“Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”
An elderly man came into the fly shop recently. He asked if he could post an ad for a fishing buddy. He hasn’t fished in decades, and probably can’t now due to the ravages of eight decades of living. It made me sad for him…to be near the end of his life, with no one in his family or circle of friends willing or able to take him fishing. I dread the thought that someday his reality could become mine. Like old Norman in the final scene of A River Runs Through It, tying knots with trembling hands and working out fly line; fishing alone with ghosts. Perhaps not even fishing at all.
As a young boy, my fishing forays were undertaken in the company of my father. I had no money, no transportation, no fishing gear, and little prospect of getting any in the near term. I suppose I was a bit like the “occupy” protesters, only I had to bathe regularly. From my earliest remembrances, I never got enough fishing.
Eventually I began to accumulate some fishing gear, mostly by pilfering dad’s tackle box. Steady income and transportation still eluded me. I whiled away the hours off the water (which were many) reading outdoor magazines to fuel my piscatorial passions, and gawked at tackle at the local K-Mart.
In my teens, I started working and driving. Distractions abounded. Days and nights were filled with friends and football games. I still didn’t get enough fishing.
Marriage, military service, children, and night school soon followed. I had little time for sleep, and less for recreation. I would sneak in a fishing trip once of twice a year, and dreamt of when I would someday get in all the fishing I wanted.
My children grew, but my marriage shriveled. I bought a boat to take the kids fishing on the weekends they spent with me. On the weekends when my house was empty and silent, I fished alone.
Fishing alone! No one to cater to, or be responsible for. After decades of anticipation, weekends lay before me like new treasure that I could spend as I wished. Weekend after weekend I plied my local waters, drunk with heady solitude!
Solitude is an odd thing to those unaccustomed to it. Once I boated a nice five pound largemouth. I turned to the back of the boat to show it to my fishing partner, suddenly realizing that I had none. Quickly, I unhooked the fish, hoping my odd behavior had gone unobserved.
Fishing alone, the thing I anticipated for many years, was bland as a steady diet. Experiences in the outdoors become our totem, but they become trophies when shared.
Solitude has its place; it can provide space to decompress, think, heal, and relax. But it is most beneficial in healthy balance with community.