The Zen Buddhist term satori means “insight” or “enlightenment.” I know it’s dangerous to apply the term to fly fishing experiences because, as everybody knows, fishing is a recreational activity and not typically a spiritual event. Leave it to a local fishery to put me straight and to throw out categorical statements.
Rock Creek gave me an insight recently. I’m not referring to the famous river in Montana (which I featured in a post called “Big Sky Ramble (1),” nor am I referring to a Rock Run found in northern Pennsylvania which the writer Charlie Meck declared to be “the most breathtaking, picturesque trout stream in the Keystone State” (Mid-Atlantic Trout Streams and Their Hatches). Incidently, Rock Run, remains on my bucket list of streams to fish, being only a couple of hours from my home.
I’m referring to a brook trout water only a few miles from where I live. I knew about it, even fished it once, but that was 30 years ago. This spring some earthly power pulled me back in its direction, pulled me to its water tumbling from a forested divide, and planted me smack in a half dozen plunge-pools lively with the forms of native trout. Where the hell had I been all these years? I’d been fishing myself senseless in a far topography of brooks and rivers while neglecting it–Rock Creek– right under my nose, so close to my back yard that I’d thought the stream to be less than worthy of my efforts, a mere shadow of its former glory as a wild stream in the uppermost reaches of the Susquehanna watershed. Holy crap! How could I have neglected it?
Life isn’t only a learning experience. If you’re lucky, you’re a student of life, no matter your age. You have mentors that include the streams and forests, the oceans and deserts, the mountains and stars. You’re ready for a sudden rap to the head, an insight that no book can give. Aha! That’s it! Why didn’t I think of that before? The insight isn’t so much a learning experience as it is a fortunate blossoming. You happen to be standing in the right place at the right time. Hey, I see the light!
I can honestly say that my decades of fly fishing experience have seldom offered the luxury of an insight. More typically I’m focused on the next strike or watching a butterfly or a bird, or wondering what I’ll see around the next bend, or worrying about where my next beer or my next meal is coming from. For me, insight seems to be a luxury more akin to working at a desk than it is to casting on a stream or lake. But something different happened on Rock Creek.
It’s hard to define, but the rushing brook, its gradient steeper than that of most streams in these foothills, seemed to whisper constantly that its home is Big Green Hill, its home is the same high ground on which I claimed to live. The rap to my head suggested that the brook’s source is close to the great divide between the Susquehanna and the Genesee, as is the spring that gives water to my bathtub, sink and coffee brewer. Rock Creek whispered “Home Water,” and it did so in rock-tossed syllables louder and more impressionable than the water songs of the comforting Conhocton or Genesee or Allegheny or Pine. I once considered those great trout streams to be “home waters,” and I still think of them in that regard, but in a regional sense. Getting more familiar with the Rock provides an intimacy and an immediacy that the others fall a little short of. Home waters should make you feel as welcome to fish and walk and study on as any room in your own house welcomes you to rest.
Rock Creek enters “Anonymous Creek” that has trout in its upper reaches closer to me in the spatial sense than any others in the world. The trout of Anonymous Creek, however, are stocked fish, whereas Rock Creek natives are as close to “heritage stock” as any fish are likely to be in this region. Unfortunately the native populations of Anonymous, like those of so many streams and rivers of the East, are long gone, probably never to return. My home water, however defined, has to have a population of wild or native fish. Rock Creek is the place, so its waters say.