"One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that."
~ Joseph Campbell
As humans we have watched the patterns of the seasons and marked them systematically on our calendars. However, the reality of them is something more gradual. Spring can come early or late. It is seldom something that physically arrives like a train. Instead it morphs from one condition to another in subtle ways. While we can see the changes happening they seem to happen in small moments of presence and realization. Every location on the planet gets to experience the season in time with the collaboration of Earth tilt, geography, weather patterns and more.
Fishing streams flow with the seasons too. Streams slow down in the winter, gather ice and go to sleep. Then comes the spring and everything that comes with it. The streams slowly begin to melt out, build up current and start to sneak against the banks. The temperatures of the melt off keep the water just cool enough that the fish stay deep and stay sluggish for a while longer, conserving their energy for just a little longer and letting the food come to them instead of wasting energy on pursuit. Of course, the warmer seasons bring ideal feeding and thriving conditions that we connect to as our happiest days on the water.
The cycling spectrum of the seasons, when you pay attention and look at them closely, can act often as a compass for us in our lives. How many of us hunker in for the winter and tie flies, dream of the spring and summer months? Winter is a season of biding my time, resting, reflecting and sitting in preparation and planning for the oncoming year. It is not surprising that I get prematurely enthusiastic every year by the melting of the snow and watching the renewal date for fishing licenses approach. Colorado has a way of kicking me with beautiful clear spring like days that get dashed by slush storms and stubborn, stasis minded fish.
As I walked out into my yard today I noticed that once again I was watching the slushy spring snow storms blanketing everything in white, weighing down tree limbs and would melt away by noon. This process of the season has had the effect of watering areas of grass and garden sparking patches of chlorophyll greened grass, sprouts of plant matter and foolish blooms on trees.
The signs of the season are there for us if we slow down to their speed and recognize ourselves in them. Nature and the seasons have a way of reminding us that we must be present with what is in front of us and not lost in the illusion of what we imagine we want. We fool ourselves and are like the blooms of the aforementioned trees. We can't get ahead of the seasons without being hit by them. When we do, nature will surely remind us.
We all get that spring fever I think and we all jump the gun in life in other things too. Rather than waiting for the season to come. We push our lives and projects forward and sometimes in foolish directions to get there. The season has its own plans and way. Just a few weeks after renewing our licenses here in Colorado, we get to watch the streams wash out almost overnight into raging muddy slop that washes through and away the stream bottom and channels that we thought we were committing to memory for a sure thing hole in the spring.
By later spring we are better though and maybe find ourselves on track and our biggest challenge is trying to decide where to fish or how to sidestep a patch of poison ivy. Our vehicles are loaded and ready. We are prepared for any free moment that presents itself to bolt and be lost in the settled new runs. We start to see fish rising again and we reaffirm our needs to keep to the techniques we seem to have forgotten slightly as we remove our flies and lines from surrounding trees or toss a sloppy cast that scares fish to the depths.
When we overlap and compare the seasons to our lives we see ourselves clearly and form a better relationship to nature and how our lives fit into that bigger picture. There is a synchronicity that we need to find and match to the reality before us. And it is not so difficult to do. We need only stop what we are doing and become present to the reality of experience before us. We can listen to what our intuition is telling us. We become better at this through practice in listening to ourselves and respecting that inner wisdom that rises.
I believe strongly in looking to metaphor as way to understand the world we are in and where I am in relation to it. We must respect the seasons of the year and recognize the seasons of our inner lives. Our minds function very easily with metaphors and can use the abstract of them to process relative patterns to help us understand our place, role and what we need to do and when.
Recently I found myself out of sync with the seasons of my own life and making quick decisions that would have pulled me in way over my head. While my intentions were good they were not in time with the season of where I was personally and as a result I ignored the conditions and took steps in directions I didn't really want to go. We all do this at some point in our lives and it is important to remember that it is okay to step backwards and wait or to take a different path.
It is fortunate that we are not alone. We have friends and can build a community that works together to help each other. It is important to keep coming back to our center again and again. We can step back quickly as needed with frustration and without shame.
I suppose if there is one thing we can do other than to watch and sync ourselves with the seasons is to listen also to the people around us. Make real time to get together face to face if you can and listen to their thoughts, ideas and perspective. When we rely too much on our own minds, ideas and agendas we can head in the wrong direction People in our community are an integral part of our world. Like the trees, grass and other plant life they can help us recognize the season.
Fishing teaches us patience, attention and perseverance. I will be renewing my license soon and preparing for the spring fishing all in good time but also “on time”. I know that I am going to continue to practice tuning into and listening to the wisdom the seasons are communicating to me. I am going to let the seasons be my guide and make my changes and steps slowly. Life isn't a race but a series of transitions.
The Want or Need Test
I find great satisfaction in not owning more than I need and even more satisfaction from making some of the things I need. The question I ask is always “Do I WANT it or do I NEED it?”
“Need items” always get preferential priority. They are easily identified as necessities to accomplish a job or to fulfill a need. (that is why they are called "needs" right?)
“Want items” get tucked away in my head until they disappear or maybe, on rare occasion, wander into the “Need list" again by accident or perseverance. Yes, we can want things but I always come back to the question of "Why?"
