Notes from Under the Brim

I just got back from my week in Cape Breton, where I spend most waking hours standing in the Margaree River waving a fly rod. Sometimes I catch and release Atlantic Salmon. Most of the time, however, I enjoy the magic of the moment while making deals with the salmon gods to help me hook a fish!

Any self-respecting angler wears a hat. It protects us from the sun and rain, from the wind that grabs our flies and hits us in the head, and gives us something to hide under when our casting goes to hell-in-a-handbasket.  It means that we are usually looking out at the water under its brim. I’ve learned a lot while looking out from under the brim of my fishing hat. Here are some of my recent lessons.

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Hat in place, I’m ready.

I arrived at Tent Pool on morning and there were 4 women there. I have never seen more than 2 other people there, let alone women. They were 4 of the most delightful, new-to-flyfishing women I’d ever met, who had hired a guide for the day. A guide, ostensibly, should “guide” clients – tie on flies, help them cast, position them in the river and help them fish. This guide stood on the shore, watching his clients flail away, stepping in only when they were so tied up that they needed help to escape their own line!

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Two of the ladies in Tent Pool.

I spent time with each of them, talking about casting, about where the fish might be lying and tying flies back on. I wasn’t being paid, but it was worth it – I was fishing, guiding and spending time with wonderful new friends. My morning was outstanding. [1]

Lesson # 1 from Tent Pool: Don’t just do what you have to do. If you can, do more. Your friends/clients will benefit, and so will you.

I spent an afternoon at Swimming Hole Pool, a long pool that’s fun to fish. As I was pausing for a break, two men arrived. One asked if he could get in the pool, and the other, Steve, sat down and we began to chat. That’s one of the wonderful things about fishing – we all share stories. Steve told me all about fishing in Maine where he lived, and how much fun it was being up on the Margaree.

When Steve stood up to get in the river, he lifted a huge net. I mean huge…I could have fit inside it! On the Margaree, we “tail” our fish, meaning we carefully land them with our hands, protecting their gills, and then release them.

Steve shyly looked side to side, then asked me if anyone else uses a net. I said no, I didn’t know anyone who did. He looked a bit sheepish lugging it around, and then I posed the question he was clearly dreading: Why didn’t you ask someone before you came?

His response? “Ask? Well, um, I never thought about it”.

(Note: I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of the net or I’d put it here!)

Lesson #2 from Swimming Hole Pool: Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions!

The final lesson comes from Redbank Pool. It was windy and cold, but the sun peeked through the clouds now and then and made the water sparkle and shine.  I had my hat in lock position to keep it from blowing off my head, and I became quite contemplative as I began to cast. I knew a fellow had hooked a salmon in this pool near the apple tree a few nights ago, and I thought it would be a good place to finish my trip.

He had told me that he knew the fish was there, and he was just persistent and kept presenting flies to the fish until he hooked (and released) it. So, I did the same. I was persistent, and I presented the flies the way I thought would interest me if I were that salmon, lying near that overhanging apple tree.

And suddenly… boom! A salmon grabbed the fly and with a splash, blasted away from me! Heart pounding, after what seemed like hours, I slowly brought the fish in, carefully removed the fly, while trying NOT to a) break my fly rod, b) hurt the salmon or c) fall down.

As I watched him swim away, I realized that all the time I had spent not catching fish had allowed me to distill what it was that I needed to do to catch fish.

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A shot of the pool where I released my salmon. And you’ll see my wee flask I used to toast the fish!

Lesson #3 from Redbank – Be persistent, whatever you are doing. Stop doing that which doesn’t work, and you’ll eventually land your fish/job/contract (fill in the right word here).

Fishing for Atlantic salmon is a wonderful, frustrating, exciting and humbling experience. It connects me to the Earth, reminding me that I am a part of it, not apart from it. Sometimes I leave the river reeling in the thrill of releasing a fish. And sometimes not. But I always leave it profoundly grateful that there are places like the Margaree River where I can keep learning about wild places, the creatures I share them with, and about myself.IMG_5348

[1] I also know that the most common characteristic found in successful guides is not their fishing skills, but rather their ability to connect with people. (This guide was dis-connecting!). Pretty sure his tip reflected that disconnect!

