I can’t remember where I heard this before, but someone once said that some of the same principles used in gardening are also useful for pastoring. Consistent pruning, attention to the soil, patience, the unpredictability of the weather, and all that. I don’t know if it’s true or not as I’m neither a gardener nor a pastor, although I do aspire to be something of both. But I do like to fish, the biblical significance of which is fairly obvious.
My time living in Hamilton has largely been spent doing things other than fishing, but the call of open water never lets up. It can be the worst during winter, when even parts of Niagara Falls freeze over and put any thoughts of fishing out of the question. There is the possibility of ice fishing, of course, but I’m talking about real fishing. Sometimes you’ll get a brief but rapid melt that doesn’t quite get rid of the ice, but does ensure that the only open water in the province is pooling on your basement floor.
It can be enough to go out at times and just look at a river, as my son, James, and I did during the holidays before the real cold hit. We drove out to the Grand River, and I even took the rod along just in case. But although there was some open water below the Caledonia spillway, it was -9 and blowing and generally unfavourable for two-year-olds and their dads alike. So we drove aimlessly around the peninsula for a while, just happy to be exorcising the shack nasties.
Another balm comes in the form of books by John Gierach. He’s a Colorado fly-fisherman who fishes all the time so he can write about it, and makes a living selling his books to people like me who read all the time but can’t actually do much fishing. To make a living at writing you need to write a lot, which means full-time writers have piles of published material. Overall he’s an excellent writer, and when he’s on, he’s on. That’s likely because his books about fishing are often more than just about fishing. In the introduction to Death, Taxes, and Leaky Waders he quips, “I found that writing was writing and that any subject – with the possible exception of golf – could open up on grand themes if that’s what you wanted it to do.” Reading his books amounts to long-distance vicarious fishing, while at the same time ruminating on a world that has double-hauled itself into the bankside brush.
And then there’s B.C., where we spent the last week of Christmas holidays. The weather there was its agreeable maritime-temperate self, a few degrees above zero, and giving us only one day of substantial rain. It was very pleasant, and we took the opportunity to spend some time outdoors. One sunny morning I went for a walk near my in-laws’ farm, and although I didn’t need it the mountains gave me a reminder anyways of the simple force of their presence. The sunlight slanted on the southern slopes, the shaded side staring out at the valley, their grandeur in relief set against the crisp blue sky. People in Ontario will tell you that the snow is beautiful, which it is, and I’ve always held that every place has its charms. But it’s also true that some places are just more charming than others.
The Fraser Valley of B.C. is a good place to fall in love with fishing, as there’s lots of fish and they’re available, for the most part, year-round. That walk took me a ways along the Sumas River, a glorified irrigation ditch that provides surprisingly good fishing. I discovered the fishing there during some formative years, back when I had quit the band, cut my hair, pulled out the piercings, and for the most part was doing my level best to tumble gracefully into manhood. We’d go there Sunday afternoons in the summer with worms and beer catching everything from the diminutive peamouth chub, to plump cutthroat trout, all the way up to four-foot sturgeon. It was Frank Reinink who got us into that, and if you know Frank at all you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Eventually we stopped going to the river. I don’t know why, we just did. And just like that those days vanished irretrievably from life, what with us scattered across the country now. So visiting B.C. is laced with nostalgia, but also with the nagging feeling that I didn’t make the most of my time there. I once had great plans to explore the creeks in the mountains surrounding the valley, but I never did come close to my goal. Sometimes it was because I was busy, but too often it was due to lack of action. I always found something to do that seemed better at the time.
Studying at seminary is a worthwhile activity, of course, but like anything else it could fill all your days if you let it. Ontario is a charming place, one that’s worth getting to know. And if the snow here is beautiful, the local trout streams are that much more so. Whiteman’s Creek, for instance, although just outside of Brantford, is tucked away in a wooded ripple of land that gives a very real impression of solitude. Fishing may strike you as a deadbeat activity, but at the very least it introduces you to a place in such a way that merely driving the roads never could. You’ll notice the rain splattering on your windshield, of course, but if you’re fishing you’ll get to see the river level rise, the mayflies being knocked from the air back to the water, and that loose chunk of undercut bank finally fall into the river. Watching the physical and biological landscape change is watching God weave reality before your eyes. You might even find a good metaphor for a sermon.
If you’re into phenology, you might also observe that when the walnut tree in your backyard begins to bud, the Hendrickson mayfly hatch is coming off on your favourite stream. That’s ideal knowledge, if you ask me, but ideal also in that it only comes about through hard work. I had very little of that knowledge in B.C., even though I’d grown up there, and I have none of it in Ontario. So it’s an aspiration more than it is a reality. But if you want to arrive at that sort of understanding of a place, fishing is at least a fun way to get it. And fly-fishing has the added bonus of being another beautiful thing in a modern world that is as ugly as it is godless.
Anyways, there’s a New Year’s resolution in there somewhere.