“It seems strange that visitors to Yosemite should be so little influenced by its novel grandeur, as if their eyes were bandaged and their ears stopped. Most of those I saw yesterday were looking down as if wholly unconscious of anything going on about them, while the sublime rocks were trembling with the tones of the mighty chanting congregation of waters gathered from all the mountains round about, making music that might draw angels out of heaven. Yet respectable-looking, even wise-looking people were fixing bits of worms on bent pieces of wire to catch trout. Sport they called it. Should church-goers try to pass the time fishing in baptismal fonts while dull sermons were being preached, the so-called sport might not be so bad; but to play in the Yosemite temple, seeking pleasure in the pain of fishes struggling for their lives, while God himself is preaching his sublimest water and stone sermons!” John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra
So maybe Mr. Muir was not a fan of angling. Of this one thing I can forgive him. And on this 100th anniversary of the world losing our wilderness wise-man, I’ll indulge in a flight of fancy to imagine that if he had just spent a little time with this respectable-looking woman with a hand-tied fly drifting on a stream he might reconsider. He may have even put down his loaves of bread to try his luck with a Tenkara rod beside the quiet pools of the Tuolumne River. I could counter his disgust with a message of the oneness of woman and trout in those moments they are connected by a thin line, a concept he should understand. That God himself gave us the power to see the river through the eyes of the rainbow that dances in our hands as we remove hook, bend to the congregating water, and release with a wish. We aren’t staring down, we are staring in and looking around. He failed to comprehend the art and the beauty of standing still in mountain body of water.
We have spent evenings in Tuolumne Meadows watching the setting sun blast our glorious peaks and domes with righteous color. Memories seize me of an angler casting into a tranquil bend of the river. Was it him or his shimmering reflection that caught the trout? We were not yet in possession of rods but the thought had crossed our minds. And watching that magnificent setting with trout leaping out of the water as if trying to check on the granite walls, I think it sealed a fate that we would fish.
The mailman just delivered an out-of-print copy of the Yosemite Trout Fishing Guide by Steve Beck. I’m dreaming up a plot to return to the church of Yosemite for more sermons. We’ll take the climbing gear, the backpacks, and all the camping necessities for a perfect Sierra homecoming, but we will also have our rods. We will seek out wisdom from the disciples of the rivers and lakes. Those fish can teach us much.
So Mr. Muir, we miss you and cherish your words and deeds but I do beg you to reconsider from your surely lofty perch that the sport of fishing belongs in the kingdom of Nature, and even in the High Temples of the Sierra.
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.” John Muir, First Summer in the Sierra – Sure sounds like a good fishing day to me!