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Why We Fish: The Music of Distant Waters

Why We Fish: The Music of Distant Waters

Searching for Music

I fished a lot when I was younger. I searched the music of distant rivers without restraint or consequence of time and slept where the day ended. Fish were plentiful as hours. When the sunlight faded, I slept peacefully near the campfire, knowing the next day would unfold much the same. I had little in those days regarding assets, but life was so full of joy and freedom that I didn’t know I was missing anything. I assumed it would last forever. It didn’t. I grew up and left that version of myself along the river and slipped into the consumerism of American adulthood, with a never-ending pursuit of money and safety – and the never-ending worry that I would lose it all.

After two decades of grinding out work and meeting the growing demands of home life, I felt a shell of my former self. Depression set in. Subtly at first. Conversations shifted from future adventures to those of the past. Soon my biggest adventure was where to have lunch. I told myself I was happy. I was successful at work. Marriage and home life were good. I told others I was blessed. And I was. But I didn’t feel the joy I once did. I tried dismissing joy as an adolescent feeling, replacing it with more grown-up sentiments. I told myself joy would come with the next big deal. I just needed to grind out one more proposal. Add one more zero to our savings. What I needed was to catch some trout.

Learning to Listen Again

It’s easy to lose sight of who we really are or what brings us true joy. As kids, we develop sparks of happiness. Playing outside. Coloring a book. Catching a fish. Lying still enough to hear the river song. Those are the kindling fires meant to ignite enduring joy in our lives. Then, at some point in our transitions to adulthood, we let the world snuff them out. Or we snuff them out ourselves, replacing peace with anxiety, joy with fear. We are all in danger of those fires burning out for good. 

If you’ve lost sight of what brings you joy and peace, try returning to those original inner voices you heard while running freely under the sun until streetlights beckoned you in. If you once loved to draw, take a drawing class. If you once loved music, go to a concert or symphony. If you loved to fish or the idea of fishing, seek the faraway rivers that once called upon your heart. Our origin music is the joy and peace of childhood we heard and felt. It’s still there, waiting for us to listen again.

Hearing the Music Again

Twenty years after last fishing the faraway rivers, I wearily returned, not sure what I’d find. I sat quietly by the water, fumbling to tie a new fly to an old fly line. I breathed deeply. I filled my lungs with sagebrush and pine, freshened by water. Those elements infused my blood and circulated through my body. Colors sharpened. Forgotten senses returned. I felt revived from a long, dull dream. Then, I heard it. Birdcalls, buzzing, wind through the trees, and water cascades from pool to pool. This is the music of distant rivers. It’s life’s breath wanting to blow on the embers of our first loves and return them to fire.

Roger W. Thompson is the nationally acclaimed author of We Stood Upon Stars and My Best Friend’s Funeral, as well as an avid fly-fisherman. His ability to write about fishing and adventure while connecting to the deepest meanings of the human experience has earned him the nickname “The River Bishop.” Roger lives with his wife and two teenage sons in his coastal hometown of Ventura, California, where they surf, skate, snowboard, and build furniture together. Roger will be writing an exclusive series of essays for over the coming weeks and months. We hope they inspire and encourage you.

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