The face they make when they find out is always the same. A bit of surprise, a touch of skepticism and a moment of indecision. Do I take her seriously or dismiss her as a clueless enthusiast?
That’s pretty much how it goes when people find out that this 28-year-old redheaded female with glasses is a fly-fisherman.
I mean, I get it. I’m pretty unassuming and hardly look like a rugged outdoorsy type. In addition to fly-fishing, I also love making jam and getting pedicures. But instead of feeling incensed about the hesitation I’ve been met with, I’m all the more motivated to gush over how special fishing is to me and what an important role it’s played in my life.
It’s a tough world to be a female in. From the moment we are born, we are bombarded with images of who we should be, what we should like, things we can and can’t do. I spent a long time trying to live up to a lot of things I thought were important about being a woman and it never ceased to frustrate me, though I wasn’t sure why.
I don’t know if most of us are lucky enough to meet the kind of person who pushes us to challenge the status quo and be exactly the kind of person we want to be, but I sure was.
And in quite an unexpected form.
The day I interviewed for my last restaurant job, there was a man at the counter who recognized immediately that I was fresh meat and introduced himself.
His name was Richard. He was a retired dean of art from a prestigious school back East, a talented contemporary artist, and most importantly, a fly-fisherman.
Both my grandfathers had fly-fished throughout their lives but hadn’t lived long enough to take me. I was intrigued. I bugged him for about a year and a half before he agreed to take me along. Apparently I passed the test because we’ve been fishing together ever since.
I realized a long time ago that the idea of a “best friend,” was a rather silly notion. I mean the idea that there’s someone out there in the world who is just like us and at the same time complements the things we lack, is pretty hard to believe.
Someone who will simultaneously have our back and challenge our perspective. Love us for who we are but also push us to grow.
Like the things we like, yet introduce us to new and exciting things we wouldn’t arrive at on our own. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one person.
Instead, I’ve spent the last decade or so trying to collect an assortment of people who, put together, challenge and push me in all the right ways.
And though I hardly expected a 70-year-old retired painter to be one of them, what an addition Richard has been.
In our time fishing together, I’ve learned much of what you would expect to learn as a beginning fisherman. Proper casting technique and Oregon entomology, how to read a river, how to tie and untangle all kinds of knots, the type of gear and equipment that’s worth spending your hard earned dollars on, and how to charm a fly shop owner who doesn’t have a lot of female customers.
What I didn’t expect to learn was how to analyze contemporary art, to hear what it was like to show work in a gallery in New York in the 1970s, to discuss religion and politics with someone who thinks completely different than I do, to be introduced to friends from all different walks of life and areas of the world, and to listen to more political talk radio than I ever knew was possible.
And I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned from Richard, and from fishing, is that we choose the people we become. We have the freedom, no matter our age or gender, to surround ourselves with the kind of people who make us better and to do the things that give us life. And let me tell you, I’d trade a lot of things for a day on the river with my favorite 70-year-old painter.