Award-winning author Charlie Price is writing an outdoors column that will appear once a month in the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers. An avid fly-fisher since childhood, Price has owned a house on the Upper Sacramento River in Dunsmuir since 1989. He and his wife, psychotherapist/artist Joan Pechanec, now live there full-time. This is his second column for the paper, published Sept. 18, 2013.
Like most kids, I lived for summer vacation. Baseball all morning, bike rides on sunny afternoons to swim the river, fishing during our family reunions. My uncle gave me a J.C. Higgins bamboo rod, long and whippy. The peach fly-line would lay on the water's surface like a magic thread. When the line stopped and a fish vibrated on the end, adrenaline lit me like a Christmas tree. I fished with worms then, bounced them along the bottom, while I practically levitated with anticipation.
In junior high and high school, organized sports and music and girls pushed these earlier thrills to the side, but after college, working life re-introduced me to the need to relax, recharge. At the end of a day or on the weekend, doing something completely different, something I chose, at the pace I chose – in a word, "flow." I was lucky enough to meet several people who loved playing basketball as much as I did, made dates to play music and sing, gradually rediscovered the pleasures of running and camping and fishing.
During that time I was working with depressed folks in psych hospitals. Conversation was hard to come by when they felt miserable. Might start with the weather ... common, ordinary, an element we've needed to pay attention to since forever. One day in group I mentioned a badger I'd seen while walking a riverbank the weekend before. Group members began talking about other wild animals they'd seen, what and where. During that conversation their energy rose perceptibly, voices and faces became more animated.
I learned it was enlivening to picture and remember experiences in nature ... the surprise of an eagle carting a fish to a treetop, a bear lumbering up a steep hillside, wild turkey gossiping in a field, a coyote skittering across highway 5 at dusk. When one of us recounted a sighting, we were all off and running so to speak. An exception to this principle seems to be fishing. Start to talk about the giant Crappie you hooked and most peoples' eyes will immediately glaze over.
As a grown-up, however, it didn't take long to realize that unbeknownst to me, fishing had changed. ...Well, something had changed. Fishing had become not just pure enjoyment but something riddled with standards of accomplishment. In short, a manhood test. A real man could catch fish whenever he wanted, provide for his family. A real man could out-wade his partners, cover more water, fish past dark, catch the largest. Fishing became striving and proving and measuring ... a lot more like playing defensive tackle than singing harmony.
I sometimes fished with men who were far less competitive than I – men who actually seemed to enjoy standing in the water and looking at the scenery, fish or no fish. An older man I admired told me he boat-fished with line in the water but no hook. "Peaceful," he said, "the boat drifts, I read and daydream."
I fished with women who shook their heads as I bushwhacked through blackberries to reach what I thought was better water. "Hormonal," they agreed. Testosterone works pretty well for football, not so well for fishing. Took me years to reclaim the simple contentment of being outside, hip-deep in a clear cold stream, fish or no fish.
What is it I enjoy about fishing? I usually don't cook and eat what I bring in, so it's not providing. I get a tingly thrill, actually a rush, from having a fish on my line, probably always will. That's part of it. Being skilled enough to hook an occasional trout, that's satisfying. More valuable is the solitude (the same as we get hiking or cross-country skiing or biking and so on) – the smells of fir and rock dust and vines, the light on the Trinities, the meandering sky. I get a kick from the challenge of clambering around slick rocks while wearing a vest and a hat. That right there is pretty good. A vest chock-full of flies and nippers and floatant and tippets, full of anything a person might want including a bottle of water and a tuna with yellow chili sandwich.
I had to surrender several agendas in order to experience the recreational pleasure I'd felt as a boy. If I could set aside my expectations, my striving, what I had left was the beauty of the activity that drew my interest in the first place. The treasure of it. I could be changing my vacuum cleaner bag but I'm not, I'm swimming in Lake Siskiyou.
-- Charlie Price has written five award-winning crossover novels, edgy young adult books geared toward older teens and equally enjoyed by adults for their fast pace and thrilling plots based on true, unusual, and believable characters. He's been honored to receive the coveted Edgar award for his mystery "The Interrogation of Gabriel James" and his latest book, "Dead Girl Moon," is one of three YA finalists for the High Plains Literary Award. Charlie enjoys public speaking about writing and creativity and has lectured at the National Council Teacher's of English/American Library Association in Las Vegas, at New York City's New School Forum on Writing for Children, the Shasta College Distinguished Author Series, and numerous state and local venues. He will be writer-in-residence in Fairhope, Alabama, beginning January 2014.