When I was in college, I spent three summers living/working in the Grand Tetons, in eastern Idaho and Jackson Hole, WY. I was quite poor, living on student loans and work-study. Summertime was the only time I could be somewhat extravagant. During the schoolyear I couldn't afford meat, and so was a vegetarian. When we (meaning my other friends from around the country who went there to work) arrived, we'd arrange a meeting at the Victor Steak Bank or the Mangy Moose, or some other bastion of meatdom and initiate another carnivorous summer. However, consumption of meat was still a luxury, and saving for the year was after all still the primary goal of being there. So a large part of the mornings, evenings, and even part of the day (when I was a whitewater photographer) was spent foraging for food, and most of the time, fishing for it. (The foraging part had to do with crashing other people's work pizza parties, parties in general, coaxing whoever got the most tips to splurge on a group meal, hitting up friends who worked at food places for day-old baked goods and aging supplies, and trading with the hunting types for elk and venison.)
I was not the sophisticated angler that I perhaps should've made some effort to become during my time there. Nope, I used some fishing rod given to me in high school by my ex-best friend's father, who made poles for Fenwick. I had some old lures, and we would spend hours stream fishing in the Snake River. The mosquitoes were unbelievable, draped over the water like buzzing blankets. There was something meditational about that activity, although I didn't know it then. When I think back, I realize how clear my mind was, so focused was I on the bug and bird noises, the rising or setting sun, the sound of the water. The water was so clear you could easily see the fish…they could easily see us. There must have been some weird understanding. I always came away with just enough for dinner. I never abused my luck or privilege.
One summer, I discovered the neighbor two doors down was the ex-mayor of the small town I lived in. The neighbor next door was a fish and game officer. The mayor gave me corn and veggies, and the warden gave me confiscated fish. I returned some of the donations in cooked form, as they were both bachelors. It was a model of neighborly love that touches my heart, although I've forgotten about it all these years. Again, I was grateful at the time, but I don't know that I absorbed the full impact while it was happening. Maybe I was too poor or too hungry.
What a treasured memory. I've been saying that alot lately about the past. I'm sure I was miserable about being poor, but I must've felt alive, too. It never drove me to stop what I was doing to change paths to a more capitalistic life. I might've wanted a better material quality of life, but I didn't want to change my lifestyle. Perhaps it all boiled down to a lack of commitment. Later in life (as in the recent past), I was swept into a lifestyle that I neither chose nor prevented. I subjected myself to a lifestyle that I thought was temporary, something I was doing as a means to the life I actually wanted. I've come to realize the fallacy. What you're doing now is all you have. This moment is it. Do what you want right now, even if it includes some "have-to's", but don't compromise. Nobody knows about tomorrow.
I haven't been fishing in a very long time, but I'm thinking about it again, although the season is past. I imagine myself as the lure, spinning and gliding through the water, intending to be swallowed. Or maybe the fish, watching the glinting motion…well, I don't know what goes through a fish's mind, but I think they lead fairly simple lives. They fraternize with friends and family, hover about, eat, sleep, and eventually die of old age or get caught by something. Would I rather be the seeker or the sought? Maybe I'd rather be the water, though even that is no longer sacred, or the riverbed over which these events unfold.
If I meditate long enough, perhaps I can join the whole, and be at peace, and be returned to wholeness. I was at the gate to enlightenment for so many years, and passed it by. Did I always think it would be there? I don't think I was aware. I was asleep.
Awaken to the experiences around you. You may be walking past the portal to Enlightenment.
Oh, and Happy Birthday, Marine Corps!