Messing About in Boats

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.”

Thus said Rat, in the process opening a whole new world of possibilities to the the workaholic Mole. The fact that there was no point to the day, no destination or purpose, was the point.

So it should be. While we might hit the river with various excuses to justify it – friends in town, unexpected day off, need to try out the new fly rod, find out what the fish are up to for my guide trip tomorrow – the reality is that we really, or should be, doing it for the intangibles it provides.

The other day, boat parked out of a cold rain under a bridge, we sat for a couple of minutes and watched. A dipper moved in and out of the rocks along the shore bank searching for food, then filled the air with song more melodious than seemed possible to emanate from such a small creature. To whom or what she was singing was left unknown, but the gift of the song still richly reverberates.

On a recent float trip, I rowed the boat to the side of the river, seeking respite in the lee of a cliff from the constant wind, pushing us unwillingly downstream. At such times you are thankful for small mercies, namely that it was not, at least, blowing upstream. Mayflies had been hatching all afternoon, but getting blown off the water, their upright wings serving as unwitting spinnakers. In the lee, there was some shelter, and we watched as they bobbed and pirouetted down the eddy lines, running the gamut of the fish eagerly rising to them where they could.

The fish themselves were holding a couple of feet below the surface, unconcerned at our presence some twenty feet away, rising unhurried and fluid to the mayflies as they drifted. Do the mayflies sense the danger, I wondered, or do they float on, unaware of the predators watching, and the randomness of their circumstance?

It’s probably not a good thing for a guide to respond with “Who cares?” when asked “How’s the fishing?” But reality is that the fishing is always good. It’s only ever the catching that varies, and as Rat so succinctly observed:

“Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular.”


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