We pass a truck that is loaded with fly fishing window stickers and has the classic fly rod holder perched perfectly on their SUV roof. I’ve got my own kind of stickers- the kind the bank gives my kids and I later find plastered on my car windows. I’ve got my own fly rod holders- it’s called a roof rack- and it’s filled with kid fishing poles, empty sun screen bottles and soggy towels from last week’s camping trip. I don’t exactly “fit in”, but just because my husband got called to work while we are camping in the mountains, doesn’t mean I am going to wuss out and stay at camp all day. We are going on adventure, no matter what.
I drive down the dirt road that follows the mountain stream- the rivets in the road bounce us around and my kids find it comical to sing while the road makes their voices jiggle. I pull in quickly down a side road and then back out because it dead ends at a camp site- the kids ask if we are there yet and I say something whimsical like- “Adventure takes a while but it will be worth it”. They don’t care what I said, but are excited to drive through a huge puddle.
My toddler starts to fuss and then realizes that if he says, “UP”, I will roll the window up to make him happy and if he says, “Down”, I’ll do exactly what he says.
Not only am I being puppeteered by a two year old dictator, but my daughter is yelling “More chips!” and my son is trying to hand me the water bottle because he can’t figure out how to screw on the lid. Is there some sort of Olympic game of parental- outdoorish- multitasking (?)- Because I am sure I have a shot at winning; I can scan a trout stream and attend to my children’s every need like wonder woman- or psycho woman, depending on who you ask.
The kids think we are “looking for somewhere to swim”, but I’m looking for more than that- the spot must meet a trifecta of needs: sand (keep toddler busy), slow water (so no one gets swept downstream because they all are slow swimmers), and obviously a solid stretch of fishy water for mama here. We drive around the back country dirt roads like hillbillies on fish crack- stopping at every possible side road or unoccupied camp site to peer through the trees at the water. Every time I get out of the car, a sippy cup or toy car rolls out, which leads me to a short, sarcastic chuckle.
I put on some radio country music because I feel like I should, but then I turn it off because my 6 yr. old daughter asks me what a bartender is and why the girl wants to drink to forget something?
“Oh look, a deer” I fake, to get out of answering that question. What has happened to country music- girls should fish to forget instead of drink to forget- or more like they should deal with their problems instead of doing either (#psychology #student loans). I don’t want to know why she was drinking; I just want to get away from all of the crud blaring through the radio, TV, computer, my mind, etc…
I notice we have been driving for over a half hour… the troops won’t last much longer. Just when I start to doubt my idea that I can do this on my own, we land at the spot of trifecta bliss and we all gleefully unload the car. I leave my fly rod in the car as I sometimes feel like I need my children’s blessing before I set it up- so they know they come first. But I sure am sneaky…
We wade in the water and I throw some rocks for the black lab- who enjoys trying to carry all of the rocks out of the stream and pile them on the bank. I say “good dog”, even though he is being crazy…because sometimes I need to hear it too, even if what I am doing is a pointless waste of time.
My daughter finds a herd of pollywogs and we get my fishing net to scoop them up. My toddler holds out his cute chubby hand and I plop an unwilling woggy onto his palm as requested. He smiles and shakes it off onto my leg and yells, “Yites” (aka, yikes). He falls in the cold creek water and I have to take his shirt off to keep him warm and let him go diaper free in natures’ finest creek.
I pick up some rocks that the lab has retrieved and turn them over to size up the underwater etymology party going on in front of us. We find stone fly casings and a multitude of mini rock cocoons clinging to the rocks. My curious son pridefully yells for me to look- and he has a handful of dead stone fly castings that he wants to fish with. I can’t help but think about what a lovely place to live- as a fish (but mostly as a human). This is where I get sneaky,
“Wow, with so many wonderful animals in the water, I bet there are some amazing fish in this creek”. The kids take the bait and now they WANT me to fish. I tie on a Missing Link as I am trying out some new flies. My second cast is hit hard by a small hungry wild rainbow. Everyone wants to look at it and they fight over who gets to let it go- then it hides near my shoe so we watch it for a while.
