At first it was a couple of months. It was less noticeable. Every now and then an occasional drive past a river or a lake, and it would all come flowing back - the thoughts, the ideas, the memories. But now, after almost a year it has become regular, cadent, insistent - a nagging, deep desire. A banal fly buzzing through the air, or simply the desire to hear, watch, absorb the sounds of a day spent outside, in a river.
For the past 14 years I have never gone this long without balancing a rod on my index finger, tying a fly to a line, hearing the therapeutic clicking of the reel as I wind in a fly line, the squelch of trapped water in my wading boots. I miss the conversations: the talk of fly choice, leader setup, rod action - hell - I even miss the exagerrated talk on one's PB (personal best), an acronym I used to despise.
For a long time I did not think what you did necessarily defined you. I was repelled by the idea that one could be categorized so easily; by the nature of one's job, or hobby, or the books one read. But the longer I go without the activity that I so dearly love, the more I realize that it has slowly become a philosophical piece of the puzzle that I am.
With retrospect, having been away from this luxuriant cosmos of equipment, jargon, travel, stories and friendships - I have come to realize that our hobby is more than a mere quest for pleasure and fast dopamine. Unlike the other past-times I have been able to try, this particular one is a voyage into what it means to be human - a constant struggle to understand a world which has little meaning, to try and delve into the minds of our fellow living beings, to understand their motivations, their habits, their pleasure and their purpose. In the perverse hope of baiting one, outsmarting one, in the desire for a demonstration of intellectual superiority and of significance - a form of meaning for us in a universe which doesn't for care for such things.
In essence, calling it a past-time is insulting, is counter-factual. A past-time is there to make the time pass faster and to counter the boredom of our lives of habit. But our activity is quite the opposite. It teaches us the value of time, rather than seek to make us ignore it. We stand in the rain, in the snow, in the wind and in the sweltering heat - waiting and hoping for something that is often elusive and absent. We sip at the goblet of time, absorb its many flavours and savour its textures. And we go back, because we understand that waiting in the stream - occasionally brought back to reality by a niggling at the end of the line - is a way for us to try and make sense, to understand that our human quest to bend reality to our liking is impossible. One day the fish may feel attracted to that size 9 willy bugger, the next not - and for no particular reason.
In a sense we are a last bastion against the ubiquitous quest for end product. Because outcome is not there in what we do. With us it is about the journey, the intangible quest, the voyage to the centre of what it means to be human in a world where the same fly in the same spot with the same cast and the same conditions won't catch a fish twice. It is probably a futile quest which proffers no answers for us. But standing in the river can give us at least one realization, which so often escapes us in our concrete jungles and insulated houses: that the current always flows past us. And that rather than fight back against it, to leave it be, to get lost in the way it ripples and churns, swirls and spirals ever on, in patterns that seem to make no sense - but to which we enjoy providing sense. Distracted by the occasional splash of another living being, one which we try and understand, try and tame, a futile show of strength, of our intellectual prowess, in the face of a universe which doesn't care.
And because all of this is so confusing, and because we don't like accepting our insignificance - we stand in the stream of our lives and ponder the significance of a 'lesser' species. The truth is that this but a metaphor, with strangely mirror-like qualities.
I have missed it dearly.