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To cell phone, or not to cell phone…

A hot day means an early dog walk for Roxy, Lucy and myself. I had already gone for my morning run and now the three of us were just entering the Belfountain Conservation Area – aka the park – for a stroll next to the Credit River. Roxy’s 14, so our walks are a bit shorter and more subdued than they have been in the past, but she loves to sniff and bark, and there’s lots to sniffing and barking opportunities in the park.

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The girls, cooling off in the water post-phone call.

As we approached the river, my phone rang, disturbing the lovely sense of quiet tranquility that had descended upon me. I keep it stowed inside my little bag that I use to carry those recyclable “dog poo bags”, so I yanked it out to look at it. I had decided if it wasn’t one of my children or my Dad, I wouldn’t answer it.

It wasn’t.  And I didn’t.

That got me thinking how bizarre it seems to me to have a phone “at the ready” for all times. Remember, if you are old enough, when phones were inside houses and offices, and when you walked out of the door, no one could reach you until you walked back inside? And that meant if you were in the car driving somewhere – up to the cottage, back to university, or anywhere at all – you had to pull over, find a gas station or restaurant with a pay phone to make a call if you wanted to be in touch with someone. Now, you can sit in the driver’s seat, speak into the interior of your car, and send a text, e mail or call whoever you want. (How crazy is that!)

When I was a little kid, we used to drive from Minnesota to Nova Scotia to visit our family, and we wouldn’t use a phone from the day we left until we arrived at my grandparent’s house. Now, I exit my door and there is nothing between me and any instant communication that I desire….whether I desire it or not!

I have found that access to my phone literally stops me from being able to be on my own. Having the phone in my dog poo bag/purse/briefcase/car means I am not always attuned to what is around me because I pay attention to it, or the possibility it brings, and not necessarily to the concrete, real life situation in front of me.

Two summers ago, Remy and I went to the Atlin Arts and Music Festival in Atlin, B.C We had been kayaking on Atlin Lake for a few days, came back into town to shower and get ready for the festival, and we saw the streets filled with festival goers – all walking around and talking to each other, and NO ONE WAS HOLDING A CELL PHONE! In the laundromat where we had showers, people waiting in line were talking to each other, and weren’t slumped over their cell phones. Why? Because there is no cell service in Atlin! None. You have to communicate old school. If you’re there visiting, you have to hope that your buddies remembered to save you a camping site, because you can’t text them and check to make sure. You can’t call ahead while on the road, because your phone won’t work. You just have to figure it out like you did when you were a kid.

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Calling my Dad from Atlin.

It was truly fascinating to see all these people wandering around town, and no one was holding a phone. Pause and think about that, just for a moment. And in fact, Remy’s on his way down to Atlin today, and he might as well leave his cell phone at home because no one will be able to reach him there.

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Who needs a cell phone? Water bottle, fly rod and flask. Pretty sweet! 

 

I think I am conditioned to using my cell phone for many things – the techno-literature calls it “technology mediated communications”. I have become attached to it, and it connects me to my larger social network. But while it connects me virtually, it detaches me to reality. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give it up, but I do want to ensure that I maintain my connection to that which is immediately around me.

So this morning, after my phone rang, I turned it off and focused on what was around me – the sapsucker hammering its head into an ash tree (made me laugh out loud because it look liked Donald Trump!), the fishing bobber I saw stuck in a tree, and most importantly, my dogs. It was a great walk. I highly recommend you do the same. Either take a trip to Atlin (a mere 5,446 kms from my home of Belfountain), or just turn off your phone for a while, and enjoy!

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Atlin Lake Paddle (photo courtesy of R. Rodden, taken using a cell phone!)

 

The feeling of home

I heard it before I could see it. A pileated woodpecker, making that silly, squawky sound they make, wuk, wuk, wuk, when they are protecting their territory. I was walking back into my driveway, and all of a sudden, that sound made me feel at home. Perched up on a tall, dead red pine behind the house, with its crest cutting into the blue sky, it was announcing that it would not put up with trespassers.

I used to have pileated woodpeckers all the time at my other house. But here was one at the new place. And as I looked over at my feeders, there were two male cardinals and one female. Two goldfinches on the niger seed feeder.

A little taste of home. For the first time, in the 2 weeks I’ve been here, I felt my heart rest a bit.

What is home anyway? I was talking to Sue Staniforth yesterday, and she had just returned from an adventure up in Algonquin Park. She loves Newfoundland, loves British Columbia, but as she explained, there was something about the Park that resonates with her soul, and feels like home.

