It’s been 6 months since our son was born. During that time we have been re-taught what it means to love and to live joyfully. We have gone sleepless nights of frustration only to be awoken in the morning to the sound of laughter. Our hearts have melted time, and time, and time, and time again as a grin spreads from chubby cheek to chubby cheek. We have wished for moments of crying to end quickly only to realize that time overall is moving far too fast. Our little fella has brought more happiness into our lives over these past 6 months than I ever could have imagined, and he has (so far) lived into his name countless times over: he has become our Haven of joy and refuge; our safe place to let the worries and concerns of our day melt away in the blinding heat of his smile.
In the scheme of things, 6 months isn’t very long. But when those 6 months change you so entirely, so completely, it simultaneously feels like an eternity and a split second.
Here’s hoping for 60 more years of being transformed.
My first trout on a fly rod was nothing to write home about. And yet, here I go.
I got my first fly rod as a Christmas present during my Sophomore year of college. A friend gave me a 15 minute casting lesson and then turned me loose to figure everything else out for myself. Needless to say my first few outings on the river proved fruitless, but the fascination with remaining dry while standing in a river awkwardly flinging fly line through the air proved to be enough to keep me coming back for more.
During my 5th or 6th outing I noticed something different: on the far seam of the current there appeared to be a small splash that to my untrained eyes sure looked like a fish rising. Looking up I saw some small, brown insects flying around and I scrambled to find the closest possible match from a grouping of flies that a local fly shop had told me would work. On my first cast through the seam I lucked into a 5 foot dead drift, and saw a small flick of water near my fly.
My bass and bluegill background took over. I set the hook as I had done countless times on the small ponds and rivers near where I grew up. The fly line flew towards me, wrapping itself around both the rod and my surprised self. “Well,” I thought, “I guess I missed that fish.”
I gathered my line and my nerves, and I moved to make my next cast. But something didn’t feel right–my line flapped through the air instead of its normal glide. It felt slightly heavy.
Dropping my line to the water, I stripped it in to see if I had snagged something in the aftermath of the previous moment’s botched hook-set. As the end of the line came closer to me, it started to dart slightly from side to side. Pulling the line out of the water, I started laughing as a 2 inch trout stared back at me while dangling from the small, brown fly. My first fish: one that I launched out of the water with my hook-set, and then unknowingly cast through the air several times before realizing he was there. “Well,” I thought again, “I guess you have to start somewhere.”
Several more fish fell for that small, brown fly that I didn’t know the name of or what it imitated. But this isn’t an attempt to brag about my first successful day of fly fishing. It’s about the beauty that is a “first fish.”
Often times when we think of a “first fish” experience, an image of a young kid with a huge grin holding a “trophy catch” in their small hands comes to mind….or possibly a “trophy catch” dangling from a line because the child is too afraid to touch the slimy thing. In those instances part of the exhilaration of the moment comes from a new part of the world being unlocked for a child who is still figuring out what all this world has to offer them. It’s a world that exists beneath the surface of the water, is unseen when looking down from above, but is a world that can be interacted with through the use of a few simple tools (each of these are complex and abstract thoughts trying to find footing in a brain that hasn’t yet developed the ability to think abstractly). The other part of the exhilaration comes from a sense of accomplishment: a “look what I did” mentality that comes pouring out through wide grins and wider eyes.
But this exhilaration isn’t only found in youth. You don’t need to look very far in the fishing world to find pictures or videos of someone catching their first permit, steelhead, tarpon, or 24+ inch rainbow or brown trout, and what you’ll see much more often than not is the same smile and sense of wonder in the faces of the now adult anglers. A new world is unlocked in those moments–a bigger world–as well as a new sense of accomplishment.
But this exhilaration isn’t only found in the catching of giant, trophy fish either. It can just as easily happen in the hooking and landing of a 6 inch cutthroat.
Within the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to watch three people catch their first trout on a fly rod: a 67 year old named Jerry, a 9 year old named Benjamin, and a 21 year old named Oskar. And while each of these people are in radically different phases of their life, the reactions were almost identical: surprise when the fish hit the dry fly, exhilaration at the feel of the fish fighting on the line, and marvel at the colors and markings of these beautiful little fish. In that moment there weren’t any “I wish it was bigger” reactions; there weren’t any “put it back real quick so I can try to catch another one” comments; there weren’t any “this isn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be” responses. There was only excitement. And accomplishment.
See, that’s the beauty of a first fish. You aren’t caught up in comparisons to bigger fish or longing for different fish or wanting to speed it up to get to more fish. Your entire experience is right there, that moment, that fish. And so it might actually be best to start with a smaller fish, whether it’s a 2 inch brook trout or a 6 inch coastal cutthroat–you will forever appreciate those small fish for their beauty and their spot in your angling journey. There’s an old saying that the best thing about a small fish is that they’ll grow up into a larger one. But sometimes that isn’t true. Sometimes a 6 inch cutthroat will forever be a 6 inch cutthroat, both in the pictures of you holding it and in your mind, and there’s not a single thing wrong with that.
