When the clock ticked over to the year 2000 the world did not end as many had predicted. Computers made the shift with ease, reminding humankind that we maintained mastery over our domain. Still, disappointed doomsayers would have plenty to cheer about by the end of 2K’s first year, when both George W. Bush AND Al Gore won the presidency.
In September of the following year, eleven days before my wedding, my fiance’s Manhattanite sister called to assure us that she was fine. Registering our confusion, she told us to turn on the television, where we saw the smoke pouring from one building, right as the other one was struck by the second plane.
We were living in Berkeley, and the wedding was in Canada near Niagra Falls. We had intended to fly there, of course, but everything was grounded. So we packed up the car, headed out a few days early. Pretty much everyone came and had fun in spite of a solemn undercurrent. Staunch Democrats and Republicans, of which there were plenty, seemed only to want to be where there was love.
On the way back to California, we passed through Yellowstone and fished the South Fork of the Snake with a stone cold moron of a guide. Like many a country music star in the aftermath of the attacks, this guy had become an overnight visionary on modern geopolitics and was determined to share his genius. Thanks to this ass, the happy dream of our nation’s shared destiny was dunked in the Snake. Basically, this mastery of our domain stuff, the feeling like our human situation was under control, was now a leaky boat in a shark-filled sea.
That November, we flew to Montana to fish with some friends. We spoiled ourselves with dark spawner browns on the Ruby, and my wife, in an unusual fit of fishing prowess, caught a two foot Madison rainbow on a sculpin. On the way back to my friend’s house after our day on the Missouri – as I maintained a white-knuckled vigilance for whitetails leaping out of the night into the car’s path – the sky began to lighten.
It took me a moment to remember that the moon was in a dark phase, at which point I suspected that the aurora borealis might be coming out for a show. By the time we got home, the eruption was in full force, red and purple from horizon to horizon. I don’t remember how long we all lay there, but I remember the detoxifying and reassuring effects. Our upheaving world would right itself just like it always had. Life was cyclical.
As a salve for the soul, that worked for about a year, by which time nature’s cycles seemed unremarkable in comparison to its accretions. In the late fall of 2002, Homeland Security created no trespass zones around the bases of large dams. Since my teenage years, the shadow of the Navajo Dam had been one of my favorite places to midge fish. No one was ever there, for some reason, and there were always rising fish. Now and forever, it doesn’t exist as a fishing spot for me. It’s as though it never did.
Along with such realities, the accumulation of incremental slights had seemingly created a numbing effect on our fly fishing consciousness. Quite possibly, the pollution and silt, mines, logging and overgrazing, and other threats had fatigued us to the point of paralysis. Combined with our post 9/11, “if xyz, then the terrorists win,” rationale, this exhaustion had formed us into a herd of cuddly lambs.
Fear had replaced common sense at the national steering wheel, as the stinking smoke of betrayal began to rise from the hood. I remember around then having difficulty explaining why cutthroat trout should be protected and restored. After the attacks, demanding more than bare minimums was frowned upon. A trout was a trout, the thinking went, a real patriot shouldn’t ask for too much.
Then, in 2006, we had a son, a surprise reminder that the cumulative was also a blessing that made the outdoor life worth defending. So the enemies of fishing were legion, but when was that not the case? Once again, laying down was not an option for me, for the future my boy would occupy was at stake. Since the dawn of the new century, the credo of America seemed to have become that whatever was not death was life. It was a good time to remember, however, an alternative worldview, the truth that had brought us this far….