I catch another trout- a brookie this time and we all hover around to look at the majestic markings and note the differences between a rainbow and a brook trout. My audience is actually listening and I’m as happy as the day they started to walk (ok maybe more like the day they went potty on the toilet- tmi I know).
We had lunch next to the creek and then decided to swim/walk upstream to explore further. My daughter says,
“Mom, I’m not sure I will be a fly fisher girl, but I think I am more of an adventure/explorer/flower picker girl”.
I told her she had to be a fly fisher or I would disown her…no, I was so pleased to know that she was enjoying these unplanned moments in nature…blessed beyond expression really.
My husband found us after I left him a detailed message when I had service earlier. I think he was surprised to find us sprawled out and smiling. We hike upstream a ways and I carry the toddler on my back. He starts yelling into the canyon as loud as he can:
“Pizza, pizza, pizza, pizza”!
Because he recently learned that word and wants the world to know. Some back packers chuckled at us as we passed on the trail- my kids looked like I had just picked them up from an orphanage that conducted child labor in a coal mine because we were camping in a dusty area.
With my husband’s blessing, I perched myself upstream a bit to enjoy some time fishing in one of the most beautiful places my eyes have seen in a while. It smells fresh and crisp; I can’t help but let it clear my mind to the shallow level of ‘what fly to choose and where to place it’. I tie on the Missing Link again and find it equally successful in this stretch of water. I caught a few brookies and a nicer size wild rainbow. I yelled to my husband that I wanted to catch a bull trout and then seconds after, I caught a bull trout- it put up a good fight too!? Why does this make me so happy? I love it.
My almost five year old son wades up stream to me and I start to get frustrated at his intrusion until he asks if he can cast now. I go through some basics again and he casts- smiling at me when he gets the fly to go to the right spot. He yells to my daughter that he needs some Cheezits- so every few casts she comes out to re-hydrate and refuel the tiny caster. He doesn’t catch anything but he is so dang cute trying and so proud to be casting a fly rod.
The sun starts to set and I end up with a cranky toddler now satisfied in my arms, while I cast and enjoy the warm breeze. My husband reminds me we have to go home tonight- so we make the trek back to camp.
My daughter is sobbing because she doesn’t want camping to end. I start to wonder if it has to end, if we could somehow live up here like mountain goats or the hillbillies that we are already starting to look like. I pouted with the rest of the children and reluctantly packed up our camp site.
I stood at the edge of the trees and took one big, life preserving, breath and unwillingly got in the car to leave. On our way down the mountain, and around the last corner that parted me away from the creek, I notice I really am feeling mournful for some reason. After further reflection, I realize it wasn’t just the river that I miss, but the fact that my daughter is starting 1st grade in a month, my toddler is saying full words, and my fly casting son is going to be 5 next weekend. We will no longer have these adventurous, summer days of unplanned exploring together. I wonder if I took them and we ran away to the woods to hide from the world if they would no longer age and they would stay exactly where they are so I could just keep enjoying this phase.
I don’t want to let go of the last rays of sunlight that are filtering through the pine trees…I’m not ready for this summer to end…I’m holding on tight to this moment,
And feeling homesick the closer I get to home.
I come up with the cleaver motto of: home is where my kids are filthy, my feet are wet, and I don’t know what time it is. I might crochet my motto to a pillow so I have it all the time…but in the meantime it does make me smile.
But just like fall arrives after summer, I know change can also bring about some amazing things if we don’t get hung up on the fear of the journey. I guess if I can do a full day in the mountains alone, I can make the most of the changes coming my way and find creative ways to get to the mountains and spend time with my little family. I thank God for this adventure, called life, and the ability to find peace in the mountains and creeks- which give me perspective and always cleanses my soul down to the simple things that make life all worth it.
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