Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Rewards Of Being Still (Issue #141)

Over the years I’ve been fishing (50 now) I’ve learned quite a few things. Many of those things, it will not surprise you to hear, were about the art/science itself. But many were not. Quite a few nuggets of knowledge were welcome byproducts of being nestled against Mother Nature’s bosom.

I learned things about weather - how important wind and its direction can be and how to recognize and cope with changes. I learned about the behaviour of birds and animals - the head-bobbing courtship of waterfowl - the stealthy slink of a marten with trout-stealing on his mind. I learned about human nature by my own, and others’ reactions to adversity and joy. I learned about death and hence, very much about life.

A lot of what I learned would not have occurred had I not first learned the importance of being still.

Now, generally speaking, it’s no easy feat teaching a young boy to be still. Boys were made to climb trees, throw rocks and fall into creeks - often all three within the same minute. Enforced stillness, such as that endured by students and church-goers, was why God invented fidgeting.

Only two things could keep me still as a lad - reading and fishing. Often, Dad would let me fish the best holes in a creek. (At the time, I wondered why. Later, of course, I learned how unselfishness and love go together.) During my earliest forays with him, he would cast my line out for me at these special pools. When the bait had drifted to where he wanted it to be, he would either hand me back the rod, or lay it down against a rock or log, admonishing me to watch the line for a bite and until then, to “be still.”

These special pools mostly likely held special fish; fish the likes of which most boys have never even seen, let alone caught.

So I was still.

When still, one very quickly becomes conscious of things that are tuned out when one is busy. A quiet forest is suddenly alive with sounds - rustling leaves, rubbing branches, calling birds, humming insects and burbling rapids.

When still, one becomes a part of the local scene to many of its inhabitants. Birds and squirrels will venture to near-touching distance. Wandering beetles treat your boot as just one more rock to clamber over. Muskrats slip out of their streamside dens for a cooling swim.

Occasionally, one can become so engrossed in the show around him, that a bouncing fishing rod goes unnoticed for a moment. (I’m beginning to think that special fish, in special pools, come to rely on this inattention in their quest to remain un-caught.)

I’ve been old enough to cast my own line for a very long time now. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to keep on the move when fishing and sometimes it’s best to stay in one place and wait. That’s if your main purpose is to catch some fish.

As I get older, I stay in one place and wait much more often than I used to - even when I know moving around offers a better chance of catching something. It’s more important to me to feel my inner noise ebb, as I become attuned to the music offered by nature, than it is to catch a fish.

And guess what? Although preferable (to some of us) you don’t need to go fishing in the bush or hiking through the woods to enjoy what stillness can bring.

You can sit in a quiet section of a park, or an uncrowded piece of beach, or your own backyard and practice being still. See how long it takes before the local critters accept you as an unthreatening lump.

Try it. You’ll learn stuff. Important stuff like how much more a flower bends when a bumblebee lands on it compared to a honey bee. Or the sound an outraged blue jay makes when some thieving squirrel takes the last peanut from a feeder.

You might even find yourself understanding that you aren’t an interloper in their world at all. When you show benign regard they gift you with the same and accept you as a part of it.

Few things are more rewarding than that.


Elizabeth Guy said...


I would tell you how touched I was by your column this week, and how much it made me ponder. But I'm too busy sitting at my picnic table, being still. Shhh ... here comes a bunny!

Moby Dick said...

Zen and the Art of Fishing? The Bassmaster Zen Master? Have you filmed the pilot for this series?? ESPN-2??

Frank Baron said...

Elizabeth, that's the best review I've had in ages! :)

Spidey, we need a backer...this could be big. ;)

Crabby McSlacker said...

Beautiful post, Frank.

I'm not bad at "absorbed" still: a good book, a great movie, an attractive person undressing in front of an open window... but I'm pretty much crap at "waiting and observant" still.

If nothing's happening, I want to get up and go. Never been deep like you. Maybe I should learn to fish.

Frank Baron said...

Crabby, I don't think it's a question of being deep. I suspect I'm just lazier than you are. :)

Moby Dick said...

Frank, if you have ever watched those fishing shows on ESPN-2, you know that a Zen Fisherman would be big. All you need is a sponsor. You have a box of lures and fishing gear, go through it and start sending out query letters.

As far as losing weight is concerned, have you started? You mentioned losing 20 pounds a while back, but I have not read anything on that? Summer is here, and the Zen Fisherman should look svelte...

Frank Baron said...

I'm down about eight pounds Spidey. Still got a ways to go but at least I'm headed in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

Its amazing what we find when we take the time to reflect on life. Too much is a bad thing you end up an absent minded philosopher.

However just the time to clear ones head is fantastic for mind body and soul, if meditation can be improved by the adddition of a fishing rod and a river best of luck to you:)

Frank Baron said...

Aidan, I think quite a few folks need a tool of sorts - something to help take them out of themselves. And it can take many forms. Certainly fishing is one. Probably biking would be another. :)

Stace said...

Ahhh I remember my childhood in the country... I don't remember being still much, though, except when reading. But I do remember listening to bees buzz, and trying to get beetles to walk over my hand. Maybe I should do that more often... once the weather gets better!

Frank Baron said...

Don't let weather be a barrier Stace. You poor Oddsies, coping with yet another winter with temps PLUMMETING to the teens (50-60F).

Go put on a sweater and sit outside. ;)

Anonymous said...

being the daughter of a fisherman, wife of a fisherman, and mother of two soon-to-be fishermen, I absolutely loved this. I always knew there was more to it than the fish. And if you haven't read this (or attempted to read some of it) you may want to: http://www.amazon.com/Compleat-Angler-Contemplative-Mans-Recreation/dp/1930585209

Thanks for the delightful, inspiring read.

Trish, (while they fish, I am "being still" on the banks with a book.)

Dawn said...

My hubbie is a fisherman and I went along on one of his night fishes and learnt so much about the lake I was writing about. Just sitting and watching and listening are valuable skills. And fun!

Loved this post, Frank. Another one to show to the non-blogging husband!

Frank Baron said...

Thanks for the kind words Trish. I don't think I've held Walton's book in my hands since I was about 17 or 18. I'm overdue. Way overdue. Thanks for the reminder. :)

Thank you Dawn. I'm glad you enjoy keeping your husband company. He's a lucky man. :)

Joanne said...

Such serenity. We nature lovers certainly know how to catch the view. Beautiful thoughts, Frank. Now I'm going to sit and watch the deer play in the yard.