If I had to name a theme for the last week, that theme would be “Alone”. My wife, with our son, her sister and mother took a trip down to Santa Fe last week. It had to be that week and with this I was left alone. Well as alone as a guy with two dogs and a cat to take care of can be. It was a weird kind of alone though in that it was my 48th Birthday during that week.
This birthday was not a landmark one like 40 or 50 but I try to celebrate one way or another. I of course decided to go fishing and check out how bad the water really was. Colorado is in major blow out. The water levels are at record flows. Finding good water is like finding a “noodle in a haystack.” Yeah, you read that right...
I had to check out a creek I had fished before to see if it had any life in it worth casting to. Instead I found a pasture of winding creek with banks overflowing and running from one to another part of the same creek. The current was still there where the channels were but there was water across the banks connecting one part to another. Bummer.
This creek flows into a reservoir that has a dam and tail water. I decided to go check out the tail waters. I got there to find a fly fishermen and his pal who was holding a net. Just as I walked up they brought one in. I chatted with them at this point feigning admiration for the fish and waiting for him to release it. But, he grabbed up a strainer in the water by the bank to show me the others he had caught… sigh.
The further I went the more fish I saw and it was not long before I hit that point of losing count of fish I had caught. All beautiful, happy and unscathed browns of 6-10 inches. The sun would be setting soon and fearing having too much of a good thing, I headed back to camp.
I made some backpack dinner of instant split pea soup and opened a packet of this awesome bison jerky. I filtered and refilled my water supply from a nearby spring. Walked up a hill and put my food up in a tree like you are supposed to do in bear country. You won’t have issues with it until that one time you don’t. As the sun set I curled up in my bag and listened to the silence. I found myself in that deep place that I had probably been avoiding all day. You find yourself aware of being alone. Being alone in the wild is much different than being alone at home. Not a single dog to talk to.
It is just your own thoughts and the weird fears that creep up on you. Being in the wild alone is an exercise in abandon and vulnerability. There is nothing stopping the wilderness from finishing you off. Those patches on the nylon tent might keep the rain out but they won’t stand a second against a curious bear. Yeah, I have a healthy and unreasonable fear of bears. When you know that if something would happen to you that people you love would have to piece together the story and take solace that you went out doing what you love to do.
As I sat in the silence writing some notes for this article by flashlight, I thought about my family. I appreciated how much I love them and remembered the last tight hug I got from my son. I had missed him that last week and now I missed him so much that it hurt. I have had some dark times and some crappy things happen in my life but my wife and my son are the two people who make all those darker times worth it. I made it though and I came out on the other side with them in my life.
I still appreciate being alone because it can really take you where you need it most. It can create an appreciation for what really matters. While being alone is good for you in small doses, it eventually becomes unbearable. I had not been in this deep place of solitude in over a decade I am sure. It was a good reminder of what I already knew, but now I knew it in a way that hit me to my core.
I decided to just put in a half day more of fishing “if I woke up alive” which I did. I continued to catch fish after fish and was lost in that other kind of being alone. Where you are content by yourself doing something that feels like being alive. In addition to a bunch of good size browns I also landed a rare rainbow trout that day. I ended in that blissful place, packed up my stuff and hiked out to surprise my wife and son by coming home early enough time to go out for a father’s day dinner.
To be told there are a few kinds of alone that you can find yourself in. This last week I got to experience just a few of them. I highly recommend being alone sometimes but in the next breath I can warn against too much of it. Being alone can be joyful but it can also be the most painful thing to endure. Being alone is not a bad thing or a good thing. It can act as a compass and give you proper direction for your life.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.