I know that feeling, that thumping in the chest when you know you’re where you are supposed to be. I get that when I’m looking out over the sea in Nova Scotia. The salty scent that pervades the air, the feel of the wind on my face, and the very vibrations in the earth that seem to plant me ever so solidly there. Driving down the backroads, following the rivers, the rhythm of life there suits me.

Ontario is truly lovely. I’m always happy when I’m in the mountains in Alberta. The Qu’appelle Valley in Saskatchewan is breathtaking, and Newfoundland has always been the closest thing to home for me, next to Nova Scotia…but none of those places are home.

My first few days in the Grange house didn’t feel like I was home at all. It felt hot, empty and dirty. But now that a bit of time has passed, I think of my first dinner here, with Michael and Jean in the kitchen, surrounded by chaos and laughter. Sitting in the living room with Rory, watching old Dr. Who episodes. Coffee on the porch with Janey, surrounded by the dogs. It will be more homey when can see Jaime sitting in her boxers watching old Seinfeld re-runs, and others I love making music in the living room. All those memories will make it home.

Music waiting to happen!

Music waiting to happen!

A strange thing has happened of late. I spend a lot of time going out to BC, to visit Marj, Andy and others. And for the first time, when I landed in Victoria and my feet hit the ground, it felt homey. It didn’t resonate “you are home” and I didn’t feel like I wanted to move there immediately. But on our travels, Marj and I headed around to Sooke, where the trees scrape the edge of the sky and the ocean pulls at the land as you drive along the West Coast Highway. The water seemed to call from the car window, and our expedition down to French Beach felt wonderful. It felt like home.Image 5

But why? I have no memories in Sooke. But I have memories of salt water, of laughter on the beach, being surrounded by people I love while I am in BC…all these together seem to create the pull of home.

Thousands of writers have contemplated the meaning of home; its subjective and relative nature suggests that a definition that suits me wouldn’t suit you, or you, or anyone else. But I’m going to put a few things down, and I hope that others will add to it, so we can generate an emergent and wonderful description of home.

Home is…

  • a place where your heart can rest and you can make dinner in your PJs and it doesn’t matter!
  • a place filled with memories that make you smile.
  • a moveable feast of people you love, wherever they gather.
  • a place that resonates in your soul, like Algonquin Park, and finds you at peace.
  • …where your heart is?

What does home mean to you? Tell me, please. Add it here.

Find the unexpected

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My tracks, the dogs, and the coyotes!

SNOW! When I looked out the doors in my room, the world looked different. The sun was just rising and it bounced off the cedars in sparkles and light. I climbed into my coveralls, got the dogs ready, and out we went to trek down driveway and get the newspaper.

Like the musician who tries to find truth in his music, or the writer who searches for a story using her words, I try to find meaning in the natural world. There are messages there that I can use for both my business and personal life. What did I notice on my walk through this new, snowy world? Paw prints, grass and worms…


My dogs follow a scent that I can’t see. They read all sorts of things in the air that I cannot experience. This morning, because of the snow, I could see what intrigued them – coyote tracks! Lots of them. The tracks told me that there had been a race across my fields between 2 animals, a bit of a tussle, and off they’d run again. Without the snow, I would have missed that entire story.

The gravel driveway had a few inches of snow covering it, but peeking out through were a few pieces of grass that seemed to stand taller and their dark brown/green colour contrasted with the white snow. I would not have seen how tall they were without the snow.

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The great Christmas snow worm?

On I trudged, head down, wanting to get to the end so I could pick up the paper and go home for coffee. But I kept seeing what I assumed were tiny, one inch sized leaves lying in the snow. I must have walked half the length of my 900 foot driveway before I stopped and picked one up, only to learn (upon close inspection) that they were tent caterpillar worms! Holy cow, I would never have expected to find them in the snow!

Then I stopped in my tracks and grinned. Because I’d found meaning in this early morning stroll that made my day:

  • Sometimes others can see and understand things you can’t, and it takes a completely different perspective for you to understand what is going on.
  • Without that different perspective, you won’t recognize things that might be bigger, taller or more important. Things may appear the same until the perspective changes.
  • We tend to assume things, because that is what we expect to find. Don’t assume; take a moment and really look at things, and you make be completely surprised by what you discover!

Quite a lot packed into a brief morning walk. I am now on the look out for more tracks, grass and worms…you know what I mean.