By Sam Larson
I stumbled again, dragging the tip of my fly rod across a rock, and fouled the air with a round of cursing. My wading boots, typically stable and gecko-like, slipped and slid no matter where I set my feet. I'd tangled my line in grass and bushes, hooked myself, half-fallen, and caught myself before I fell in the river.
I’d been rehearsing a work-related conversation when I tripped, my head anywhere but where it needed to be while negotiating a slithery tumble of rocks. Before that I was worrying if I had locked my car, checking my phone for messages, or looking upstream to see if my brother had a fish on. Anything, it would seem, aside from what I was actually trying to do. Monkey mind is a part of the human condition, a constant chattering dialogue that starts with stress and devolves steadily into obsessive thinking. I act out conversations that have already happened or never will, analyze potentialities, or pick apart previous mistakes. The worst cases leave me awake at night, unable to let go of a particular train of thought. The less serious cases simply make me trip on rocks because I’m lost in my head and not paying attention to where I’m going.
I forced myself to stop and sit for a second on a large piece of riprap. Below, the green-brown water foamed and plunged around submerged rocks stacked in a narrow channel. Dippers, reliable sentinels of insect hatches, flipped and swirled above the water in pursuit of breakfast. The sun, which we had left behind us in the east as we sped into the mountains, finally broke across the top of the canyon walls. The stones of Byers Canyon shone red gold around me, rising to a steep crest on either side, sharply outlined against the washed blue of the Colorado sky. Slow down, my brother’s been telling me all morning. I talked all the way here, rambling about work, relationships, family, politics, anything that could come tumbling out of my mouth. He sat in the passenger seat and sipped coffee, letting me pour my head out all over the inside of the car. I sit on the rock and breathe. Life, I think, can be perfect. If I let it. If I can accept the reality of a late-summer morning that dawns clear and bright, where trout rise in slow eddies beneath canyon walls that have stood over this river for millennia. Sometimes, I think, in the sprint out the door I just drag my problems up the mountain with me, stuffed into my duffel bag alongside my rain jacket.
Sometimes I’m running so fast towards my destination that I miss it entirely. And sometimes I’m too busy listening to the monkey chatter in the back of my heads to notice how far I’ve strayed from where I intended to go. The rivers and mountains can heal can be a place to figure things out, or they can simply be a place to air your grievances and return home with nothing to show for it aside from a couple hundred miles on my car’s odometer and a sunburn. Slow down. The river, slipping beneath shimmering cottonwoods, will sweep silt, mica, worry, and impatience down its bed of washed stone if I stand still long enough.