Why we stay chained to our obsessions
What a wonderful essay! And introducing the great Townes Van Zandt into it elevated it even more. Loved the video of his son, who's a dead ringer for the old man and is himself quite eloquent. Thanks so much, Matt. I've forgiven myself for mistaking you for that Matt fellow on 'Friends'.
We have a LOT in common. Well, fishing and bird watching anyway, I used to be more serious about the birds, but then I got a boat.
Anyway, I had an obsession with catching a trophy Walleye. I would fish until the fish went home, if I thought there was a chance. It almost wasn't fun fishing with me. Then, a couple of years ago, on a canoe trip up the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, I did it. I landed (and released) a mammoth 31" Walleye, I had affectionately named, "Big Shadow."
A couple difference between us. I was cured. I recently moved to Walleye fishing heaven in southeast Washington on the Columbia, but the need, the desperate quest has been fulfilled. Oh, I'm still chasing them, but if it isn't happening, I just put the boat on the trailer, go home and have beer. Also, I much prefer fishing with friends over fishing solo.
Fishing is the anchor of my life, going outdoors is how I breathe.
Also, ticks have a tough time getting to me on the boat.
Not to fear, Friend. Coming down NC HWY 33 last year before the Pandemic hit its peak, there were 2 bald eagles beside a local fish farm filling your fish quota for you. Maybe citing Genesis to each other...or not....maybe singing Townes Van Zant, more than likely.
As an IT person, whose career in IT has seen so many changes, I must say that it is so invigorating to be living in interesting times. Information Technology is another industrial revolution that brings many, many good things and, like everything else, there is a dark side. The good out ways the bad I think. My baby boomer parents and the one grandmother I still have living are scared by these changes. The other day, my 90-year old grandmother told me about how she used to do drills in school for hiding under their desk in case of a nuclear attack. I was just so confused as how is hiding under a desk going to protect you from a nuclear bomb? Seriously? She said, as a child, it gave her comfort knowing that there was something to do, just in case. She then told me that is what is wrong in America today. Too much information for her and it scares her. She then asked me if it scares me. I thought about it and said no, not really. I would rather know that I most likely wouldn't survive a nuclear bomb, even if I was hiding under my desk. I would rather know the truth and make decisions accordingly. I was there, at her house, trying to get her to go get the vaccine and this conversation was very illuminating as to her hesitation, even though she got COVID last December and almost died. I was trying to explain why she needs it and what the consequences of her not taking it could mean. She said if she dies then she dies and she doesn't want to hear it. This is what the difference between her generation and mine is. I have a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity to further that knowledge. She would rather live in her bubble, under her desk.
Hey Matt, you ever been out to Yellowstone National Park? I've made several trips out there and I hear that the Firehole and Madison Rivers are two of the best destinations for fly fishing. Not much of a fisherman myself, but I have thought of becoming more of one.
Yet more great writing, as usual. What’s refreshing about your annual fish total “burden” is that it’s about something that pleases and challenges only you. You aren’t beating yourself for failing to reach someone else’s target. You don’t care what others may think about your quest. How many of us don’t take the opportunity to set our own goals while enjoying the effort in reaching them, the hell with what anybody else thinks. Doing this out in nature and away from our devices increases the pleasure factor. Thanks!
As always you have provided respite from a world filled with usually bad "Breaking News". We have chatted in the past about your love of fishing and have shared with me/us in the past your stories from inside a fishing trip. I will continue to thank you for allowing me to escape the world for even a few by immersing myself in your incredible writing.
Think most of us have a boulder to push, squirrels to chase or a number to hit. For me it involves my work. I make things. Very precise things. And I always want them to be as absolutely perfect as they can be. And there is no such thing as absolute perfection, at least not where this is concerned.
But that's good in that it usually results in some pretty high quality work. But it's also bad in that it can let the perfect become the enemy of the good, as they say. Which ain't good when it comes to being efficient, which my job requires. And being on guard against this compulsion in order to strike the proper balance can sometimes be stressful.
What to do?
I expect Matt - and most all fishermen - are familiar with the old saw that a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work. Only I'm not sure what a bad day fishing consists of, short of accidentally drowning. Never had one, really. Not even the day when the weather sucked, the steelhead supposedly heading up stream to spawn apparently called off the party and headed back downstream to the lake from whence they came, and I slipped on some dicey river bottom footing and filled my waders with a couple of gallons of rather cold water. Twice.
So how was this not a bad day? Because near the end of my suffering I lifted my eyes along with my rod at the end of a downstream drift just in time to see an eagle hit the river surface of The Big Manistee about 70 yards away, then struggle slowly but surely back into the air with a pretty respectable steelie in it's talons. Made all the daylong suffering worth it, even if the darned bird got the only straggler left in the river instead of me.
Now, I guess a tick bite that lands you in the hospital with a misery more dire than soggy socks and cold toes might count as a bad day. Haven't had to deal with anything like that. But if 1K+1 is the magic number, Matt, I hope you hit it. And that you do so on a really good day.
Nice piece of writing about...life.
This resonates with me on so many levels. Thank you for your time on it and the effective skill with which you deliver your craft. As a middling-writer it touches a nerve, but that speaks to its artistry. The essay is a beautifully captured story about the ways fishing is about living. SO thank you.
This made me laugh…thank you….in a week of budget hell..I needed to be reminded..no one cares but my need to exact. I even by passed my usual outlet of the gym to tackle the “numbers”…this made me realize…only I care…but in the end…isn’t that what counts…we care enough to keep going back to get that mental trophy? I think that’s what missing today…the drive to reach that “next”…no one but you might care…but it’s a testament to your drive in the world…to not fail in a task you set as a goal…too many just say..someone else will cover it..but does that ease your mind to think someone else will cover your catch and release number??? No…you need to…
My husband is an ER physician. Fishing on our lake is what helped my family emotionally survive the early months of the pandemic. ........And we always kiss our fish goodbye before we throw them back.
Well Matt we could chat all day. I just want you to know I care and I’m not being judgmental.
I’m an old fart and when I read 1 Timothy 1:15 I apply Paul’s assessment to myself. But the hope is in God’s grace.
Guiding taught me (required me) to lose my interest in fish counting, which had its own healthy and instructive result. But I think I have spent most of my adult life entertaining fish counters, so what does that mean, other than that I am still in service to the obsession? You can tell the kids a thousand times that if they have a snowball fight with gloves on their fingers won't get numb, but in the end you realize you just want them to keep playing snowball.
Don’t forget to hit the golf course ponds.
I can relate. Since 2015 I've been listing all the books I read per year (pretentious and nerdy). The are usually yearly themes and the "goal" is to read more in the current year than the previous year. It means that I spend the last week of December finishing all the books that I didn't finish (and want to finish) during the year because they must be complete by Dec. 31 if I want to include them on the list. However, I didn't make the list this year. I kept meaning to write them down, and I never did it. At this point, I'm not going back to try and remember. I'm disappointed that I won't have the record this year, but your wife is right, I do feel free.