Archive for the ‘fly fishing’ Category

Drawing the Next Circle

July 24, 2017

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In the Gallery at Redlands, Palestine, Texas

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn, that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Awakened at 5:30 this morning by a heavy rainstorm (love the sound of rain on a tin roof!), I rose refreshed, and by the time I finished showering, making breakfast and loading the Jeep for the 50-minute drive to the gallery, I was surprised to be at the desk by 8:00. My pump is primed, and I am ready to begin the next painting.

Emerson’s meditation on “Circles” has possessed me since 1992 when I was first introduced to it while at Oregon State University. The words resonate with me, because I seldom feel that I’ve been mired in a rut; there is always a new adventure to pursue, a new experience to savor.  When Jack Kerouac wrote that beyond the hills in the distance something wonderful is going to happen, I believe it was Ken Kesey who retorted, “It turns out there are just more hills.” I have met many with Kesey’s sentiment, but I am not one of them. In a short time I’ll be departing for my next road trip, and I’m excited beyond measure. Meanwhile, I have a commission to complete, so I’m getting down to the business of it. It’s a beautiful morning in Palestine, Texas for working on a painting.

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Last evening, between soggy rainstorms, I did manage to get in a little fly fishing in a private pond near the store where I reside in the country. I managed to land two largemouth bass and a pair of fat panfish. I returned them all, just enjoying the sport of fishing. I couldn’t imagine a better way to finish an evening. Last week in Louisiana, some of my best evenings were capped by fishing area lakes, and I’m still thinking fondly of those experiences.

Time to get to work . . . thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when feeling alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Call of the River

July 7, 2017

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Fly Fishing Big River Earlier this Week

At 2:51 this morning, I decided to rise from my bed with a bruising headache, take some Ibuprofen, and sit up to wait for the pain to subside.  Headaches for me are an extremely rare occurrence, but when they do arrive, there seems to be no dispatching them without medication and a period of time sitting upright.  As I wait, I suppose I’ll attempt this blog.

I have posted above a photo my friend Wayne White took of me during our first attempt at kayaking Big River–a comedy of errors involving my capsizing my own kayak more than once, and Wayne having some difficulty transporting supplies on a separate vessel. At this point, we decided to beach the yaks on a sandbar and spend some time fishing this beautiful stream of water.

The river still calls out to us, and I am supposed to rise at 6:30, in just a few short hours, to join Wayne again for another boating expedition.   Despite my current pain, I am eagerly looking forward to this event, as Wayne is going to take me to a bluff that I tried to render in a watercolor sketch last year from a photo he took and sent to me.  I look forward finally to seeing the bluff with my own eyes.

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Watercolor Sketch of Big River Bluff

Earlier today, I managed to work further on the Palestine Texas and Pacific #610 that I began a few days ago.  I am getting bogged down in the details of the locomotive and choose not to rush the process, as I still have a number of unanswered questions concerning the actual tones of this complex subject.

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Night Train

Fortunately, my headache has ceased. Time now to return to bed and hopefully get some quality sleep before rising to meet the river again.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Afterglow

April 10, 2017

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All I Needed this Morning was a Puppy to Hug

Just when I concluded that this Monday morning following my show couldn’t get any better, a sweet puppy trotted into the copier room at school. One of my colleagues was preparing to take him to the vet. I have had shih tzus in my past, and certainly miss their affectionate nature. This one was no exception. Having these moments to love him before walking into my first class was the ice cream on the cake. Thanks, Molly, for sharing him!

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Fishing Memories, coming out in limited editions for $100

I am very pleased to find my “Fishing Memories” watercolor now getting attention. This morning I have been approached by two friends asking for a limited edition giclee. This print will be the same size as the largest ones I’ve sold before (“Summer Morning in Sundance Square” and ” Fort Worth Cattle Drive”). Today I will place an order for the first four with the company that designs my limited editions. Thank you, Mark and Kathy, for your interest that got this started. I still believe this is the best watercolor I have done to date. My original is still available in its frame for $1200. These limited editions will be priced at $100.

