There were plenty of quiet moments at the book signing event, so I was glad to have some fly-tying stuff on hand. My books were piled up on the corner of a table in the store; my vise stood before me, surrounded by grizzly hackle (olive), calf-tail, dubbing, moose hair, thread, scissors, whip-finisher, everything needed to tie the Western Green Drake for an upcoming trip out West. Everything was here, except…except the hooks. Dammit. I felt like a wingless bird showing up for spring migration.
Now what? The store managers were busy doing whatever they do when business gets really slow, so I rose from the table and began perusing the Used Book section of the aisles. I found a nice hardcover edition of the Tao Te Ching and decided to buy it and refresh my recollections of the ancient Chinese classic. Chapter One: The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. Of course. Words get in the way. The name that can be named is not the eternal name… The tier who forgets his hooks is not a tier worth his salt. The tier who forgets his hooks is… just a buyer. The gate to mystery has a squeaky hinge.
The highest good is like water. We moderns who enjoy canoeing, hiking, fly-fishing, etcetera are well aware of this. Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive. It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao. Water filled my head and I was fishing like a demon in a daydream.
I would soon be casting on the “Oz,” my name for Oswayo Creek. With an overcast sky and heavy water from recent rains, I was hoping for a good caddis or mayfly hatch downstream from where I usually look for wild browns. Two spin-fishermen worked their way close to where I stood in a big wide pool. One angler asked, “Are you fishin’ the Derby or just fishing?” I hadn’t known anything about the local Rod ‘n’Gun Club derby going on at that moment, so I simply answered, “Just fishin’. Any luck?”
The sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking. The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease. I wasn’t feeling particularly wise, especially in this company of local fishermen pursuing tagged trout with the spirit of a horse-better at the Preakness. I certainly wasn’t keeping my mouth shut, either, when the guys asked where I’d started from and what pools had yielded trout. I stretched the truth a bit, for sure, but remained completely honest about the kind of flies I used. Dry flies weren’t connecting. There were no “ten thousand trout” rising and falling to a hatch of caddis, Sulphur or March Browns.
I caught rainbows on a small bead-head emerger, my Conhocton Mink Caddis, and even more trout on a conehead Woolly Bugger. Rainbows, browns and brook trout came out for a quick release. They were hatchery trout, certainly, but pleasant accomplices in my search for a river hatch. Oh, a singular March Brown appeared, and a first Sulphur for the season, but conditions just weren’t favorable for surface fishing.
Earlier in the day, I had the best time watching birds. Spring migration was at its peak, and numerous fliers had settled near the yard for the season or were pausing for insects and tuning up their vocal chords. I, too, attempted to hone my skills with 10-power glasses and a careful late-spring shuffle.
Under heaven, all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil. Listen to the news from around the globe today, and go for the truth. Thank god for wild birds. Wild trout. Flowers. Wild men and women. Children who can tell what’s real and what is fake.
Barn swallows lilted over the roadway scarfing up midges near the ground. An indigo bunting fed among the apple blossoms, its plumage slightly darker than the sky beyond. A Tennessee warbler sang a loud migration song, its chipping notes breaking into a rapid jumble at the end. A wood thrush piped an endless three-note territorial song from the trees beyond the creek. A Baltimore oriole perched nearby, a beautiful orange and black songbird alternately whistling and fluting for a mate in a never ending quest for continuity and survival.
Looking up beyond the forested hills, I was taken by the sight of a raven (legendary corvid) chasing a red-tailed hawk across the southern sky. Both birds were living fully in the Tao. Beauty seemed to outshine ugliness, for now.