The yell from behind me was some combination of surprise, excitement, and “what the $&@# just happened?” I turned to see one of my two clients for the day, a twenty-something named Marko, hooked into a nice fish–the type of fish that we spent an extra 45 minutes in the car to find. The fly rod was doubled over, the reel was singing a frantic tune, and the look on his face reflected what I had heard in the yell.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised by the size of the fish thrashing at the other end of his line, seeing as how I had spent several parts of the morning’s drive telling of 16+ inch fish that we had seen on this small trickle of a mountain creek. But on the other hand, perhaps you can’t fully believe a fish story until the water explodes where your previously dead-drifting fly used to be, and you are suddenly attached to a ticked off rainbow whose ancestors most likely left this very river on a thousand mile journey into the ocean, returning wearing the badge of “steelhead”. Perhaps you can’t fully believe a fish story until you are smack dab in the middle of writing a similar one.
And so Marko was launched into a fish story of his own. But as the initial seconds of surprise and excitement still hung in the air like the mist formed when a warm Summer morning’s air meets the cold mountain water, suddenly the fish shouldered its way into the faster current and Marko’s expression changed. It changed because of a sobering realization forming in his brain: the rod that connected himself to this particular specimen had only moments before made a 10 inch fish feel like a real heavyweight…and this particular specimen could probably eat that 10 inch fish.
In that moment, and in that realization, life was breathed into the fish story. Marko’s knees suddenly didn’t feel so steady, his palms began sweating, his heart began racing. The fight was on. The fish story was unfolding, and the main question left to be answered was would the story end with this likely descendent of an anadromous fish hardwired to fight for survival landed in a net, or slowly swimming away after breaking Marko’s line–and his heart.
I stopped and watched for a few seconds with a smile on my face. Then I grabbed my net and head down-river to get a front row seat for the fight. Win or lose, I knew my job as a guide was being accomplished in that moment: I had presented an opportunity for a story to unfold, and then given them the space to write it for themselves.
Before the birth of our son, the most common statement I heard from people with kids was, “You have no idea how this will change your life!”
I knew that comment was true. I knew that Haven’s birth would drop a sledgehammer on everything I thought I knew about what was important, and how our lives would unfold (both in a day-to-day and a forever sense). And at exactly 1:19am on May 5th, 2014, the comment that I had heard dozens of times came true–our world was turned upside down in the most beautiful way possible.
But while we have been resetting all of our “clocks” to this new normal, it’s also become apparent that not everything is different. Just because our lives have been changed forever, that hasn’t meant that everything has changed. Oddly enough, there is a random assortment of things (surprising things even), that remain constant from my life pre and post baby.
I therefore offer, “10 Surprising Things In My Life That Haven’t Changed At All Since The Birth of Our Son”:
1) My voice still occasionally (and without warning) morphs from a normal pitch using sane words to a high-pitched squeak laced with non-sense syllables.
2) I still walk around with the knowledge that at any moment I might be hit with one of three not-so-nice bodily functions. You never know when…and you never know which one.
3) Just like pre-baby, any stretch of sleep longer than 2 continuous hours is miraculous, and any combination of 8 hours total in a 14 hour window is on par with winning the lottery.
4) Conversations that involve the words nibble, circumcision, rash, boppy, or lactation are still the norm.
5) Monitoring the color of someone’s poo remains one of the best ways I know to assess their health and well-being.
6) The realization that your shirt has the remnants of someone’s lunch on it is met with a smile or a laugh.
7) Cutting fingernails and toenails continues to be the most terrifying thing in my life.
8) I remain cautious that a person’s smile isn’t so much about my presence or the joke I just told, but about the movement of gas within them.
9) A loud burp in my ear is still the surest sign that I have succeeded in my task.
10) Google retains its role as the provider of answers to life’s toughest questions: what is the meaning of the song “Frere Jacques”?; what is cradle cap?; how do you clean out the creases of a baby’s neck?; how much will college cost in 2032?
I daily count my lucky stars that these 10 things have remained constant.
On multiple occasions I’ve been browsing through the websites of various professional photographer’s and thought, “I wonder what gear they use?” In my head, all of these photographers shoot with Nikon or Canon’s flagship camera bodies and lenses that are worth more than my car, or with a Hasselblad camera that would require a year and a half of my salary to purchase.
Then I stumbled upon ShotKit, a website that reveals the mystery of what’s in the camera bags of professional photographers from multiple genres. Some of the bags listed line up exactly with my preconceived notions, while others are shockingly simple–and reasonably affordable. In almost every instance, the works displayed by the photographer bring home the point that it isn’t always the gear that’s used that create breathtaking images–it’s the eye behind it.
Check it out. You might be surprised at what you see, and you can even submit your “gear bag” if you feel the urge to stretch your legs amongst some of the big dogs.