No idea what’s coming, and that’s fine

One of the proudest moments of my teaching career happened recently, when a student needed to borrow a book I gave her freshman year for her senior quote.

She said I had given her the book to read because she had finished her work and in it was a quote that stuck with her.

The book was “Dances with Trout,” by John Gierach. How does that happen, right? A non-fly fishing freshman is impacted by the words of an old angler in Colorado who admittedly titled his book after the Kevin Costner movie, “Dances with Wolves.”

I always have a couple of fishing books around the classroom and at home, but it takes me forever to read them because I automatically start thinking about fishing myself. My eyes go back and forth until the page ends. I see words. They are in English, but I am too busy casting my own dry flies to brown trout, or steelhead, or whatever, that I don’t know what’s going on in the book. I think that’s the main point of any good fishing book though. It takes your brain to the river.

Anyway, near the end of the book, there are two quotes I had marked.

“Half of getting old is inexorably biology, but the other half is attitude.”

She didn’t choose that one.

“I’ve also learned to like the idea that I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I might as well like it because that’s the way it is.”

Perfect for a senior about to head out into the wilds of the post-high school world.

I couldn’t help but again appreciate the ability of anglers and hunters to describe the natural world in such poetic terms. Those who fish and hunt can get labeled as a results-only crowd who can’t stop and look around like those who are in the woods or on the water for that alone. That spirit is alive and well in us, it’s just that we’re driven by the sporting or predatory goal to get to that same place. Once there, you don’t know why or how you didn’t see that buck on the edge of the muskeg until it took off. You don’t know why there are steelhead in that slot, but none of them will bite.

If you knew you weren’t going to get a buck or catch a king or steelhead, would you still go? Probably not, because you lose that inner enthusiasm for the experience. At least I would. To make something happen when the odds are long makes me feel dangerously close to rising above the ranks of mediocre. If I knew the exact outcome, I doubt I’d hold the fish, or pat the side of a buck, the same way.

Of course, the Gierach quote wasn’t just for those who fish which is why it appealed to that senior. You don’t know what comes next. You don’t know if that next decision will be best for you and you never know what would have happened had you done something else. Since there is no way you could know the outcome, there is no point in worrying about it. Since there is no point in worrying about it, you might as well enjoy it.

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