July 2014

Gone fishin’

by Steve Brock on July 25, 2014

Fishing the DeschutesIn Your God is Too Safe, author Mark Buchanan makes the analogy that prayer is a lot like fishing. You cast your line and then you wait…and wait. Sometimes, you get a response – a bite or even better, you land a fish – but most of the time you spend waiting.

Last week when in California, I met up with a cousin of mine I haven’t seen in decades. It was wonderful to hear family stories and to reconnect. One of the stories she told me was how when my dad was a little boy my grandmother – Granny – would go with the whole family down to one of the many canals around the farm where they lived. They’d line up, sitting along the canal’s side and drop their fishing lines in…and wait. Apparently Granny (whom I never knew for she died before I was born) delighted in the joy of simply being together as a family: “You know,” she would say, “sometimes the best part of fishing is when the fish don’t bite.”

Fishing thus means different things to different people. For me, it has for most of my life, been an unexamined joy. I don’t take it as seriously as many of my friends. I don’t think about it all that much except when I’m doing it. And if you asked me why I enjoy it, I would tell you the answer I’ve always told myself:

“I fish as an excuse to be out in a beautiful location.”

Which sounds like a fine answer. Except that  such a response could apply to hiking, golf, kayaking or a dozen other activities. I think there’s more to it than that.

I think the main reason I like fishing is that it’s a lot like travel.

“Huh?” you may be thinking. Travel is about movement. Fishing, as the above anecdotes illustrate, involves a good amount of waiting. Or, as the t-shirt I once gave a client says, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll sit in a boat and drink beer all day.” True. But there’s more to fishing than tossing out a line and hoping for the best.

Fishing is – or can be – an adventure. You head out with high hopes but uncertain outcomes. You have to know where you’re going even if you don’t know what you’ll find there. You have to pay attention and be alert even as you stay relaxed since fishing is usually more marathon than sprint.

Fishing embodies many elements of discovery as well: the hunt, the wondering what will happen next, the anticipation and the excitement when something does happen.

Now I realize that many of you may feel that catching fish is about as enticing as finding one in your bed. But stick with me over the next several entries because I think you’ll discover that fishing can teach all of us a few important lessons about travel and life.

Thus, if you ask me now why I like fishing, I might expand my previous answer and tell you that “Fishing is a good excuse to hang out in a beautiful place…with a purpose.” That purpose is, as we shall see, more than reeling in a fish. Though as anyone who loves fishing will tell you; that alone is enough.


If you haven’t already, you might want to check out other entries in this series on lessons on learning through fly fishing: Hardware vs. SoftwareKnowing and Doing, Eliminate Your Variables and Learning in Small Bites

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A fortunate trip

by Steve Brock on July 17, 2014

Deschutes at NightWhen our sons were small, they loved the book, Fortunately by Remy Charlip. I pay homage to that book using his format here to tell you of a trip that didn’t go exactly as planned…

Fortunately, I had another chance just six months after my last trip down there, to visit Redmond and Bend, Oregon.

Unfortunately, my wife and youngest son couldn’t get away from school to join me.

Fortunately, my oldest son met me and my parents (who were fortunately able to get a timeshare condo in Redmond) on his drive home from college.

Unfortunately, as I was packing up my parents’ van to drive down to Oregon, my enthusiastic Labrador Retriever knocked my mom over.

Fortunately, my mom was sore but able to continue on the trip.

Unfortunately, she had a hard time getting around the whole time we were in Oregon.

Fortunately, she didn’t mind. She was happy to have all of us together. While she rested, my son and I took advantage of the luscious mountain biking trails in Bend and we went fishing several times with my dad as well.

Unfortunately, when fishing with my dad, we never caught anything.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter. Three generations together on rivers and lakes was reward enough.

Unfortunately, even though she took it easy, my mom’s pain got worse.

Fortunately, she was able to schedule an appointment that week with her doctor back home.

Unfortunately, her appointment meant leaving earlier than planned, but we all agreed that was for the best.

Fortunately, the night before we were to leave, there was a gorgeous full moon out. So after a late dinner, I grabbed my camera and tripod and drove down to the river to get some nighttime photos of the moon (see above and yes, that is the moon, not the sun).

Unfortunately, when I returned around 10:30 p.m. there was an ambulance in front of our condo. My mom had fallen when opening a window. She broke her arm and had to be taken to the emergency room.

Fortunately, they were wonderful there at the hospital. They took x-rays and ran tests.

Unfortunately, her arm was broken in three places.