I am feeling profound withdrawal. I knew I was going to miss the people in Palestine, Texas, but had no idea how profoundly I would miss them this soon. I have opportunity to return to that town for future work and I cannot wait for that to happen.

Again, thank you so much for all of you that took interest in my One-Man-Show, clearly one of the best experiences of my art career.

I paint in order to discover

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Musings on the Last Day of My Show

April 9, 2017

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Three Views of the Lobby of The Redlands Historic Inn

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Photo taken by Z Jary

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Selfie taken early this morning before opening, the last day

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Jean Mollard just added me to the historical brochure of The Redlands!

Waking this Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Closing out this three-week show this evening and heading back home flooded me with a sad feeling. Yet, being invited to take part in Palestine’s future cultural events bathed me with warmth and excitement, knowing I can now begin writing a new chapter to this life narrative. So, before I open The Gallery at Redlands for this day, I pause once more to thank everyone who contributed to the excitement and success of the last three weeks–to my friends who visited, my patrons, my new friends I’ve met in this community, my facebook and blogging friends who continually wrote in your support–so many well-wishers–I thank you from the depths. Above all, I thank Wade and Gail for your vision in opening this gallery space, as well as Jean and Mike for your warm friendship and hospitality in this remarkable Redlands Historic Inn. This 102-year-old Inn is a most remarkable environment for overnight or extended stays, and the Red Fire Grille on the ground floor offers a fine dining experience that still leaves me in awe. So, anyone reading this, check out www.RedlandsHistoricInn.com, look at the photos of their spectacular rooms, pack your bags, and move in!  This historic facility and its owners are first-rate. I had friends come out and book suites the past two weekends, and they are still buzzing about the experience of staying here. I too had the privilege of living here the past three weekends and am going to miss the place sorely when I move out today.

Someone who was bound to know what he was talking about, Albrecht Dürer, did after all make the well-known remark: “For in truth, art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” “Wrest” here means to draw out the rift and to draw the design with the drawing-pen on the drawing-board. But we at once raise the counterquestion: how can the rift-design be drawn out if it is not brought into the Open by the creative sketch as a rift, which is to say, brought out beforehand as a conflict of measure and unmeasure? True, there lies hidden in nature a rift-design, a measure and a boundary and, tied to it, a capacity for bringing forth–that is, art. But it is equally certain that this art hidden in nature becomes manifest only through the work, because it lies originally in the work.

Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”

Over breakfast this morning, I reread portions of Heidegger’s essay that always intrigues me. Next week I will engage in plein air painting as Paint Historic Waxahachie is already under way for those of us who registered early. These words from Heidegger and Dürer will linger with me as I set up my portable easel, fix my eye on a subject, and begin dragging my pencil across the white rectangular surface of stretched watercolor paper, searching out the rift, the boundary, the divisions. I recall Robert Motherwell saying that drawing was the organization of space. I like that perspective. The compositional issues playing out on the white rectangle of space, the abyss, as I organize graphite lines and colored pigments always thrills me when I am outdoors attempting to capture a slice of the scene playing out before me. I got to do some of that inside this gallery the past two weekends as I painted something I could see out the window.

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Is it still plein-air when you are standing indoors?!

Next week, I will be outside giving this another try.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Unwinding After a Spectacular Weekend

April 8, 2017

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The soul is not a compensation, but a life. The soul is. Under all this running sea of circumstance, whose waters ebb and flow with perfect balance, lies the aboriginal abyss of real Being.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation”

I have hung the painting above, titled “Finding the Seam” in place of the “Fort Worth Cattle Drive” which just went home with its new owner. The fly fishing painting was copied from a photo of me fishing the South Fork of the Rio Grande several years back. I have it listed at $800 framed. I’m happy that it fits the gap just fine that was left by the cattle drive composition.

