Self-Portrait of the Fisherman as Idler

What’s the matter, am I too lazy to write a simple fishing or hiking report this week?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Do I have to resort to a “selfie” via an empty message board along the river? Okay, so guys just want to have fun.

I’ve resisted using the word “Idiot” rather than “Idler” in the title of this post, although some would say the former would be apropos.

I’ve been fishing every day for more than a week, which is interesting, given the dry conditions in the eastern U.S., and the fact that I’m holding down the fort at home while also helping out an elder each day in the final stages of this life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIdleness helps to keep me balanced, I suppose. As author Robert Louis Stevenson notes in “An Apology for Idlers,” Idleness does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing lots of stuff not recognized by the status quo.

There, I feel a little better for saying this.

Idleness is at least as important as breaking your chops in industry. But folks who labor all their lives (that is, who work more than necessary to fulfill the basic requirements of a good life for themselves and loved ones) don’t get it when they hear that a fella can prowl along the stream each day or stand in the river of time with a “fishin’ pole” in hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt ain’t easy being good at idleness. It’s not easy being curious and investigative or imaginative while others stupidly amass a fortune. Hey, to each his own. I mean, we’ve all got bills to pay and big responsibilities to fulfill. But can’t we strike a happy medium?

We do what we have to do. I may be a writer with a job to check out the milkweed bloom or the beautiful colors on a brook trout, and then try to get other people interested, too. There’s not much compensation for it, but it’s work that I enjoy.

Others might be super busy all their lives and show little or no interest in understanding the world of nature. They don’t seem generous enough to understand this “idleness.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s too little wonder or magic in their lives. A true idler, says Stevenson, won’t neglect the intricacy of his own being that is balanced with the world.

Okay, but look at the world of nature out the door.  It seems “careless of the single life.” If that’s the case, why should any of us see ourselves as important entities, as candle holders to the universe?

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite,” said the poet William Blake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a budding psychology major in 1970, I read Blake’s comment in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, a book that profoundly influenced my new “career” as an idler, poet and trout-bum wannabe. And, I learned then that the well-known L.A. rock band took its name from the Blakean phrase and the title of a book.

Idleness, filled with poetry and labor of the soul, is an honorable vocation, whether we fish or sail or pitch a ball, whether we read a good book on a porch or in a hammock, or do most anything for relaxation (except watching television or playing golf).

I’m just kidding about the golf, you know… Hey, the guys and girls just wanna have fun.











About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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19 Responses to Self-Portrait of the Fisherman as Idler

  1. Doug Paugh says:

    Hmmm, an idler. Man, I’ve wondered what I could consider myself these days. I guess I fit right in here. I did write a poem and took 3 photos in the Uwharrie National Forest that 2 were because of the subjects architecture. I guess I’ll have to put my idling to a better use. Nah, who the hell am I kidding hahaha. Maybe I should practice the art of comedy. Great photos Walt. Not bad for a felloe idler. Yup, you read that right, felloe. It must be one of those licensing things. Thanks for helping me figure out my laid-back demise.

    • You/we fit right in Doug! Stevenson nailed it by reporting that a true idler is doing a whole lot more than nothing. I have a feeling that even if we’re bedridden we’ll be so occupied with productive activity that even our nurses will suspect we’re up to something. At least I hope that’s the case if things get really down. A good friend of mine once told me that the best way to die is to be “totally exhausted,” that is, having burned the candle of life at both ends, to the max. Which made good sense to me. Anyway, best to your “idleness,” poetry, photography and all.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    I’m taking this as a call to arms for idlers everywhere. In fact, I just realized that my life’s occupation has been that of idler, primarily. I’ll paraphrase the late Jack Gartside who, while he was speaking of flyfishing specifically, could just as easily refered to idling when he said, “It’s hard to make a living at it, but you can make one hell of a life.”
    P.S. Did you get the email I sent? This Google Chrome is kinda dodgy sometimes when it comes to outgoing emails.