Fortunately, the x-rays also showed no broken bones in her hips or back from the encounter with my dog Ginger. In fact, the pain she’d had before that in her right leg was now gone. Ginger had healed her!

Unfortunately, my mom passed out twice in the ER. More tests revealed a critical heart issue.

Fortunately, they moved her to a larger hospital in Bend (the ER was in Redmond, 2o minutes north of Bend) and were able to get her into surgery for a pacemaker that evening.

Unfortunately, the pacemaker surgery was on the same side as her broken arm (near the shoulder) and the doctors all agreed the arm needed surgery as well.

Fortunately, they were able to do the arm surgery the next day.

Unfortunately, all of this took longer than we had planned for our trip. We had to check out of the condo, find a hotel and move our stuff not knowing when we’d be able to go home.

Fortunately, the arm surgery went well and they released my mom the next day. We drove home exhausted from four days in the ER and hospital, but otherwise grateful to be home.

Unfortunately, this “vacation” became a bit of a nightmare. Trips don’t always go as planned and some are so far outside your realm of expectations as to be almost unreal.

Fortunately, had my mom not fallen (caused, apparently by passing out due to her heart), we’d never have known about her heart condition. The doctor told us that without the immediate surgery, she could be dead by now.

Funny how God uses our “unfortunatelys” for reasons that end up being fortunate indeed…

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Doing it right – Part 2

by Steve Brock on July 9, 2014

Surfing and the HandAs I noted last time, I tend to be a “jump in and learn on my own” kind of person. But since Shaun Wolden, co-founder of BigFoot Surf School down in Westport, WA had been so helpful, encouraging and supportive when my son Connor took lessons from him back in March, I overcame my historic leaning toward learning on my own and let Shaun guide me. I’m so glad I did.

Shaun got me all set up with wetsuit, hood and booties (these are definitely not Hawaii-temperature waters), marched me down to the beach…and then back up to the top of the overlooking bluff. You always start, he said, by spending time understanding the water. Seeing where the waves are breaking. Identifying likely rip tides. Examining who else is out there and what they are doing.

After that, we spent time on the beach learning surf safety. It wasn’t quite like watching “Red Asphalt” in driver’s ed class. But I will say that I have a much healthier respect for how the fins of a surfboard and the brute ramming force of the board itself can deconstruct or at least maim your body parts if you’re not paying attention.

I then learned how to carry the board. How to appreciate the craftsmanship of the board. How to enter the water with the board. Dive under oncoming waves with the board as you make your way out. How to get on the board. Position yourself on the board. Even…eventually…stand on the board.

Oh, yeah, and surf.

Could I have learned to do what I did on my own? Sure. But in a lot more time and likely not as well. Plus, I would have missed out on the insights that took it from a day of fun to a truly meaningful experience.

Some of Shaun’s advice:

  • When you emerge from ducking under a wave, your immediate reaction will be to wipe your eyes. Don’t. Your head is built to deflect water. Let it do its work. If you stop to wipe your eyes right then, you’ll miss the next wave or next surfer flying right at you. Look first. Then wipe. Delayed gratification can save your life.
  • Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Make each movement count. Take it slow in getting everything aligned and do so smoothly. When you do it smoothly, like standing on the board, fast follows. All will be well.
  • Look all around you. As a beginner, your natural tendency will be to focus on the board and what’s right in front of you. Don’t. Maintain a 360 degree awareness of everything: the beach before you, the surfers to your left and right, the incoming waves behind you. Don’t let your natural focus take away from a broader awareness. Great advice for surfing…and for travel.
  • Follow the hand. OK, this one starts getting a bit surf-Zen-like. As you stand on the board, hold your left hand at eye level, palm toward the beach in the direction you want to go. Then follow the hand. (Note my left hand in the photo above at the end of the wave).

Sounds a bit out there, right? But eventually I tried it. All the wobbly balance issues I’d had faded away. Fast and smooth suddenly were mine.

I would never have figured out the hand trick on my own. So back on the beach later, I asked what the psychological or physiological rationale was for it.

“It just works,” he said in a good-natured avoidance of my question. But he was right. Not everything requires a logical rationale. And not everything can be learned on your own. More often than we may realize, we need others to show us the way in order to get the most out of a new experience.

Still, later on, I pressed again for the reason the hand trick works and got this similar answer.

“I can’t explain it to you in any way that your analytical mind would understand. It’s like magic. Sometimes you just have to believe.”

And now I do.

You can read Part 1 here if you haven’t already.

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Doing it right – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 3, 2014

Learning from skilled professional teachers can save you a lot of time and effort. And you might just learn more than you expected…

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