The Grand River, Grand Rapids, MI
There’s a fish ladder not far from my house. It’s an easy walk and I usually go there in the fall to watch coho and chinook salmon make their way up the Grand River to spawn. I know nothing about fishing. I’ve never fished in my life. I don’t consider fishing a sport. I don’t intend to take it up any time soon. But I like to watch the anglers, especially the ones who approach fishing with the same seriousness as the kindly woman in my church who prepares the elements for Holy Communion.
During September and October, men and women stand shoulder-to-shoulder at the bottom of this ten-foot waterfall, hoping to snag a salmon preparing to jump the height in order to make its way up the river. Most of the salmon avoid the lures and hooks by opting for the safety of the switch back ladders on the west bank.
Many of the anglers have the latest gear, not just the best fiberglass poles and reels but waterproof clothing that make them look like catalog models for L. L. Bean. This guy on the rock, however, was fishing to a different drummer. Away from the crowd, he looked absolutely content with who he was and what he was doing. I asked him if I could take a few pictures; he nodded and said, “No problem.” He didn’t catch a thing in the time I was there, but I suspect that didn’t ruin his day. He was at home on his rock and that was enough. Maybe it’s the place he always returns to when he needs to sort out his life or make sense of the world or get a better perspective on things.
I imagine for him fishing isn’t merely a diversion but an essential activity in maintaining a healthy and balanced life. Maybe he needs to fish, not necessarily to catch one, but to keep his soul intact. For some people, running does the same thing. For others in my circle of acquaintance it’s bird-watching, biking, organic gardening, playing the harp, sailing, sewing, quilting, yoga, reading, making wine, or slinging a camera over their shoulder.
Parker Palmer is a Quaker who writes about personal renewal and taking care of things that matter. In Let Your Life Speak he writes: “I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act — it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
It’s good to find your rock, better to remember where it is, and best to return there often.