Category: Eco-Spirituality

To the Brookies, Browns & Rainbows

To the Brookies, Browns & Rainbows

My friends Bill and Leleah

One hundred fly fishing outings in the past 18 months was celebrated with two friends that joined me in the creek where it all began. It was a very warm November day (77 degrees) and the water was a balmy 60 degrees…that’s an increase of 10 degrees in the last two weeks. I wet waded. In November. In the Smokies. In short sleeves. And was completely comfortable.

My first day on the water fly fishing

My first fly fishing experience was with guide Travis Williams of Trout Zone Anglers. Travis has since taken over operations of the Gatlinburg hatchery but I’ve gone fishing with David Knapp of TZA three times, since my beginning days as as fly angler, and every time I work with him, I gain skills in reading water, casting, wading, and deepening my love of this way of being.

A composite image I created from the creek and this amazing rock.

I don’t think of it as a sport, although many do. Fly fishing is a way of being in the world, for me at least. It teaches me how to relax and deepen with Nature. But something I noticed today…it gives me confidence in myself and my body.

Aside from casting, tying flies, and reading water, wading in these mountain streams is no joke. Yesterday I spent the day in a river on the Tennessee side of the national park and there one has to negotiate huge boulders and deep pools with a steep gradient. On the North Carolina side of the park, the gradient is less, the streams more gentle and one particular area has the longest flats I have seen around Western North Carolina. And the monstrous, bus-size boulders are rare in NC park streams. The skill of wading is valuable and necessary when fishing these places. Aside from water flow, deep pools, waterfalls, and downed trees, the rocks can be snot-slick. Seriously bust-your-bootie slick. Yoga is the best wading training for me.

Today I noticed vast improvement in my casting from 18 months ago; yet, my wading skills have improved just as much. I now move with confidence across streams and have learned to find safe routes through puzzles of pools, trees, and flow. A wading staff is a very valuable piece of equipment.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

Perhaps, kind reader, indulge my passion for a moment or two more as I share a few of my favorite memories over the past 18 months of wading wonder.

There was that time the mother otter brought two babies very close to me as I stood in the middle of a still pool. Or the differently marked trout I caught that was solid silver with red spots (probably a brown trout with different coloration). There was that time last autumn when I was sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek and lost myself in the golden reflection of leaves on the water’s surface and drifted into the ‘gap’. Just a few weeks ago, I was fishing with David Knapp in Tennessee and the autumn colors lit up the water like fire….that was amazing! Or that time ice was floating on the water’s surface as I waded and saw two trout sunning in shallow water. And then there was the time I caught a brook trout, released it, and waded up the gorge to find a still-dripping bear paw print on a rock.

Photo by Simone

Fly fishing is a way of life for me because it combines so much of what I love: physical intensity (hiking and wading for miles), creativity (tying flies), athletic ability (casting and wading), sleuthing (reading water, finding trout), meditative stillness (taking in the beauty).

I practice catch and release and keep the fish in water as I remove the hook…which has no barb. I learn from trout and consider them some of my most important teachers on how to live, move, and be in the world. To the rainbows, browns and brookies….thank you my friends.

And….special thanks to the amazing guys at Little River Outfitters. They have welcomed me into their fly fishing family and continue to be a source of great information, gear, and fishing friendship. And to David Knapp of Trout Zone Anglers for helping me deepen my skills and love of this amazing way of life.

Wading in a Kaleidoscope

Wading in a Kaleidoscope

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

Colors exploded on the water’s surface. The sky was filled with shimmering yellows, dotted with oranges and reds in vibrant contrast. Often, I found myself stopping mid-stream and letting the fly rod rest while I captured photos of the kaleidoscope of color.

David Knapp, of Troutzone Anglers. Photo by Simone

David Knapp, of Troutzone Anglers, was guiding me on a fly fishing trip, but was very patient in my obsession with color and reflection….and beauty. He understands, as a photographer and nature-lover. 

Photo by Simone

Brilliant sunshine illuminated the trees and they glowed in their autumn glory. Oh, yeah, and beautiful rainbow trout danced with me. And I was introduced to a new section of water. And I got to climb over boulders and play among shimmering pools that were alive with trout and colors—all the things that help me feel alive and happy and in balance.

Photo by Simone

I started my fly fishing education with a guide that works with David. Travis started with the basics and helped me begin a practice that has quite literally changed my life. Since then, I have fished with David when I wanted to expand my skills and learn new water. I guess there are many guides that can do that, but with David I find another person that is in awe of nature as much as I am. He gives me space to enjoy the beauty yet he keeps me focused and challenges me to be a better fisher by teaching new techniques and ways to read water.

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

After our last outing in July, I started a dialogue with him about wanting to work with women as a guide and help empower them through fly fishing. On our trip last Friday, while wading or hiking between fishing spots, we discussed guiding. When I imagine a future of guiding women on fly fishing excursions into the wilds of the national park, I know the mentoring I am receiving will be a light for the way forward.

Photo by Simone

Lately, the idea of connecting with others has been coming to me through conversations with Cherokee elders, books I’m reading, and even social media posts. Connection. Real conversations. Imagine opening ourselves to connecting…listening to others…being present. Being genuine. Last Friday I had the opportunity to be outdoors, in water, around rocks, under crazy-colored trees and connect with all of that Mystery and Magic and connect with a professional guide that is willing to engage in a genuine way through his work. For all of that, I am deeply grateful.

And the stars of the day…rainbow trout. It’s all catch-and-release. Photo by David Knapp

When you find someone that understands your vision and supports it and is excited about it, it’s a true gift. So I’m grateful for David. And I’m excited to work with women wanting to deepen their relationship with Nature, with themselves, through fly fishing. When you find kindred spirits, you know you are on the Path. Keep searching. Keep listening. We’ll all find each other.

