blue stones. The fish are plentiful, but most importantly they are wild and native. And the stream itself is wild. As the Judge John Voelker wrote, I fish because I love the environs where trout are found. Trout are often found in wild places. And wild places are both wonderful and full of wonder. Emerson observed, the greatest wonder is that we can see wilderness and not wonder more.

And as I wonder more I'm drawn repeatedly back to Aldo Leopold, who captured better than anyone the complexity of our human lives and how that complexity is mirrored in our natural, wild environment. He taught us decades ago how to apply the lessons of the wilderness to the complexity of our lives. As my work gets more complex, I increasingly find the need to connect to wilderness. Because it is in the wilderness that complexity is transformed into order and beauty. It is a reminder of what is possible, what could come next.

Tomorrow, I get my first chance to learn from the most wild of places left in the United States. Muir said of Alaska: To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world. And to this angler it is the home of my dream stream. A wild place. A natural place. A complex place.

Thanks to the gang at Mad River Outfitters and Naknek River Camp I won't have to break the bank on the trip -- but all of the fly tying gear I bought to prepare for the trip made it close. The Naknek is rated the best rainbow river in Alaska and the Johnsons have the pictures to prove it. But that's not why I chose the Naknek. I picked it because it is remote. It is wild. It is home to many kinds of wild fish. It is a place where -- in my dreams -- I can reach out and touch nature's complexity.

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