  3. Ken G says:

    I’ve been so idle this summer that I haven’t even been fishing. Started to seem like work.

    And yet, I’m busy. Just came in from a walk with the wife, a rare occurrence these days considering her advancing RA, and we talked about her RA. Then we sat on the front porch, watched the sun set and talked about building cob houses. She’s obsessed with building a cob house for some reason. That all ate up a good hour of my day and it was the best hour of the day.

    Been doing little things like this all summer when I’m not at work. Sit, talk, watch things go by. I imagine I’m thinking of something, but it’s vague, disconnected, probably for the better. If it all gelled into a solid thought, I might consider acting on it. Which would defeat the purpose of being idle.

    Perfect timing on this write up Walt. Justification for myself at least for the amount of time I spend between my ears.

    • Hey Ken, I’m glad the timing of this post is good for ya. Sounds like you’re having a good summer, thinking about stuff but not letting those thoughts solidify to the point where you have to get up and do some work or whatever. Not even fishing! Man, that’s being idle. But good for you. There’s more to a good life than simply working all the time. You know, I had to look up a cob house, to see what it is. Looks cool, like olde British houses, quite organic. I hope your wife gets around to helping you build one some day, before Olde Arthritis gets the upper hand. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to stay productively idle. Thanks!

  4. plaidcamper says:

    How I nodded and smiled all the way through. A gentle and witty rebuttal to all those missing out on the finer things due to a strange reluctance to value what’s outside the door. Thanks Walt, and I’m glad you didn’t work at this piece – you are a master idler, and it’s good of you to share the art. That, and the comments here have made my day!

    • Very pleased that you enjoyed this and didn’t have to work at understanding. I knew you would, Plaid, having mastered the basics long ago in “Idleness 101.” And you’re right, I didn’t work real hard at writing this, just said what comes naturally at times. I appreciate your reading of the post and responding with thoughtful care. I’m yours… in idleness!

  5. I like idler a lot better than lazy, which I always thought of myself. Now that I’m on the threshold of retirement I see that I can work on mastering my new title.

    • I’m glad you brought up the word “lazy,” Howard. I considered using it in the post but was too lazy to mention it– actually I considered using it as a tag but decided not to because it wouldn’t be honest of me. Lazy is another whole thing altogether, and it just doesn’t describe folks like us, does it (well, maybe sometimes). Here’s wishing you a happy and healthful idleness when retirement comes round!

  6. Kevin Frank says:

    I need to idle more. Been going full throttle a little too much lately.

  7. Alan Petrucci says:

    Idle, Idol.
    Get out and do it while it’s available. Sometimes it’s swept away before we know it
    Good thoughts Walt.

  8. loydtruss says:

    A true confession I am seldom idle, I am one of those individuals who is on the go most of the time, unless I am sick. I hate to think what my life will be like when I have to be confined to, should I even say this word “a nursing home.” In fact I hope I am gone by then. Good Post!

    • Bill, I’m with you there, always on the move, even when idling. Absolutely no nursing home for me, either. If I had my way, I’d go while making a long cast with a dry fly. Let the trout be my casket bearers, if I had my way. Thanks for reading!

  9. Brent says:

    I think I might be the first to laud you on your “selfie,” to use the term so in vogue in social media. That being said, I’m sure you didn’t pick up this usage during the idle time–here, using it with the negative connotations–spent poring over Facebook inanities at the ol’ laptop. This is a good play on the “Fish chase vs rat race” struggle that many of us face, and a reminder that I need to carve out some idle time to do some writing of my own.

    • You’re the first to laud it, though actually your mother beat you there, saying she liked it– for whatever reason. I’m afraid I had to join the rat race there, picking up such nonsense from Facebook probably. Selfies seem to be a metaphor for the age we’re in. I like your “Fish chase vs. rat race” line. I guess while idling about in the fish chase I found a despicable way to join the rat race, getting a selfie accomplished at the river side. Anyway, looking forward to the product of your next idling & writing time.

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