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What the Books Don't Tell You


There is a feeling I get, once in awhile, when I am sitting in a chair out on my front porch, practicing my banjo. It comes creeping silently up on me, something I have been working on just clicks. I'll finish running through a tune, and when I am done, unexpectedly, there is a small feeling from deep inside, a quiet feeling, a feeling that it was right, a feeling that I have just touched my soul, just for an instant. It feels peaceful. The instruction books never told me that I would feel that.

Sometimes, when I am picking with friends in a jam, everybody will just all meld together, and play like we were one musician, one body, with one mind and one heart. You can feel the pulse of the body, the rush of the blood running through the veins in sixteenth notes. I did not see that in the tab.

Okay, moving along, first you have to understand that fly fishing is a rhythmic sport. You start the cycle by lifting your line up off the water with a graceful sweep of the long rod, and you let the line stretch out in the air behind you until just the exactly right moment. Then you gently but firmly arc the rod forward pulling the line along, until the rod tip is just a little past vertical. The line keeps rolling forward though the rod has stopped, and when the line is finally almost level straight out in front of you, you gently drop the rod, and thus the line, down to the water, making hardly a ripple. Way out at the end of the line, sometimes fifty feet or more, at the end of another eight or ten feet of clear tapered monofilament, is the fly, a little spec of fur and feathers wrapped around the tiniest of hooks. If it's a dry fly, it isn't riding in the water, it is resting on top, on the very fine film of water that separates where pond or stream meets sky. For a few moments, nothing happens. And then, blurp, the fly is gone from sight, and you have just established a new rhythmic dialogue with a slim, ghostly form that resides deep below the surface film, in a far different world than you do. You want to pull him in, yank the line, and see what you have done hooked into, but with about one pound of pressure being the only stress that slim tip of monofilament can handle, if you don't stay with the rhythm of the moment, and take your time, you will lose him forever. They never bite twice. Standing on stage, pushing your banjo up into the mic, kicking into that break, not knowing where it's going to lead you, reaching for just the right balance of energy and restraint, it gives you that same feeling way down in the pit of your stomach, that same thrill, that aching yet blissful feeling that you are in command of your life, but then again you know you aren't, really. Anything can happen, life or death, it might yet break off and be gone, right up to the end. That was something the books didn't tell me.


(c) copyright 2009, by Donald J. Borchelt, all rights reserved.