I am keeping the Gallery at Redlands open till 9:00 p.m., since restaurant patrons are still drifting in and out. But now I finally have some time to read Emerson and reflect over a perfect day. The Emerson quote has come alive for me in the quiet of the evening as the hotel finally grows quiet following a day of high activity. Patrons kept me busy and talking almost the entire day, and sales have kept us all happy. This one-man-show has gone far beyond my highest expectations, and one day remains. A part of me is sad to see it come to a close, but another part of me is bone-tired and could use some rest. For three weekends now, I have felt this pull between the traffic of gallery patrons and the quiet in the recesses of my soul where I contemplate the next painting.

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Elena, Courtney, Morgan and Rachael

One of the highlights of my show featured my teaching colleague, Rachael Peterson, bringing three of my Advanced Placement Art History students all the way out here from Arlington. What a joy to see them outside our everyday school complex. The girls fell in love with Palestine, its businesses and its people. Thank you, girls, for coming out and making this even more fun. You truly are a treasure, and I’m still smiling at every memory of you.

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Photo by Z Jary

Yesterday I was visited by a pair of artistic friends, Elaine and Z Jary. Elaine is a watercolorist and Z a photographer. Z patiently photographed me repeatedly, inside and outside the gallery, and was kind enough to send me a fistful of photos online. I have selected this one to put up. Z Jary, thank you, I am amazed at your photographic eye.

I will definitely sleep tonight. I was in the gallery before eight this morning, and am now closing it thirteen hours later. But the day has been precious and I appreciate every conversation and every encouraging word I encountered today.

Thank you for reading.

 I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Thoughts Gathering in the Late Night

April 4, 2017

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Fishing Memories–$1200 framed

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To speak of these things and to try to understand their nature and, having understood it, to try slowly and humbly and constantly to express, to press out again, from the gross earth or what it brings forth, from sound and shape and colour which are the prison gates of our soul, an image of the beauty we have come to understand–that is art.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I would be lying if I were to call this an inspiring day–after a full day in school, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening gathering data, crunching numbers and doing all those things related to the business side of art.  I would always rather squint into the surface of a watercolor composition than between the lines of a spreadsheet.

Now that the hour has drawn late and I still haven’t found sleep, I thought I would reward myself by returning to some James Joyce texts. I’m more than halfway through Ulysses, and reading that has been an uneven experience.  Tonight’s reading was rather opaque, so finally I put the volume down and picked up his Portrait to re-read some of the portions I’ve highlighted from earlier readings. The one I quoted above is one of my favorites as the protragonist of the story thoughtfully articulates his theory of the art making enterprise. I find a close similarity between Joyce, Emerson and Heidegger as they describe the origin of art as springing from a struggle between the person and the natural world. In the days ahead, I hope I can spend more time working on the ideas of these three intriguing writers and see if I can explore further what they sought to expound.

But I believe I should retire to bed so that I may have some kind of a pulse when I face my classes yet again tomorrow.

The image I’ve posted above is one of my favorite watercolors that I worked on during winter months two or three years ago. It is my largest painting still in my collection and offered up for sale in the show at The Gallery at Redlands which closes Sunday.

Thanks for reading . . .

Silence

March 11, 2017

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Elected Silence, sing to me

And beat upon my whorlèd ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be 

The music that I care to hear.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Habit of Perfection”

One of my precious friends, Dian Dar, a retired English teacher, recently shared with me poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the timing was sublime. Spring Break has arrived, and I slept in soundly this Saturday morning, waking to a dark and rainy day.  The watercolor above I have just delivered to the Texas Friends and Neighbors Regional Art Exhibit to open in Irving, Texas April 29.  About half of the remaining 75 pieces had already been submitted and I was able to peruse the gallery and see them up close.  The show is a very strong one, and I am honored and humbled to be included. This evening I plan to attend the gallery talk given by the juror and view the slide show that has been assembled of all the works. I’m sorry to wait a month and a half for the exhibit to open.