The "why" is going to tell you a lot about your relationship to the things you own.
"Final filter" are the questions “Can I get it affordably?” followed by “Could I make one?” and finally “Do I really want to make one?”
Once it has cleared all of these, I get started with the brainstorming process which really is the beginning of the fun for me. From here I will either buy the item if available affordably or I will look at how I can make my own suitable version of the thing. Some things are better just to buy and other things are really fun to make.
To Buy or To D.I.Y.?
There is something very nice about making something unique and not always feeling that you must spend a lot of money. I find that I value things that I have made myself differently than those things that I have purchased. The items that I have made are a part of me. They came into being from my brain and hands using the materials that I gathered or discovered.
The D.I.Y. approach many not be your thing and I do understand how easy it is often to just buy the thing you want. I believe that when we do make those purchases we should do so with thoughtfulness. Evaluate the practicality of an item that is already made and compare it to the quality you think you can do on your own design. "Can you make one as good or better?" Maybe you are like me though and just want to see if you can just do it?
My latest D.I.Y. Projects...Fly Tying Stations
The last few months I have been playing around with different ideas for fly tying stations. Along the way I made a new one for myself plus one for a friend. These D.I.Y. fly tying stations were both very affordable, practical and most of all functional. The materials kind of presented themselves to me. Taking my time along the way I was able to really think about unique features and what I wanted the esthetic of my finished products to look like.
There was no fancy or complicated joinery needed beyond attaching the clamp piece to the end of the base. Just some long wood screws worked wonderfully. It is important to pre-drill your screw holes to prevent splitting.
I took a few more steps and added some tool holes. Using my drill press and a Forster bit I created round sections where some small plastic containers I own could be inserted snugly. Two of these hold my hooks and one of them is for putting my finished flies into. I tacked on some simple cork footings on the underside to keep the base safe on all surfaces. I have a small Japanese tea box that I use to hold my spools, tools and small packet of feathers. The whole thing broken down takes up an amazingly small amount of space and is easy to travel with.
The Chips and Dip Fly Tying Station
My most recent fly tying station out of my workshop I found at a thrift store. I frequently browse the “wood” item section a thrift stores looking for cutting boards, bowls and discarded Eastern red cedar plaques with quaint passages decoupaged on them, etc. This chips and dip dish stood out to me. It was sturdy, and I could immediately see a vise attached to it; a place for thread spools and tools.
With a little planning and measuring I was able to lay out the different sized holes that I would drill for the tools and the spool posts. As I mentioned this one is for a friend who said she wanted a set up that would hold her vise, tools and threads. I think it turned out wonderfully and I will be keeping my eyes open for this and other similar wooden serving bowls.
In closing, I want to say thanks to all my readers and all of the great feedback you give me. I am very interested in seeing your ideas and D.I.Y. projects too. I can feel the spring coming and see new snow in the mountain weather forecast which is good news for our Colorado streams...(Knock on wood!) Should you think now that you might be interested in diving into D.I.Y. I have added some additional thoughts below.
Exploring D.I.Y. for Yourself
D.I.Y. is a process of learning.
In just a little amount of time and thinking you will figure out the nuances of making a potential “conversion pieces.” Your D.I.Y. skill set improves over time and you will learn much as you go. Building this skill-set is intellectually stimulating and at the same time self-esteem building. It is also fun to experiment and try things out. Some will work and some won’t. Keep track of both results.
See the items in our world differently.
When I go into a hardware thrift store I am constantly looking at things differently. I think about what an item or piece of hardware could be used for that it wasn’t probably intended for. Think about what the item is in its most basic definition.
Mock-ups and drawings.
A mock-ups and drawings allow you to see problems with your design. Sketches of your item will help you imagine how everything fits together and how parts are proportional to each other. When making a mock-up use less expensive materials and look for best answers to the mechanics and design as needed.
Start with a simple project and simple tools.
Don't frustrate yourself with a project outside of your comfort zone. The idea is to enjoy the project, learn something along the way and end up with something that you can be proud of having made yourself. Many D.I.Y. projects really only need the simplest of tools. Don't spend a ton of money on tools you will only use once. Look at what you do have and borrow those things that you may not have. Over time you will have a reliable set of tools. No need to buy a drill press if you can do the same work with a hand drill.
Projects fail. Get back to the drawing board
Starting projects all over again and doing them again differently is all part of the process of learning and also part of the adventure. Fixing problems and solving challenges along the way is something even the most experienced "tinkerers" do.
Who says a material has to be used conventionally?
Many times with my projects I find working materials in everyday objects. You must stop and see products differently. Look at the shape, features and finally at the materials they are made of.Plastic milk jugs have a lot of uses, used food cans, aluminum soda cans, paperclips, bamboo skews, mouse traps and more can all be used to solve problems. You don’t have to be a hoarder of these things but look around at what you are throwing away and decide instead if you could have some fun up-cycling it into something.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a cuddly dog, and a very lucky cat. Dennis is an avid minimalist, wood craftsman, curious tinkerer and learner and most notably a deeply focused tenkara angler.