David Knapp pausing to allow me a moment to ooh and ahh about the colors…. photo by Simone.
Tohi

Tohi

I’ve been searching for a way to describe what I feel when wading small, pristine, remote creeks while fly fishing. As a writer, it’s been especially frustrating not to be able to find words that adequately express my experiences. 

Last weekend, I came to understand that the English language would, if I were to attempt explanation, put boundaries or limits around my experience and the Mystery would be lost. I surrendered the idea of labeling my profound experiences of renewal and peace. I accepted that they would simply remain unexpressed through language and in a feeling state within me.

Just after giving up and accepting that there were not adequate words to fully convey what I was feeling, I was reminded of the Cherokee word Tohi. A beautiful smile erupted from within as I sat and listened to Dr. Tom Belt, a Cherokee elder, describe the meaning of the word.

Tohi is the Cherokee word for wellness, the ideal state of being. It’s a word full of meaning…peace, harmony, balance. Lisa Lefler, in her book Under the Rattlesnake: Cherokee Health and Resiliency, wrote: “Tohi is a fully confident sense of a smooth life, peaceful existence, unhurried pace, easy flow of time. The natural state of the world is to be neutral, balanced, with a similarly gently flowing pattern…All aspects—physical, mental emotional, and spiritual—figure into the Cherokee concept of good health.”

So, there is a word—one word—that fully describes my experience in the sacred creeks of this place. It’s in a language that is based on verbs instead of nouns to communicate. It doesn’t label life but rather describes the connections and expresses an active way of being in the world. 

Tohi—one word tells the story about what is taking place within me as I wade, fly fish, and open myself to the beauty around me. It doesn’t take away the Mystery to use this word, rather it deepens the Mystery and draws me ever-closer to It.

Remember

Remember

Words take me to a linear part of my brain and I want to stay in the fullness of the experience— watery curves of water flowing over stone; crashing sound of white water finding itself after falling.

Agitation, due to separation from wading mountain streams in lush forests, is resolved. Other things kept me from these sacred experiences, these holy times with Nature. But it couldn’t be helped.

Today, after nearly a month apart from my Beloveds, I waded again. My soul drank deeply from living waters flowing through an ancient river, an ancient creek. My entire body is re-set as is my energy and mind and emotions. 

I’m back with myself after 62 degree water caressed my legs and feet for three hours. It feels good to be home in my body once again. And to remember….

Seeking a Renewed Vision

Seeking a Renewed Vision

Standing in front of my altar, candle burning, invitation to the Ancestors whispered, I centered myself and asked for assistance. “Renew my Vision, help me connect with that which calls me to service. Guide me, please.”

For many years I had such a clear and powerful vision to document and share Beauty. I traveled to underwater realms, to amazing places like the west coast of Ireland, the Lake District of England, Bonaire…always seeking the Sacred to connect with and then share with others. 

Connemara Ireland

I knew, when I moved back to the mountains of North Carolina, that my life was shifting. A few months later, the pandemic exploded and the sensed shift became a whopping reality.

There was no social circle here as I hadn’t had time to connect with others but it didn’t matter anyway because we had to isolate. It was quite strange and yet perfect for me. I simply went deeper with Nature, thus deeper with myself. I had no option but to get really familiar with myself; thus, my connection with Nature became more real and delicious than I’d ever experienced.

And, as I wasn’t employed at the time, I studied and learned to fly a drone and took the FAA Part 107 exam to fly the drone commercially…but mostly I was thrilled just to FLY! And do something to enrich my mind and find other ways to experience and see Nature.

Flying the drone became a wonderful way to experience Nature in a new and expansive way.

So last week, when I ask for renewed Vision, I was expecting something to come rushing into my life that would give me some grand way forward. Instead, I got a dump truck load of firewood delivered and nearly every piece had to be split at least once, if not three or four times in order to fit in my little wood stove.

I got this pile of wood, plus had to split over half the wood from last season and restack it.

After a couple afternoons spent splitting wood, I got up the next morning and stood at my altar, lit the candle and said, What about that Vision, y’all? As clearly as a beloved elder standing next to me I heard, Chop wood. Carry water. I laughed out loud. The prayer was answered in a most unexpected way.

‘Before enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water.’ This Zen koan emphasizes the idea that although it appears nothing has really changed from the outer appearance, everything has changed on the inner experience.

Still mind, active body.

While chopping the mountain of wood, my body was busy. Yet as I used the maul, I felt my mind come into focus and stillness. Thankfully so, as it kept me safe while using a heavy, sharp object for multiple hours and days.

Part of the new wood, all stacked and ready for cold weather.

As I tended plants during twilight today, I smelled the wondrous smell of freshly split wood and admired the large abundance of stacked wood. I realized that this is actually living. It may not be on the awe-inspiring scale of traveling and diving and doing underwater photography and being in the water with humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles, but this is actually where life is mastered—the day-to-day tasks that ground us into our life.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Kewick, England

I’ve always been active and enjoyed physically and mentally challenging tasks….diving, cave diving, fly fishing in remote areas near where I live, far up wild creeks. Or hiking in Ireland or Canyon de Chelly, up remote trails in winter. Or visiting standing stone circles in northern England to connect with ancient energies. Such glorious and amazing adventures.

Cave diving in Mexico

But what of the mundane tasks of buying groceries, pulling weeds, cleaning house, cooking…chopping wood. Embracing these duties as ways to grow instead of burdens to endure can change our lives.

I didn’t receive a peek into some exotic adventure awaiting me in far away lands and with insanely cool creatures; however, I did glimpse the exotic adventure of fully embodying my everyday life right here in these Smoky Mountains…and it’s really quite amazing. And I am grateful.