Wednesday, June 2, 2010
"I´d rather be fishing...!"
I´ve fallen in with a group of fisherman masquerading as pilgrims. We walked into the mountains along the Aspe River. We walked out of them along the Aragon River. Whenever the route drops down along the river, we run into the local fishermen. And the pilgrims I´ve been traveling with suddenly turn into fishermen. Whatever language barriers exist evaporate. The art of fishing is a common tongue.
One local fisherman we encountered along the Aspe must have been sent there by the French Bureau of Tourism. With his straw fishing basket, beret, and waders, he looked ready for a postcard. We obliged -- and when we asked his permission, he pulled a small brown trout out of his bag. It wriggled into the picture as well.
Traveling fishing rivers with fishing men has been an unexpected pleasure of this trip. I´m learning to read rivers.
They are as eloquent as a good novel.
Fishermen look for transitions, places where there´s change. Sometimes rapids bleed into quieter pools; sometimes a lazy stretch of water suddenly cascades. These pilgrims turned fishermen delight in imagining where they might cast and what they might pull out. Transitions bode good fishing.
Fishermen also look for waterfalls, and there have been plenty of them. Rapids and waterfalls aerate the river, filling it with oxygen. They are also pretty good at oxygenating pilgrims, and every time we pass a waterfall, we hang out for a while just breathing in all those positive ions. Oxygen and ions are signs of a healthy river.
Finally, fishermen look for "structure," underwater architecture where fish can simply hang out. A stretch of river with a lot of structure means fish have good hiding places, where they can sequester themselves and wait for a bite to eat. Structure signals a fine place for casting.
Transition, aeration, structure: if you´re a fisherman, it´s a trifecta. These aren´t bad metaphors for pilgrimage either. Quite literally, pilgrims walk from one place to another. Though not exactly fishing for something, they have a destination in mind, whether Santiago or Mecca or Jerusalem. Some pilgrims are actually "fishing" for insight, in hopes that physical discipline will spark spiritual insight. Transition is key to pilgrimage.
So is aeration. Walking in the mountain air and taking in all the positive ions of waterfalls and rivers has literally cleared my head. Gone the fraught atmosphere of semester´s end, the haze of moving, the press of decisions. I´m full of good air and great energy.
Then there´s the structure, particularly the underground structure. Our feet register the road, whether mud or the springy forest of fallen leaves, or mountain scree. Over the weeks I simply trust my feet to find the way, and when I try to help them, I falter. Fellow pilgrim and ace fisherman Jon Rosenberg caught me hesitating over some slippery rocks in a shallow stream: "Don´t overthink this one, Mart. Just follow your feet." He was right.
There´s a deeper underground structure to pilgrimage as well. The first days are full of new impressions, gear adjustments, packing and repacking to find the right arrangement of stuff. After that, you can go on forever, and the rhythm of walking molds you.
Transition, aeration, and deep structure: not bad metaphors for life either.