Bradley Carleton

It is our errors in our balance or direction that often bring us the most rewards.

The current pandemic has changed a lot of our daily interactions and caused us to take a closer look at what really matters. When the population of our country is struggling to maintain a civil discourse on politics, I have found great solace in my own form of worship: that of nature and all that she offers us.

Today I stood in a river with my waders on and, and, although my intention was to catch a handsome rainbow trout, I seemed to fall into a trance-like meditation. I felt the warm early summer breeze and watched the ripples on the water sparkle in the sunlight. I felt the current tugging at me and occasionally was swept off my feet and stumbled to keep my balance. At one point I toppled into the water and soaked my left side up to the shoulder before my hand found the bottom of the rocky waters. My friend John asked me if I was okay. I replied, “Better’n ever! I have just been baptized in the holy trout waters.”

I was sure that after having paid my dues to the river I would now be blessed by a nice rise to my elk-hair caddis fly, tied on the end of a 4x tippet with a nymph dropper bouncing along the bottom of the riverbed. My thoughts drifted back 51 years to my initiation into fly fishing, at a trout club in Berea, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, and the first monster rainbow that I caught on a wooly bugger fly.

But right now, right here, everything was just right. The shade of old trees along the bank kept us from getting sunburned. The breeze kept us cool. We stealthily approached a deep pool where John and I have had great success in in the past. The sound of the water rushing over some deeply embedded boulders gave life-affirming oxygen to the hope that trout would be lurking below the froth. We cast simultaneously in clockwork rhythm; peeling off more line with each false cast, until we presented our flies in the exact location in the water column. We both knew a big brown trout might be lying in wait for the insect world to provide him with his next meal.

Like I said, everything was perfect. We cast into that pool and a few others for four hours and never once got a bite. John started to apologize for leading us to this fish-less water. I stopped him before he spoke another word. Although my intention had been to hook a nice rainbow, the deeper intention was to meld with everything around me and feel a sense of relief from all the troubles of the world.

Standing in the still water beside the sandy bank and watching insects hatch from the subsurface film and dance in the pillared sunlight beaming through the trees, I felt what many of us are craving right now: a sense that the world was still right. That I belonged and that our time here on earth is measured not in how many breaths we are given but in how many times our breath is taken away by the sheer beauty and serenity that surrounds us.

As we climbed out of the river up a steep embankment, we had to cross over a decaying tree trunk. It was so weathered that we could not even tell what kind of tree it was. As I took a step forward and tried to lift my right leg over the battered trunk, I lost my balance, again, and this time as I hurtled toward the ground, I came face to face with a colony of pheasant back mushrooms. I laughed out loud and said to John, “If I hadn’t lost my balance, I would never have seen them.” The moment I recovered and stood up, it occurred to me that sometimes we need to lose our balance to see things we have overlooked before.

As we drove home in John’s old van, I began to point out spots where I had known wild asparagus had grown in years past. We took the long way home and found a few wild asparagus and several more mushrooms.

At one point I told John to “take a left here,” and it was minute or two before I realized that, once again, I had lost my bearings. Mind you that I have been an outdoorsman for a long time—ever since I was kicked out of Boy Scouts for wandering off the trail and finding a “better way back to camp.” But here I was, first losing my balance then losing my bearings, and this time I discovered a new asparagus patch.

I began to look for meaning in my follies, and it came to me tonight as I sit here in my den surrounded by prints of duck hunting, an 8-point buck mounted on the wall, a full turkey fan mounted with its beard, a mount of a double-banded drake mallard and my old cherry rolltop desk. It is our errors in our balance or direction that often bring us the most rewards. It has taken me a mere 61 years to discover that the most beautiful and meaningful moments come to us not when we expect them but when our routines are thrown off balance and we take the long way home.

 Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.