I have always had a thing for three things… water, trees, and rocks.
I have a thing for the water. I know, that’s a big surprise to hear coming from the Virginia Director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, but it’s true. I really have a BIG thing for the water. Creeks, streams, rivers, bays, and the ocean… all of it sets my heart on fire and soothes my soul, like nothing else, both at the same time. When I smell sea salt on the air, I swear I can feel it coursing through my veins. I have a thing for the water.
I have a thing for the trees, too. My favorite time of year is when the leaves are just bursting from their branches and everything is that bright, brilliant green… my most adored color. I love to walk through the woods and just sit and stare at those trees and leaves for hours. Or even just sit on my porch and stare at them for hours. It’s amazing how much time can pass just staring into the woods and appreciating those green leaves. I truly believe Thoreau was on to something…
I have a thing for rocks… not just any rocks, but mountain rocks… the layers of them you can see in the mountains, allowing us to witness the earth’s magnificently strong and slow power to bend and fold, move and breathe. The rocks you find in mountain streams and rivers, not just rocks but boulders. They are evidence that the stream’s power and strength supplements and challenges the earth’s so much so, that she can carry those pieces of earth wherever she flows. And when she drops them… they form the most magnificent places.
In my youth I found these places to be the perfect swimming holes that occasionally held fish that may or may not nibble my feet. Anytime I was near a stream (or other body of water), I always had to talk myself out of hopping right in or at a minimum, just dipping my feet in the water. This, of course, was an impossible task during hot summer months, but let the weather get a little chilly and anyone with me would say I was out of my mind and would “catch my death” if I dipped my feet in that water. Sigh. It was always a challenge and I never understood why people didn’t understand this dipping of my toes in the water was a critical part of my survival. Remember, I swear I can feel that water coursing through my veins.
Well I am now in my mid-40’s and finally have found an outlet that indulges this undeniable part of who I am. I am learning to fly-fish. I’ve fished in my lifetime. Growing up on the Northern Neck on the Lower Machodoc and the Potomac makes it sort of a requirement. But that fishing was always from a boat, dock, or shoreline. One rarely got their feet as wet as they should, by my standards. No, the fly-fishing I’m learning to do is quite different.
Right before we knew how bad the COVID pandemic was, the second weekend in March, we took a trip into the Shenandoah and I began learning how to cast a flyrod. We fished with dry flies and I began learning how to spot native brook trout in the water; studying where they hide, where they feed, and what it looks and feels like when they try to eat your fly. I didn’t catch any that day, but I found a love for something that feeds my need to be in that water… in that stream. Fast forward a couple of months and a few hikes later to June and things clicked enough for me to catch that first native brook trout… and actually, I caught six that day. I am not a good fly-fisher, yet. I am not at all graceful, and most of the time, when I think back on what I’m doing and learning, I feel like I am just a mess. But, we were out there again, the first weekend in July, in the streams throughout Grayson Highlands and I caught my first wild rainbow trout, too. THAT was very cool.
So, I don’t let perfect get in the way of good… I wade into the water, hike up that stream. I breathe deeply, I feel the rocky substrate beneath my feet, I look for where to cast, and I try and try again. I work to become one with the water and everything she holds so I can deeply appreciate the diversity of life around me. Every single thing around me — from the species of trees growing along the banks of the stream, to the types of bugs that hatch from the bottom of those rocks, to the temperature and flow of the stream, is inextricably connected and dependent upon each other. I breathe and remember this is why I do what I do… I work to protect those streams and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay because water is life. That water is my life, my children’s lives, and holds the future of all of us. Yes, indeed, I have a thing for the water.