I came across this wonderful article on Angler's Journal this weekend entitled "The Gospel According to Jim". It's an interview of sorts with Jim Harrison, the great writer. When I say interview, I guess I mean it's a recollection of taking the dude fishing in Montana, along with David James Duncan. The article is beautifully written, filled with perceptive descriptions of the fishing and landscape peppered with great insight from Jim. I encourage you to read it.
There is one line in particular that stuck out to me. Jim mentions to the author as they drive by a ramshackle shack that it's saying to us, "...don't let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work." This is a declaration to all of us, something that we will all need to face at, more than likely, many points during our life. So what's the solution to this? How do we not let our lives become the remains of our work? How do we not let ourselves become handicapped or torn down by our work instead of lifted up and freed by it?
"...don't let your life become the sloppy leftovers of your work." - Jim Harrison
The answer is different for everyone. For me, it's more of a process than an answer - a continuous questioning and reflecting of life, contentment, passions. I like work, I thrive off having a job to do and doing that job well. However, I've found that I need fulfilling work, work that doesn't tear down the cross beams holding me up or rip off the roof that's keeping me sane, work that in some way gives back to me on some level. Good work. I've had plenty of shitty jobs, and in the end, they left me feeling shitty. At the end of those days, my life was simply the sloppy leftovers of whatever motion I was going through. Life became part of the work that I was living.
On the other hand, I've had jobs that, while may be very demanding on some levels, are "good" in my eyes (and that definition of "good" differs with each person). By doing work that is good in my eyes, I find that my life embraces the work instead of becoming the bystander of it. Good work becomes a part of the life that I am living and pushes me to live a fuller life.
The "solution", if there really is one, is an individual finding whereas the problem is a universal one that we all have to face at some point. This is what a great writer does, presents us with a universal problem tied to an image that we all can relate to (a house in disrepair, slowly falling back into the earth), and lets us figure out the "answer" in our own way. A series of koans for us to mull over while engaged in our story.
The palette of colors that make up our winter world seem to be muted in comparison to the rest of the seasons. Summers show us blazing hot yellows and deep blues, fall has all those gloriously burnt oranges and reds, and spring has the advantage of being able to reveal only a slight stroke of green to catch our attention. Winter has its grays and dirty whites. I'm not complaining; I actually enjoy the relief that winter offers our eyes. Its muted colors are able to exaggerate the smallest details.
Here in February, late winter, the trout are post-spawn and slowly regaining some color. They may not offer the brightness they do in late summer or early fall, but looking closely you'll find some beautiful patterns. The darkness that has been building through the winter adds new textures, much like snowfall adding another dimension to our visual landscape; contours and shapes are redefined once a layer of snow accumulates.
The little bit of fishing I have done this year so far has been mostly for native brookies and wild browns. I've found that I've had the most luck on colorful patterns. I think the trout are a lot like us during this time of year - they're attracted to anything that adds a splash to the palette of their life. They may be slow and hunkered down deep in their pools and under their rocks, but if they see a flash of blood bright red go by, they're likely to snap out of their stupor and take a stab at it. Much like we are more likely to head outside and take a cold, invigorating walk through the woods if we see the sun break through a horizon of clouds and scrape the surface of an icy snow pack.
One of the most effective patterns this winter has been the red weenie. Yup, it's exactly like the greenie weenie, just with red chenille. Simple, bright, effective. What the winter calls for. I've been tying them with copper and gold beadheads, mostly on size 14 hooks. I like to use them as an anchor fly on a tandem nymph rig. I've seen a few fish dart out at the red weenie from a series of fast riffles only to take my dropper, usually some sort of simple pheasant tail or caddis pattern.
Maybe it's a reminder of what's to come in a few months or what used to be: the reds that we yearn to see once the snow melts and the sun stays up past 7 p.m. or those full bodied maple reds of floating fallen leaves, the flotsam of the fall.
I stumbled upon the name "Raftman's Path" walking the river trail that traverses through the little town I live in. It was named during the days when lumber was a huge commodity in this area. The Susquehanna River was an industrial thoroughfare - bearing down loads of lumber from the northern reaches of Pennsylvania towards the Chesapeake. Marietta was a stopping point, a place for the lumber either to go to the mills lining its banks or shoot further downstream through pig iron smoke. Raftmen would guide the lumber down to the mouth of the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake - an estuary of salt, water, lumber, ore, eel and shad. When their job was done, they would walk the raftman's path back through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster County towards their homes. The path is now wooded and meanders through some of the only "wild" places left in the county.