Spring Break has arrived and I certainly need the rest.  Today has been burned up by delivering art work and catching up on all my college grading that was a week old.  I still have week-old high school stuff to grade as well, but I guess it can wait another day or two. Strangely, I’m not in the mood to paint today though my heart is filled with artistic aspiration, strange as that may sound.  I have been more inclined to read, and especially to spend time lingering over poetry.  Hopkins certainly has not disappointed me on this gray day.  He and Paul Tillich have filled my weary soul with ideas that are uplifting and satisfying.

I devoted some considerable time to staring at this painting before delivering it, because I won’t have it around for viewing for quite a long time.  That is the downside of exhibits–it’s nice to know others are looking at my work, but I do miss some of the images when they are no longer on my living room wall.  I still remember the hours spent in the garage (man cave) studio when I worked on this one.  And I recall the thrill of finding the creel in a Missouri antique store, of my good friends and fly fishing buddies lending me the antique fly box to open and include in the show, of the bamboo fly rod given me by an equine instructor in Colorado whose father had it custom made for him when he was a teeanger.  The hat has spent years on my head, and I took delight in baptizing it in the Atlantic, Pacific, Aegean and Adriatic waters.  The chair I found in a Missouri antique store. This picture just overflows in personal memories, and I was attached to it ever since I saw it taking shape beneath my brush.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Two Splendor-Filled Colorado Days

June 29, 2016

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Poets talk about “spots in time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

A cool, hard-driving mountain rain has driven me back indoors after a day and a half of fly fishing and plein air painting.  So, I’m going to record some of the wonders that have come my way since my last posting.

I rose early yesterday morning to see a group of men standing in the stretch of waters below my cabin, casting spinning reeels in all directions with lures flashing so large I could see them at 100 yards. They talked so loudly I could hear every word from inside my dwelling.   I had planned to enter that space myself, but realized it would be awhile before the area settled down.  So . . . making coffee, I sat at my kitchen table and did some necessary tasks–rebuilding my tapered leader that has taken a beating over recent years. The nine-foot leader had been chewed down to about five feet.  Finding some 3x tippet, I spliced three more feet onto it, then added another two feet of 5x tippet to get the leader back to its desired length.

Hearing the continuing clattering conversation of the three clowns below who were catching nothing, but slashing the hell out of that stretch of water, I decided to make some decisions while sorting through my flybox.  I tied on an elk-hair caddis dry fly, rubbed flotation fluid into its hackles, then added another 18″ of 5x tippet, tying it onto the bend of the hook, and finally tied on a bead-headed Copper John nymph.

Out on the porch, I pulled on my waders and boots, and seeing that the men were still busy thrashing the waters, I decided to hike 200 yards downstream where the river was deeper, darker, and much swifter.  The wading proved treacherous and arduous, and I hadn’t forgotten the soaking I took last Saturday when I tried to navigate these waters.  I did manage to work a couple of decent stretches of stream, managing only a couple of strikes on the dry fly, which I missed, having too much slack in my line.

Finally, the last man left my preferred stretch, so I waded slowly upstream to a marvelously wide, sun-filled flat stretch of shallow riffles.

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The voices of the subterranean river in the shadows were different from the voices of the sunlit river ahead.  In the shadows against the cliff the river was deep and engaged in profundities, circling back on itself now and then to say things over to be sure it had understood itself.  But the river ahead came out into the sunny world like a chatterbox, doing its best to be friendly.  It bowed to one shore and then to the other so nothing would feel neglected.

Norman MacleanA River Runs Through It

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It took very little time to land three brown trout, all of them under ten inches, but I was thrilled to see them all take the dry fly.  Though the fish were small, the waters exploded every time they took the surface fly.

