31.12.12

Reflection




 
 
 With just a little over seven hours in 2012 left, and after a year of change that went by way too fast, I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia. Cliche, maybe, but there's a reason that the end of a year is a time of reflection. Like a birthday, its a definitive end to something, a passage of time that can be remembered concretely. How many times do we say, "back in 2000", for example, or "when I was 25". Time is such an intangible thing, and measuring by the year gives us a way to define our short and precious time here as humans.
 
Growing up I could never have imagined myself becoming an angler. When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian. My parents had met in the small town of Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. They were hippies, in the vegetarian, nature and animal loving way, not the dope smoking, free love sense. They found a piece of property they loved on Malcolm Island, just outside of the tiny village of Sointula, which means "Place of Harmony" in Finnish, and at the time the primary industry was actually commericial fishing. My sister and I were both born at home and raised vegetarian. Our 13 acres of land lay across the street from the ocean, with views of Vancouver Island. Mom and dad built us an amazing playground in the backyard, with a playhouse, giant sandbox, swingset and climbing/slide tower. We had a creek flowing through the property that we would dam up in rainstorms and sail boats down. The forest provided ample space to build forts and climb trees, and we regularily had bonfires and barbeques on the beach, while chasing crabs and catching bullheads.
 
The house my sister and I were both born in.

I'm the little one.

Probably one of my first horse back riding experiences
Ironically, I was not the outdoorsy type. It was a constant fight to get me to go outside, whether it was to go for a bike ride or to help pick veggies or berries in the huge garden my parents built. I wanted to stay inside to play the piano or dress up my dolls. We never had a tv at home, so I grew up reading books and comics as opposed to watching cartoons and movies. Even on sunny days I was more likely to be found curled up on the couch with a book as opposed to outside soaking up some rays. Despite my best efforts, I spent a ton of time outside as a kid. We would go hiking and camping in the summer, spend hours beach combing or playing in the playground. We went whale watching, rowed around the ocean and dug in the mud flats. We would find natural clay banks in the woods and slide down them for hours, coming home caked in the clammy grey mud. We slept out under the stars in the yard or at the beach, rode our bikes over the entire island, and spent hours bushwacking with no destination in mind. More often than not after being outside we would have to be hosed down, then stripped to the bone, clothes straight to the washing machine and us straight to the bathtub.
 

 
 
The village of Sointula is very small, with a population of maybe 800 people. There was only an elementary school on the island, so from grade 8 through 12 we had a to take a ferry to and from the high school in Port McNeill, every day. I started taking the ferry for grade 6, as there were more opportunities for extracurricular activities, so I took the ferry for seven years. Once I started going to school in Port McNeill I became involved in everything from dance and drama, to soccer, basketball, gymnastics and volleyball. Summertime was spent on lakes and rivers, swimming and suntanning, on logging roads exploring, and nights were saved for bonfires. One of my summer jobs was actually a youth program through one of the forestry companies on the north island, and we spent every day pruning trees on newly forested lots, getting eaten by mosquitos and black flies.
 
My amazing mom.
When I was 10 my dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and in less than a year he was gone. While my mom shared my athletic side and my sense of humor, my dad shared my dramatic, creative side. His death was devastating for all of us, and my mom was now left to provide for 2 young girls. She was amazing, and continued to give us any and all opportunities she could. When I turned 13, my mom fulfilled a dream of her's and my dad's, which was to build a new house as the place I was born and raised in was tiny and falling apart. It may not have been the dream house she wanted, but it was bright and new, and I loved the hours spent looking at floor plans and picking out furniture and colour schemes. My mom was a bus driver for the school district, and would be our driver on field trips and team trips. She coached my basketball team one year, and was there for every play, every dance performance, and as many games as was possible throughout highschool. She maintained her immense garden at home and took care of a yard that would take a full summer day to mow, with ride on mower, push mower and weed eater. An avid kayaker, she formed a partnership when I was 15 to run a sea kayaking and eco tour business, based off of a mothership. During the summer months she and her partner would run 6 day tours in the Broughton Archipeligo, and come fall she was back at work for the school district.
 
New house
 
View from the front deck
After graduating high school I headed to Vancouver to attend UBC, which had always been my dream. Unfotunately, I was not prepared for the realities of university in a huge city. My dorms had more people living in them than my hometown did. I'd never really found a direction in high school. I liked a lot of different subjects, and was really good at most of it, but never loved anything to the point that I new I had to pursue it. I entered the Arts program, because I liked it just a little more than the Sciences. I dropped out during my third year. I was bored and unhappy, not going to class, not doing the work. Not one of my finer moments in life, but, well, shit happens.
 
The summer between my 2nd and 3rd years of university I got a job housekeeping for King Pacific Lodge, a Rosewood resort on Princess Royal Island in the Great Bear Rainforest. Little did I know that I would meet someone who would change my life forever. Aaron was one of the fishing guides at the lodge, and I liked him right away. I knew absolutely nothing about fishing, aside from the fact that commercial fishermen used nets and sport fishermen used rods and reels. One of the first nights at the lodge we went out trolling for Chinook with one of the other guides, Ronnie, and landed 3 Chinook, two of them tyees. I landed my first fish ever, a strong, chrome 24 lb fish. I had a bit of a hard time with the fact we killed them, not because I thought it was wrong to kill them but because I'd never seen a fish killed and gutted, and a fish that I'd caught was killed and I wasn't going to eat it.
 

