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by Tom Hogye

April showers bring May flowers.  What does May flowers bring?   Pilgrims.

We can only hope for April showers, given California is once again entering another few years of low water (drought).

Isn’t pilgrim a funny word?  Who came up with that one?   We never use that word to define someone entering a country anymore.  Sound more diffusing, comforting, than the words immigrant or migrant.   Writing this caused me to look up the word.   I figured it was just because they were people discovering a new country.   Turns out, it is “a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons”.   As in the English Puritans fleeing religious persecution on the Mayflower and landed here in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.

A person who travels on long journeys – pilgrimage.

I like traveling on long journeys for fly-fishing reasons, which we could all argue are in fact religious.   Aren’t they?

Don’t we all meditate, flee reality, think deeply, clear our minds, take deep breaths, sigh a big relief, love friends, love the outdoors, and pray considerably in all manners of the exercise of this sport?

How many times I’ve asked God for just one fish, or for my son, my daughter, my wife, my friend, to catch a fish while we are out.  So they know how exciting it really is to cause one of these creatures to take this bundle of fur and feather on a tiny hook, bring it to hand, admire it’s beauty.  The enormous power we have over it, but how gently and carefully we act to watch it swim away.   That feeling when it has left our hands.  A gift it was to us, and a gift we gave back so that it could continue living.

How many times I’ve stopped, looked around, shook my head and sometimes cried because I couldn’t believe how beautiful it is where I am standing, with whom I’m standing, and how fortunate I was to be there.    How hard it was to get there and how many times I figured I might not get there.     But oh how worth it, it was, and how you couldn’t imagine making another decision, glad you did.   If it was easy, everyone would do it, and it just wouldn’t feel the same – would it?

A pilgrimage, perhaps several, is necessary for all of us.   Living – I mean really living – requires them.   Some of them are small – perhaps a morning, an afternoon, or an evening.   Some, you make sacrifices, working hard for several months, several years, perhaps much of your life.  You save, plan, organize, and maybe you pray it all works out.   You battle, ‘should I go, or should I not go.’ Sometimes over and over again.  Sometimes in the middle of the night when work, family, or something else stirs you to thinking you shouldn’t go.   You pray it’s the right decision to take the time and go.   Some might say it’s just fishing – and aren’t you lucky, or they tell you there are other, more important things you should be doing.   But there aren’t.   This is it.

You know when you’ve left, when your feet are finally in the water, all of those things you battled before you made the trip, are gone.   In a second.   They washed away as soon as you stepped in the water.    Your first cast makes you take a deep breath, exhale, and you feel an enormous weight lifted; gone.   Your focus turns completely to that bundle of fur and feather, ten, thirty, sixty feet away from you, drifting in the column of water.   Nothing else comes to mind but that tiny little bundle at the end of that line, in that body of water, on this entire planet.   Nothing.   You wait, you watch, you listen.   You pray.

When I was a kid, my pilgrimages where to my Gram’s Cottage on the weekends, leaving school, my paper-route, and any issues my parents might have, grabbing my Ugly Stick, tackle box and heading for the water.   Even those were tough to get to at times.   As we “mature”, pilgrimages seem to get larger, a bit more involved, riskier.  As they should.  But I suppose the more grand the adventure, the more religious, the experience.

I really didn’t mean to write this with pilgrims or pilgrimage in mind.   It was the fact it was raining, that we haven’t had any rain, and my hope for April showers, and maybe even some May and June showers, would help us get through another low water year.    But I learned a bit more about pilgrims and pilgrimages.

And while it was certainly not a need to flee religious persecution, or flee for any reason, I’m not often given an opportunity to take some time and plant my feet in a big river for a few days.    So, at this writing, I’m making a bit of a pilgrimage to the Rogue to fish with Kait and James from Humble Heron Fly-Fishing, casting my thirteen six, eight weight spey rod, swinging big flies for steelhead.   Grateful for Rich’s invite, even though he cannot make it, which I will miss a lot.  But, I certainly cannot wait to get in the truck with Mike, and get my feet in the water, feel everything wash away, take a deep breath, focus on that bundle of fur and feathers and pray for the opportunity to bring a Steelhead to hand, witness a beauty all its own, and know that feeling of letting it slip out of my hands, back to the water it belongs to.   Maybe a few times!

Each one of them changes you.   Recharges, renews you.   Make a pilgrimage or twelve.