Wisdom of the River

Wisdom of the River

The River knows exactly how to be itself. It doesn’t need to think about its purpose or life mission. It simply surrenders, each moment, to the path before it.

It doesn’t fret over which way to go, which turn to take. It follows the flow of its own strength, whether a small trickle or a raging force, and is satisfied with the result of trusting itself.

The River nourishes many, provides homes for many, creates beauty for many who witness it; but, it never boasts about all the good it does. It flows in humility, in the joy of its own unfolding.

Water as Artist

Water as Artist

After a few days of house arrest due to a polar express of cold weather, the temperature finally inched up to near freezing. My well pump pipe thawed and I turned the hot water heater breaker back on so that when I returned from walking, I’d finally have a hot shower. I needed to be outside. I needed to move in the world.

When I reached the creek, I stood and took in the sight—beautiful ice sculptures on rocks, on the water’s surface and hanging on branches, rocks and anything wet. A smile erupted, lit up from awe, as I slowly walked to the edge whispering words of gratitude for the beauty.

There were swirls, round marbles, intricate patterns on smooth surfaces, layers reaching into the air…all frozen in artistic display. How? How was it possible to have such amazing patterns and formations? My mind loves to create; but, there’s no way I could ever dream up the variety of ice art the creek produced just from moving in the world. Just from being itself.

Each step led to another unique form of ice…jagged-edged fingers sticking out from the creek bank, flowing water frozen mid-flow, and even the open spaces of flowing water created new lines and circles and geometries for which there is no name.

What would our lives be like if we used our innate beingness and showed up in the world fully present? What could we create if we surrendered to our gifts that so badly want to be expressed? Could we dare be like the creek….creating beauty as it moves through the world just by being itself?  

I’ve often wondered why I am so drawn to fly fishing here in the Smokies. Of course, I am a Nature-lover, tree-hugger, half-faerie and half-water sprite, so that explains part of the reason. But wandering beside the creek, moving up in elevation, I realized the deep appreciation I have for water as artist in the creeks and rivers here, on seashores, or in bays. When I wade fly fishing, I am literally immersed in the art of Nature, and specifically, the artist that is water.

Water takes raw materials of light, sand, rock, and itself and creates something new each moment. I hope that I might take the emotions I experience because of Nature’s artistry, the passionate urge to capture those moments in words and images, and birth beauty in the world. If I do that, I think I will be living my purpose. 

As John O’Donohue wrote, “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

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.


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.