Quaking Aspen

By Ariel

Quaking Aspen

I once saw a beautiful video produced by National Geographic about aspen trees.  It showed how groves of quaking aspens – sometimes hillsides that stretch for miles – are not separate individuals but in reality they are one tree sharing a common root system. It got me thinking about the interconnectivity of life, how I am apparently separate from my environment yet, how I am a part of it all. Then, I had a startling personal experience of being connected that shook me to my roots…literally.

It was the second day of a weeklong fishing trip that my husband Shya and I were enjoying at the Babine Steelhead Lodge in British Columbia. As was the custom, there was a rotation of guides. So on that morning we headed out with Scott: New day. New boat. New guide. Sweet.

It was early, the mist still rising from the water, blanketing the trees in gauzy white. We motored down river and the temperature was a brisk 20 something degrees Fahrenheit. The bald eagles graced us with their majesty – sitting, soaring, fleeing the sound of the motor on the chilly morning air.

After 20 minutes or so, we pulled in at a fishing spot named “Upper, Upper Chicken,” a white water, frothy, bouldery affair with a sweet little seam 30 to 40 feet offshore where the line between rough and calm water meet – the perfect spot for a steelhead trout to lie.

The first order of business was to blow on my hands as they had chilled on the ride downstream and my digits were feeling frosty in my fingerless gloves. Scott tied on a “Sylvey’s Sylvanator” to the tippet of my line, a bit of purple magic with a bright pink bead up front. I waded into the water up to my knees and began stripping line off my reel in preparation to cast. We were standing on “river right” so I was facing the current as it flowed from left to right as I began a series of casts called snap-Ts. I quickly found myself delighted that my cast was “working”. There have been times when I feel like a baseball pitcher who doesn’t have her curve working or can’t seem to get a fastball over the plate. But on this day, each cast was slow and lazy, precise – with a tight loop unfurling out into the current.

As Scott passed behind me he stopped abruptly.

“Are you left-handed or are you exceptionally talented?” He asked.

“I’m left-handed. This is definitely my side of the river.” I replied.

“You should have said you were all of the above – exceptionally talented and left-handed.” He said with a smile as he headed downstream to see how Shya was doing.

Three casts later my reel began to sing:  Rrr…Rrr…Rrrrrrrr…and I set the hook. The line came screaming off my Hardy Perfect reel and I used my palm to slow the speed. The fish surfaced and turned sidewise to the current and it looked big. Legs braced, I got a rush and suddenly they began to quake.

“Wow!” I said to Scott who had hustled back upstream, net in hand. “I can feel the adrenaline. My legs are shaking.” 

I was happy I was standing in a stable stance, with my feet braced apart, because I suddenly experienced first hand that old cliché, her knees are knocking. If my legs had been closer together they surely would have knocked.

I had to remind myself to relax, that I had landed far larger fish – sailfish, tarpon, marlin – but in that moment, caught up in the excitement of tug of war where the steelhead takes line and I take it back again, I was connected to the fish, the rushing river, the aspens on the far shore and we were all quaking together. I dearly hoped that the steelhead wouldn’t spit the hook or that I wouldn’t lose it before he or she was landed.

Eventually I brought him round and lifted his head so Scott could scoop him up in his net. He was a beauty, a 12-pound buck with a scarlet gill-plate. After admiring him, we released the fish back to the river where he would wait out the winter before spawning in the spring.

Then I had a quick cup of coffee in order to calm down. It’s funny. I thought. Drinking coffee to calm the jitters!

Shortly thereafter, fairly relaxed once again – or so I thought – I took up my Spey rod and began the dance of casting once again. Very quickly I rushed my cast and snagged the alder bush behind me – my fly adorning a tiny twig, an errant Christmas ornament shining in the sun. I guess I wasn’t so relaxed just yet after all.

I find fishing on the river is humbling that way. My last cast, my last fish doesn’t matter. All that counts is this moment, this cast, this step.

I went on to catch and release more fish that day and one was far larger than that first. But none of them brought that particular surge which instantaneously brought forth my link to everything; the hillside at my back, the boulders smoothed by the rush of water and hand of time, the soaring eagles, the clouds and sky, the fish and the miles of winding river, all apparently disparate existences interconnected as one – a bond which left me quaking like an aspen.

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Ariel, you have painted a beautiful picture with your story! And not only that, I could imagine it to all senses! I had this morning a quieter experience of this kind: alone in the already cool Mediterranean, no one far and wide, the sun just risen, view of the horizon, cradled by the waves – I enjoyed the moment.