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Russell Wangersky: Of peace, calm and other elusive things

Pippy Park, St. John’s. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network
Pippy Park, St. John’s. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network

I lost a beautiful, brand-new tiny white muddler minnow trout fly in a tree last weekend.

That was the only cloud in an impeccable summer sky.

I mention it in part because of the sheer magnificence of that little unused fly: its white hair wings, its body as-yet unchewed by even a single trout. It was a trout fly at that best and worst of times. Best, because it is so spectacularly artful, eventually, at creating the image of a white moth in water. Worst, because you know it’s not going to catch fish right away; it won’t float or swim quite right until it’s gotten wet and less perfect, so you’ll waste casts getting it to settle right.

I also mention it in part because of this unfathomable pair of paragraphs (a pair-a-graph, perhaps?) about how you find fulfilment if you’re an extra-rich techno entrepreneur.

“Tech elites who are looking for more than extra zeros in their bank statements are finding it in an unlikely place: so-called songversations, emotion-heavy gatherings that combine philosophical rap sessions with improvised music, run by a ukulele-strumming songstress who describes herself as a ‘heartist,’” the New York Times reports. “Branded as ‘Soul Salons,’ they import the cosmic-explorer sensibility of Burning Man’s dusty playa into the cozy living rooms of prominent entrepreneurs, where they sing freestyle on topics as diverse as environmental degradation and heartbreak. Think of it as a free-jazz equivalent of an Esalen retreat.”

As Bart Simpson would say, “Ay, caramba.”

I’d say anything that lets you separate yourself from the long march of the everyday is a good thing.

I am not one to deny you your own personal fulfilment, even if it involves freeform ukulele (an instrument and musical style that philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described in “Being and Nothingness” as “an aural crush of shrieking squirrels”). (No, he didn’t. Sorry, I got carried away there).

If you want to pay money to perform musical glossolalic environmentalism in your living room as a means of finding your centre, that’s all well and good.

In fact, I’d say anything that lets you separate yourself from the long march of the everyday is a good thing.

For me, it’s a walk down a grassed-over woods trail, shouldered with a declension of alders, close enough to falling water to always hear the nearby rush of it over the rocks. I like calculating how to fish under tightly knit trees and on the edge of steep ground. I like the feel of cold water against my hip waders, while feeling the heat of the sun on my back at the same time. I like being forced to move slowly, to think slowly, to give up electronics and focus instead on angles and the pure line.

And to wander away into the world of just how to roll the fly line over to reach an eddy? That practical calculation, that concentration on a physical goal, can drive everything else away.

Others have said this before: the convenience of our wired world is also a leash we rarely get to shed. How we actually shed it is an individual issue, but the one thing you have to know is that you must. We are not designed, physically or mentally, to be on call at all hours. Our sleep patterns, our endocrine systems and our brains simply aren’t built to handle that strain.

We have to find a space.

Find yours and go there. If the string you need is on a ukulele in the hands of a hired heartist, so be it.

Mine is on a rod and reel.

After the muddler’s abrupt departure?

I used a hair-wing Royal Coachman instead, and found proof that large trout still inhabit water just 20 minutes from my house, and at the same time, entire worlds away.


Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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