Fun days at KPL

Aaron was also the head fly fishing guide at the lodge; he'd been fly fishing since he was a kid and was absolutely passionate about it. He tried once to teach me to cast off the dock, and I'm not embarassed to admit that I sucked. He also took me out one evening to fish for coho off the kelp beds, and he hooked and landed a couple of fish. I think he may have let me fight one. After that summer I can't say I was enamoured of fishing. I loved being out on the water, hanging out in the boats, looking for whales and watching eagles, but I didn't find trolling to be all that thrilling and didn't fly fish enough to really know what it was all about. I believe I even laughed the first time I saw the guys in their waders as they headed out on one of the heli fly fishing trips.
 
My first coho, caught off the dock at KPL
Aaron and I continued dating after the summer was over. By February of 2002 I figured that I should go out fishing with Aaron. I still didn't really know much about fly fishing, but knew that it was his passion and a part of him that I needed to at least try to understand. It was an amazingly sunny day and we headed out to the Cheakamus, a tributary of the Squamish, looking for steelhead. Aaron lent me a pair of waders and set me up with a Sage RPL+ 896-4 with a multitip, and after a quick casting lesson we started fishing. This time the casting went much better, and I found myself really enjoying it. Aaron hooked and landed two steelhead that day. Two beautiful, wild winter run fish, which at the time I didn't fully appeciate how incredible it is to have a day like that. But I enjoyed myself, enough to go again, and the way Aaron handled and released the fish appealed to me much more than the meat fishing mentality of trolling in the ocean. So I kept going out with him. We caught bulls and cutties, and one snowy, icy day in March I hooked and lost a chrome fish on the jump on the Vedder.
 

Aaron hooked up.

Did I ever get frustrated and question what the hell I was doing out there? Of course. But the more I went and the more I learned about fly fishing the more the addiction sunk in. That summer I went back up to the lodge and bought my first rod, reel, waders and boots through the pro programs. That fall I joined Aaron and his cousin for a week on the Thompson, where I struggled to wade and cast and fell in for the first time while the two of them and our friend Ross caught some incredible fish. Aaron was the best teacher I could have asked for. He is an incredible caster and an innately fishy person, and more than that understands how to teach. I learned more fishing with him those first few years than I could have in ten years of courses and reading. I kept going out, and by my second year of fishing had started spey casting. We caught chum on the Squamish and lake fished in the interior. We spent the winter months targeting steelhead on the Vedder and Squamish, and while I caught plenty of bulls and dollies, my first steelhead had not materialized. My second season fishing the Thompson I hooked and lost three fish. The first one ate in the fast water at the head of a run, and hit so hard it snapped me off and left me teary and shaking, breathless with wonder. More than anything I'd experienced up till then, that experience surprised me with the depth of emotion it aroused in me. There are hardly words to describe it, but I think every fisherman has a moment like it. If there was ever a doubt before then that I was "hooked for life", that moment erased it. I was done.
 
My first landed steelhead: Kispiox River, Oct 2004
People like to ask me why I like to fish. I think women get this question more than men, as it seems to confuse people why a women would devote her life to catching fish. While there is no simple answer, my best reason is this: It is the whole experience. It's being outside, feeling the air ruffle my hair, smelling the dirt and greenery, hearing the rush of water. Before I fished I always felt like an observer of nature, a tourist in the wild. Through fishing I became a part of the cycle, a participant in the ever changing circle of life. To be able to hold a beautiful wild creature in my hands, to connect with it even for a moment and release it back to continue its journey astounds me every time, whether its an eight inch golden trout or an eight foot sturgeon. I love the casting, the flies, the different techniques. I love (and hate) the moments of frustration and the tough days. I love the fact that I'll forever be learning in this sport. I've met such amazing people, all around the world, and have seen some of the most beautiful landscapes I could imagine. There are two people who are most responsible for helping find my passion, my mother for my love of nature (all those days of dragging me kicking and screaming outside) and Aaron for introducing me to fly fishing, and being patient and encouraging throughout those beginning years.
 
In the last nearly eleven years I've gone from knowing absolutely nothing about fly fishing to living and breathing it. I've had three failed relationships, dropped out of university, lived in 6 different places, had bouts of depression, made huge mistakes financially, and throughout it all I've fished. I've travelled throughout BC, to Russia, Florida, Alaska, fished in Washington, Oregon and Idaho and now Alberta. I've wet waded in the summer and packed on the layers in winter. I've worked at a fly shop, guided for salmon, sturgeon and now trout, I've given seminars and presentations, tied flies for personal and commercial use, wrote articles, blogs and taken thousands of pictures. I'm 31, single, broke and just committed to moving, for the first time, away from coastal BC to start a new job I really don't know much about. But as I have so far in my "adult" life, if I fail or make mistakes I will always continue to fish.
 
Aaron on the Vedder,
A reflection in a mirror is static and superficial, much like life in a modern, technological world. A reflection in the surface of a river is subtly different every second, with layers of change and years upon years of history buried beneath it. There is depth and substance. Sometimes it becomes swollen and cloudy, making it hard to see ourselves, and other times so clear it seems we can see forever. A river is always changing, evolving, while carrying with it the scars and the effects of the past. I never want to lose that connection to myself, to the past, and to the primal, wild side of life. The place where I can just be. Fishing will always give me that, as long as I remind myself to see the big picture. I have no idea what this year will bring, but I do know that I will be fishing. I hope you can join me.
 
 

3 comments:

Nunavut said...

Amazing Story!!

I remember a lot of it fondly, especially your old house, with the fridge in the mud room and you and Dara's shared upstairs bedroom...

Additionally I fondly remember your father and him teaching me how to draw while I waited for your mother to pick me up and bring me to school in the mornings.

Hope you have a Happy New Years!

L.M. Schweitzer said...

Great post, Adrienne. You have a beautiful story. :) Happy New Year to you!

April Vokey said...

I love this babe....