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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I don’t get it

by Steve Brock on February 22, 2014

Wooster, Ohio SunsetOne of the most common points that has come up lately in discussions on meaningful travel is that travel is experiential. But the “experience” alone rarely comes with inherent meaning. Meaning is usually something we discover or come to understand after the event when we reflect. No reflection, no meaning, or so it seems in most cases.

So here I am 24 hours after snapping the above photo in a small town in Ohio. I was on a break between work meetings, wandering around the quaint downtown of this quintessential Midwest town thinking about how wonderful the trip has been: a fun location, a great boutique hotel, surprisingly good meals, wonderful company and positive outcomes of our meetings. The only thing left now was a final dinner and then the trip home.

One out of two went well.

Dinner was great at the home of a colleague who lives in this small town and was the reason why we met there.

Getting home? Let’s just say I made it back.

The short of it is that my flight was cancelled in the middle of the night before departure. It took two hours just to schedule a new flight out of a different city. I couldn’t drop my rental car in the new city, so that meant paying over $200 for a taxi ride for a colleague and me to get to the new airport. All of this resulted in my getting a little less than one hour of sleep that night.

Throughout this exhausted hassle, I kept clinging to the line that, “It’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong.” I half wondered, half prayed, “So God, what adventure do you have in store for me?” God didn’t say.

I ended up leaving from an unexpected city, stopping over in another unexpected city and eventually getting home. No life-changing conversations on either flight. No dramatic moments. No adventures. Just home.

So here I am – home – and I have two realizations.

First, I don’t get it. I don’t understand why any of these travel hassles occurred…yet. And that’s the key: I have to accept that reflection takes time. I just got back. I haven’t had enough time (nor sleep) to adequately process this. You can’t rush some things or, as I recently read in a comment by Brother Lawrence, the 17th century monk known for his humble pursuit of the presence of God, you can’t “go faster than grace allows.”

Second, not everything has to make sense. I want a bow tied and a pleasant little life lesson or moral attached to my every experience. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes we just have to live in the tension of not knowing and trust God to make sense of things later. And so I do.


Fast forward one more day. I had a good night’s sleep and with it comes enough clarity. I still don’t get it all, for I suspect there is more to uncover. But this I do understand now:

I’m home. Nothing more than that. I made it home and am so thankful just for that often underappreciated blessing. Sometimes gratitude is its own destination.

I don’t have to understand what I’m not yet capable of understanding. I don’t have to get it all. In fact, yesterday, all I really needed to get was home.

And I did.

That’s more than enough.


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Conflict, story and trips that matter

by Steve Brock March 28, 2013

Too often, our travel stories lack interest because they lack conflict. Just like too many of our trips themselves. Maybe it’s time to change that…

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The most dangerous places on earth

by Steve Brock January 7, 2011

Traveling to war-torn areas or places of great suffering can be very dangerous but not necessarily for the reasons you think.

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