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Realizing the sinking nymph was getting no action, I clipped it off, then continued to move upstream, fishing the dry fly only.  For about an hour, I managed to miss about ten strikes, most of them large browns, because I could not strip the slack out of my line quickly enough.  The waters are still very high and fast.  The snow melt is still running its course.  I’ve never before seen so many snow packs in the mountains this time of year in Colorado.  Nevertheless, I found my time on the river very intoxicating, as I listened to the waters flowing swiftly over the smooth rocks.  The wonderful thing about the cabin where I am staying is that it is so close to the river that I hear the sounds of the rushing waters around the clock.  They soothe me to sleep every night, and greet me in my first waking moment of the following morning.

The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words and some of the words are theirs.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Today I decided to put off my river excursion until this evening and instead focus on plein air painting throughout the morning and early afternoon.  (Now that the hard rains have arrived, I question whether I’ll get to enter the river today at all.  We’ll see.)  From where I am residing, I look daily across Highway 160 at this line of towering bluffs, and am fascinated with the striations in the rocks as well as the trees that crown them.  The sky constantly shifts back and forth from deep clear blue to cloud-stuffed.  I managed three quick watercolor sketches today on 140# stretched D’Arches cold-pressed paper.  I tried to begin a fourth, because the dark storm clouds framed up a deep colorful composition along the bluffs.  However, I needed to stretch more paper, and after stretching three more surfaces, the first of the hard raindrops fell, and I had to scurry back into the cabin with all my supplies.

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The rain has ceased and the Colorado landscape is showing some light once again.  I began a watercolor sketch of the pine tree in front of my porch a few days ago, but never returned to it.  I’m going to resume it now, and see if I can get back into the stream later.

Thanks for reading.  It’s been a magnificent pair of days.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

Soothing Moments in the River

May 5, 2016

 

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Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.
Norman Maclean

My friend Bill Barksdale arrived at my door at 6 a.m. and we made our second journey to the waters, this time the White River.  The water levels were low and sluggish, and so were the trout, but I did manage to coax this 5-inch brown to take my fly. Fortunately, I was able to lift his sweet face out of the waters for a portrait, and then a quick release.

I was pleased with the kind of photo my Samsung phone was able to make, but Bill went to work with his high-end camera and took several shots to record our morning:  I’m surprised that I’m not scowling more deeply as this river has required tiny flies that my eyes don’t see as well as they did in younger days.

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I could not have dialed up a more perfect day, spending most of it in the river. Watching trout rise to sip flies from the surface (except for mine), thrills me to the core.  For much of the morning, I gazed at row after row of trout, lined up to feed on whatever drifted past them (except for my own flies), their tails and fins undulating softly in the current.  All of it produced such hypnotic sensations, and I felt that I could have watched these sights for days.  And wade fishing in trout streams has always settled my pulse rate.  The past week has been fast-paced for me, with much travel, many daily appointments and responsibilities, and plenty of second-guessing.  I now face two consecutive days of judging art competitions, but tomorrow’s will be held late in the day, and then Saturday’s will happen in the morning. Fortunately for me, the activities are spread out, allowing me quality time to unwind between my responsibilities.  And so far, I’ve managed the perfect blend of making watercolors outside and fly fishing.  The week has flown by at warp speed and I’m astonished tonight to realize I have only two full days remaining at this event, before journeying back home to return to my full-time job.  I’m confident that once I return home, my batteries will be charged sufficiently for me to resume my duties.

Thanks for staying with me this week.

 

 

Finding the Seam

March 6, 2016

Finding the Seam

My Watercolor from Several Years Back

I admit that this is highly unorthodox, but I’m going to post the talk I’m planning on giving before the Samaritan Sunday School class at the First Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas later this morning (hoping that none of the class members will find and read this in advance). This is a class of adults that I came to love deeply about twenty years ago when I was asked on a number of occasions to speak before them.  They even invited me to attend a weekend retreat at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma, serving as a conference speaker.  The memories of them have always been rich, even though we drifted in different directions over the past decades. Recently they found me again and invited me back last Sunday.  Today I will close out my series with them.  Thanks for reading:

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back.

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast.

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.       
Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots as it cuts through the banks, I hear Maclean’s words coming back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all.

What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness.

Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow.

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.

 

[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.