It is raining outside and the temperature continues to drop. By this afternoon the rain will turn to snow. I am sitting in the shop, listening to Otis Redding on repeat. The rhythmic piano is a perfect compliment to the steady rain and the romance in his voice turns this grey day magical.
It is now the off-season. Few people come by the shop, those that do are regulars and stop by mostly to chat, a welcome break in the routine of solitude that this time of year delivers. Another welcome visitor in these quiet days are memories. I started this blog the day that I left Nashville and although I have been less prolific than I intended I am so thankful to have record of those early days, and now, in the slow days that stretch before me, I am ecstatic to have time to fill in the gaps, blessed with quiet hours in which to get down these blushed memories, memories of all the trips taken, all the new waters explored, the bloom of love for a new land and the remnants of letting go.
I start with the memory of my father's visit, only one week after I arrived.
When I told my parents that I was quitting my job and moving out to New Mexico to become a fly fishing guide I got a response that was appropriately part joy and part sadness. This was not the first, second or even third time that I have sat them down and told them that I was moving out west. In fact, it was the fourth. Even though this has become a routine conversation in our relationship through my adult years it was none-the-less filled with sadness and excitement. The tears quickly turned to laughter when I looked at my father and said, "You know, this is all your fault."
My relationship with fly fishing started when I was 13. My father found and instantly fell in love with the sport. As part overflow of his new found passion and part giving my mother a much needed break from the duties of 5 children he took me along with him. I remember those first trips to the river in a palpable clarity. Waking before the sun, dressing in the thin light of my bedside lamp, walking out to the Land Cruiser which was always running, warm and already packed. My father waiting with a thermos of black coffee, a stash of peanut butter crackers and enough excitement to power the world.
The first half of the drive was always silent. We would drink coffee, listen to the road peel beneath our tires and watch the sun rise ahead of us. Once the sun filled the cab and the coffee filled our veins my father would rifle through his cassettes and then to the soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac or Jackson Browne we would talk. It was on those early trips to the river, through the tumult of my teenage years, when some of my most meaningful conversations with my father took place. Fishing trips carried a confidentiality clause where anything could be discussed and it was on those trips, over the years, that I learned my first lessons in how to be vulnerable. I would talk about the many questions that come hand in hand with the terrifying ascent into adulthood. I talked about the many young men that I fell in love with and about the first young man that broke my heart. I talked about what I wanted to be when I grew up and all the places I wanted to travel. So, when my father arrived at my camper door one week after I moved to Taos, and said, "Let's go fishing" I burst into tears.
We loaded the car, this time I was in the driver's seat, and headed east to the Cimarron River. As we left town and drove through Taos canyon, I cried as I talked about my fear of the unknown, of my exhaustion, of the unexpected weight of my loneliness, and he listened. We drove over the mountains and I questioned the huge decision that I had made which had changed my life completely and affected the lives of those that I loved, and he listened. On this new road, every turn revealed a new landscape, and in the raw light of new beauty I let myself be vulnerable just like I did as a teenager, and he listened just as he did all those years ago and on all the fishing trips in all the years since.
The river gods were good to us that day, browns and rainbows a plenty, on dries nonetheless. As we sat on the tailgate at the end of the day and sipped whiskey my father reached over and grabbed my hand. He gave it a good squeeze, I squeezed twice in response, then he answered with three. One, one-two, one-two-three. Our handshake for when there are no more words to be said and when we both know that life is a grand adventure and that, in the end, it is about the risks taken, it is about being brave and it is a life well-lived when you follow your heart. Everything was going to be ok.