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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The River

It’s Tuesday morning and I am getting ready to leave for work. But all I can think of is the spot on the James River that I discovered a few weeks ago. A spot so promising that I can’t believe nobody else fishes it. It took me a while to find this place. Actually, it happened by accident. I was looking at Google Earth, trying to find the dam they were discussing in a newspaper article. I found the dam, and then, out of curiosity, I moved a little farther upstream and saw the spot I usually fish. I continued to scroll upstream and discovered this magnificent spot where the rock formations were perfect and there was an equal amount of deep water and shallow riffles. The satellite images are amazingly clear and I could see beneath the water in a way that I never could with the naked eye. I could see the rock shelf and the variation in depth. I saw the channel that cut it’s way through the bedrock over thousands of years. (I recommend using this Google earth technique when fishing new areas) The next week I went out and walked about three miles to the spot I had researched. It didn’t look like anyone had fished it recently. No trash along the rocky shoreline. No tangled remnants of line stuck in the trees.
It took some work to get there and I imagine that anyone less than a serious fisherman wouldn’t bother.
I’m sitting here at my table this morning thinking far more about that fishing hole than I am about my job. When I was a kid, riding my bike to “Nonesuch Creek” with my best friends, fishing was about fishing. Just catching a fish, any fish, and hanging with the guys was all the motivation I needed. Fishing was just what little boys did.
But I’m almost 54. I am a divorcee, a single dad trying to navigate this life of mine, and learning on the job what it is that dad’s do with 19-year-old daughters, and trying to hurry up and figure out the rest of my life. I don’t fish simply for the fun of it anymore. I fish now, because I need to. Desperately.
I need some sort of connection to a much simpler time. I need the memories that fishing stirs. I need the internal solitude and the chance to unravel the tangled ball of yarn that my soul has become. I need to think, and to pray, and to reminisce, and to see if I can still dream. I dream of writing. Of communicating the questions I ask and the answers I've found. I doubt my abilities to do this but I desire it nonetheless. I think of this a lot when I'm on the river.
Fishing, now, has become my soul retreat. My quiet place where I can recharge. Whether I catch anything or not is of little consequence. Of course, I want to catch fish. But sometimes actually catching a fish is distracting to the things going on inside.
My second cousin is a professional fisherman. We’ve never met, and it was a surprise to me, to learn that he is a relative. He’s pretty well known and extremely popular on the Bass circuit. (Mike Iocanelli, a second cousin on my grandmother’s side. Her maiden name was Iocanelli) Ike fishes for a living and so his approach is, by necessity, far more aggressive and business-like.
When I was a boy, that would have been a dream job. But I watch his video channel and I see how much hard work he puts in to be as good as he is and I don’t think that would be for me. Obviously, Ike loves what he does, but I wonder if he ever gets the chance to simply fish for the fun of it. Maybe someday we’ll meet and I’ll ask him.
My heart is in the spin cycle right now. Turbulent and tumultuous. I realize I am running out of time to make career choices and I feel very far from home. Maybe that’s why I feel like I need to be on the river today and not on the campus at Liberty University. I need to lose my thoughts in the mechanical repetition of casting and retrieving. Of reading the water and looking for structure. To the steady noise of the water as it rushes by and the thrill of a strike. A thrill that eventually loses it’s gravity as I dig deeper into the bird nest inside my heart and try to draw a roadmap for the next 20 years of my life.
Years ago, Rich Mullins, one of my favorite musicians, wrote a song called “The River.”
The chorus says this:


"And I know the river is deep 
And I found out the currents are tricky.
And I know the river is wide.
Oh and the currents are strong.
And I may lose every dream
That I dreamt I could carry with me.
But I know that will reach the other side.
Please don’t let me have to wait too long.”

The river is a metaphor. Maybe for me, the James River is a metaphor as well. Maybe out there, I’m not the formerly homeless guy, or the 54 year old man in a twenty-something world, or the single dad who feels like he’s feeling his way along the back wall of a cave in the dark, when it comes to relating to a 19 year old young woman as a daughter.
Maybe I can be all of that, plus that eight-year-old boy, riding on a spider bike with his best friends, just looking to have fun.

I need to go find out.

The river calls.

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