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 different kind of grateful

by Steve Brock on May 24, 2012

The setting

My wife’s parents are in town, the first visit in many years. As I write this, today is Sunday. Our plan is to take them to church, come home, have lunch, show off a bit of Seattle, have some dinner, return home.

I tell myself I have no travel plans for this day. But then I wonder: At what point did I discount such a journey and decide that so short a trek no longer counts as travel?

Travel comes in journeys of all lengths and types…

The reflection

Before church I take a different kind of trip. I wander through the bible. I have no itinerary, no planned destination. Yet somehow, I arrive at Psalm 104. I peruse the lines until verse 28 seems to enlarge and beckon. I am drawn in.

In the previous verses, the writer describes the great works of God and His provision for all creatures of this earth. Then verse 28 reads, “When you (God) give it (food) to them, they (the animals) gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.”

Those last six words capture me: How often am I satisfied with all the good things God has bestowed?

The idea

I can’t let such a thought go: when God alerts us in these subtle ways, we do best to respond. So today, I will attempt to notice those good things. To name them. Call attention to them. Invite others to join me. I will make our short trip into Seattle an exercise in gratitude, a hunt for good things.

The trip

It rains the entire day. Not your typical Seattle spittle but rain. Real, hard rain. The result is that we drive, beholding the city through car windows. I feel like the driver of a Greyline Tour only without the bus or the tourist stops.

  • We pass through neighborhoods I’ve never been to before witnessing houses with impeccable yards and enough curb appeal to make a realtor swoon.
  • We behold rhododendron plants the size of garbage trucks, blooms almost neon in their proliferation.
  • We circumnavigate a cheese festival at Pike Place Market each of us doing very bad Wallace renderings of “It’s the cheese, Gromit, the cheeeeeese.”
  • We pass the Seattle Center and glance at the new Dale Chihuly temple of glass in honor of…Dale Chihuly.
  • We wave at the passengers on a departing cruise ship as it leaves dock for Alaska.
  • We marvel at something as simple as the grid patterns of the raised drawbridge as we wait for it to descend and let us pass into Ballard.
  • We wonder about the history of the Freemont troll.
  • We laugh. A lot.

The results

I saw a city that is so overly familiar to me that I don’t really see it any more. I saw it anew for two reasons.

First, I went with the eyes of gratitude, hungry to be more aware of the good things I have been given.

Second, my in-laws saw and processed the city in ways totally different than I normally do. They saw with new eyes and as a result, so did I.

They helped me to see so many good things in the place I live and its environs. But as we drove home after a wonderful dinner, a wonderful day, I realized that though we barely left our vehicle this day, we didn’t need to.

What I was most thankful for – the very best things – were there in the car with me all along.

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Sadness and Serendipity – Part 1

by Steve Brock on October 18, 2011

We may meet strangers at a Chinese restaurant or on a trip that tell us the exact right things at the exact right times…

Often we depart on hard trips feeling woefully inadequate for the journey ahead. Yet God provides what we need, often in unexpected ways.

So it was for my trip back East to my nephew’s funeral.

Dealing with the death of my 26-year-old nephew in a car accident was only part of the challenge I expected in attending his funeral. You see, my nephew was the son of my brother and his ex-wife. Thus, amidst all the grief concerning my nephew’s death, we also expected to encounter the various dynamics that are part of torn and blended families, especially during such distressing conditions.

But two curious events occurred along the way to somewhat mitigate the stress.

First, a few weeks before the tragedy occurred, my brother had lunch at a small Chinese restaurant down in Florida where he lives. The place was crowded, so he shared a table with a stranger. They talked briefly and that was that.

Except that the day after my nephew died, my brother was back in the same small restaurant on a different day of the week at a different time of day. And yet the only space available to sit was at a table…with the exact same man as before.

They joked about stalking each other and their lunch appointments until both realized that neither had been back there since their last chance meeting weeks earlier. An odd “coincidence” that led to additional small talk.

The man then asked my brother if he had any kids. My brother, not wanting to get into any painful details said, “Yes, two,” referring to his two children from his current marriage. Oddly, the man asked, “Is that all?”

Now what kind of a question is that? Yet it got my brother to admit that he did have two other children from a previous marriage. Sadly, he confessed, one had just been killed in a car crash the day before.

“That’s tough,” the man replied.

My brother thought it a curious response. The man said it as a fact; not unkindly but also without the usual gush of sympathy one normally receives.

When they resumed speaking, they asked each other the usual questions about “What do you do?” My brother described his occupation. And then it was the man’s turn.

“I’m the director of the local hospice,” he said.

The brief conversation over Chinese food suddenly took a far more personal turn.

From that revelation flowed remarkable advice on what to expect at the funeral, what typically happens in blended family situations like this, how to address the often awkward conversations, how to deal with grief amidst it all.

Before this unlikely conversation, my brother had dreaded the upcoming trip. Now, though still grieving, he felt equipped to handle the other dynamics that awaited.

Similarly, on my flight out to the funeral, the airline changed my seat at the last moment and I found myself next to a man who turned out to be in the administration for a denomination and who had been a pastor for twenty-plus years. After the typical comments about airline travel, I revealed the nature of my journey. I too then received excellent counsel from someone who had officiated at hundreds of funerals of all kinds. He understood firsthand the ins and outs of death, grief and the painful yet healing nature of these ceremonies of closure, mourning and even celebration.

We go ill equipped on trips to handle what lies before us. Yet by the time we arrive, we find we have what we need for our journey…and beyond. And as we shall see next time, sometimes the journey we end up on is far different than the one we anticipated.

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Ugly Beautiful

by Steve Brock October 12, 2011

Some trips, like those involving the loss of a loved one, are journeys we would rather not take…until we do and we discover something beautiful.

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Magic, music and Montreal – Part 3

by Steve Brock September 19, 2011

Sometimes, as I found on a trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival, the most meaningful travel occurs when we engage the things we don’t like but with the people we do…

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The reluctant pilgrim – Part 2: Green Gables

by Steve Brock August 12, 2011

A “pilgrimage” to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, Canada reveals the joys and challenges of traveling to fictional places made real.

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The missing joke

by Steve Brock June 16, 2011

At a Kiros presentation, I chose not to tell a particular joke related to place, meaningful travel and creativity. So here it is. Only as is often the case in the way God works in our lives, it turns out it really isn’t about the joke but something far more meaningful…

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