A Fly Fisher Dream

A Fly Fisher Dream

A personal essay. I developed a fly fisher dream while enjoying the outdoors. I monitored birds at multiple feeders and followed birds to find their nests starting at age seven. I tinkered; insects in jars, chipmunks in box traps, I even recovered a young crow that fell from its nest.  On one Cub Scout outing, the Den Mothers couldn’t pull me away from the stream where I froze in my tracks, mesmerized by my first encounter with a fly fisher. That was my future. Firefighters enthralled my friends. Fly fishers were my heroes. Standing, one with their quarry making smooth and skillful casts, they looked masterful, the ultimate outdoors people. That was me, or my dream. I didn’t know what was involved, but somehow, I was going to get there.

My parents professed to appreciate Nature but in reality, knew nothing about it. The same for my eight siblings. And what you don’t know, you fear, and that’s how they groomed me. They told me a priest was once flyfishing an hour north at Slippery Rock Creek. He slipped on the rocks, banged his head, and fell unconscious. Days later, they found him drowned. If you want to really scare an altar boy, put a priest in the story.

A Derailed Youth With a Fly Fisher Dream

I settled for the Ohio River, doughball and carp, all within walking distance. But I kept flyfishing dreams hidden close to my heart, murmuring to myself, someday! My secret plan was to get a job, a fly rod, and a car. Then I would have everything set for life.

My father’s sudden death from a heart attack at 53 derailed that plan. Words fall short in describing the blanket of shock, heartache and loss a fifteen-year-old boy feels when forced to grow up under a cloud of grief. I struggled to get through each day.

The priority became survival. With my age fudged to the side of older, I took any job I could get. I was an excellent mechanic. I pushed concrete-filled wheelbarrows that weighed more than me and pulled weeds. Good jobs were scarce in the 1970s. The Southwestern Pennsylvania steel industry was collapsing one town at a time.

Discovering the Power of Exercise

I finally landed a job as a part-time patrolman for a local municipality. The best part was not the job. It was the police training, especially the physical training. It became much-needed therapy. My grief became tinged with anger after my mother shared with me that my father complained of chest pains but refused to go to the doctor.

The first thing a fitness requirement revealed was weakness. I was un-conditioned, zero on a fitness scale. I knew what I had to do. While teaching myself to run, I would feel Zen-like one minute and then angry with my father the next. Thinking, how could you not know, not care about your family, your body? Not to find out what was wrong and at least do what’s in your power to fix it is a senseless way to go. In a flash of awareness, I would sense where my thoughts were going. Using my body, I pulled my attention back to reality, thinking, you can’t fix what you don’t understand. Growth means forgiving. You’re not guilty if you don’t know.

Pushing my body affected more than muscle. It supplanted other, less productive thoughts and activities. I began reading everything I could find on the human body, the science behind fitness, building muscle and aerobic training. To me, being out of shape, unconditioned—and not knowing it or how to get in shape is a form of personal poverty.

Insight: Poverty and Prevention

I discovered a lack of physical fitness impoverishes most people. In our society, exercise, health and fitness (prevention) tragically take a backseat or no seat at all. The prevailing attitude was work at the expense of health and fitness rather than work fueled by health and fitness. My experience drove me to adopt a less mainstream approach. I knew the former approach was the road to poverty, deterioration, and death. And you’re miserable, like my dad was.  

The fire was lit. A burning desire to prevent poverty at all costs. The drive to develop champion-caliber fitness had begun. The goal: growth to avoid the insidious trap that killed my father and build fitness for the time when I have the resources to pursue my dream.

The police officer’s job was short-lived. After earning a degree in biology, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired me. My fitness pursuit continued through the requirement to maintain arduous duty status for collateral duties in wildland firefighting and law enforcement.

A Fly Fisher Dream Comes True

The day I retired was more like a week-long metaphorical sigh, more of a rebirth. I did it. Now I have the time to fly-fish ad nauseam. I exercised steadily and have the required fitness that provides the strength, stamina and sturdiness, which in reality is the freedom and comfort to focus only on getting better at my ultimate play.

Arduous duty training continues today with the broad goal of prevention, even with imperfect health.

I am pursuing flyfishing vigor as my new 30-year career.

That’s why this blog exists. 

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