No Clear Solution

Fly Fusion’s founding editor, Derek Bird, recently invited all the world leaders to join him on a fly-fishing trip to one of his favourite streams in the Canadian Rockies. Though no one took him up on his offer, the invitation is well worth investing the time it takes to read.

by Derek Bird (illustration by Diane Michelin) 

As a youngster most of my thoughts funnelled somehow in the direction of rivers and trout. At school, I wondered if my dad would take me fishing when I got home. When I met new friends, I wondered if they’d like to go fishing with me. Around the house on the weekends doing dreaded chores, I wanted them to end so I could hop on my bike and ride to the nearest lake or stream. 

Being a child of the 80s, even large issues like threats of nuclear obliteration stemming from the Cold War walked a similar thought trail. As Russia and America flexed their arsenals, often blowing out foul smelling rhetoric about who had the larger weapons stockpile, I remember wondering if my streams in southeastern British Columbia would be affected if the Russian government lobbed a nuclear warhead into Montana or Idaho. Fortunately, I never had to find out. 

It’s over 30 years later and looking at recent headlines that reference nuclear threats, I find myself equally concerned, but not with the mind of an egotistical 12-year-old child. Instead, I’m wishing a pastime as small and insignificant as fly fishing could somehow make a significant difference in the matter.  

It may sound ridiculous to those who have a passionate knowledge of the political sphere, but the more I understand about that realm (of which admittedly I’m quite ignorant), the more I see how one person in power can cause catastrophic problems. With the inflated nuclear rhetoric coming out of North Korea, which may be agitated by antagonistic rhetoric spilling from Western leaders’ mouths, again I’m left to consider the implications of a global nuclear mishap.  

I find little solace in the knowledge that tardigrades, cockroaches and a handful of other species, including some fish, would likely survive to see the result of human folly in its most extreme state (using apocalyptic force created by human ingenuity to wipe out humanity in order to defend an ideology or a certain way of life). So, before anyone with access to nuclear codes decides to start pushing buttons, I have a modest proposal of sorts.   

I’d like to invite any global leader (president, prime minister, or dictator) who thinks nuclear war a good alternative to literally any other possible solution, to join me on a fly-fishing trip to an undisclosed and extremely remote Rocky Mountain location. I’m fully aware of the two obvious problems with this invitation. One, those who are running countries are the very same people who are too busy to read my column. And two, I’m not aware of any subscribers from North Korea. On the highly unlikely chance I’m wrong, I’ll carry on with my invitation. 

For the global leaders who’d like to join me (let’s say the second week in August), please bring the following: a packable tent and sleeping bag. I’ll supply the rafts, fly-fishing gear, and food. You won’t need a cell phone as the place we’ll be going to doesn’t have communication towers within a hundred kilometres. If we have an emergency like an unforeseen grizzly attack, I’ll have my Spot device with me so I can call for help (admittedly I may ask if you’d be willing to push any buttons other than the ones on your trousers or shirt before I pushed the help button). 

There’s no agenda for the trip, but be prepared to learn to work together. We’ll have to rely on each other. Important tasks deep in the Rockies include the following: staying alive, setting up tents at the end of the day, cooking meals over an open fire, and doing dishes after the meal. It’s worth it though. You’ll see pristine terrain, peaks so rugged and grand it’s difficult not to feel a tinge of reverent insignificance at their feet. You’ll see old-growth conifers, and also cedars that have no business existing so far from the coastal rain forests. You’ll see large ungulates, and maybe even a few predators like wolves, cougars, or bears. And trout. We’ll catch trout. 

You’ll get to experience what life feels like to be focused on a relatively insignificant fabrication like a hook with feathers and thread. You’ll also experience an odd sensation. When people are in tune with the little details and the seemingly unimportant interconnections like self, water, trout, and flies, they can feel a sense of wholeness similar to reaching major milestones or holding a newborn for the first time—a sense of completeness, like life is as it should be.  

You may also get to experience something quite humbling. While you’re away from your office, you’ll find that your country will continue to run without you, just like it did before you took office and just like it will after you leave, which may remind you the best leaders see themselves as caretakers.  

I’d hope that as we’re floating through the remote drainage that we’d all come to understand what American author, Wendell Berry, put into words: “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”  

Though there will be no test after we finish our trip, I’d be interested to hear what you’ve learned and compare it to what I learn when I’m out casting flies to trout. Not to bias you, but here’s one that tops my short list of life lessons. Pay close attention to your surroundings. The more you’re in tune to what’s going on around you, the more you develop a realistic view of how you fit into that reality. You’ll notice we’re imitating insects like mayflies, which end up occupying two different worlds throughout their lifetime. They transform from rather unattractive insects occupying a watery underworld into fluttering creatures poets have been known to write about. Mayflies break through the surface tension of the water and become insects that dance about in the air. They remind me of the human condition—quite ugly when we get to caught up in an underworld of insecurity and selfishness, yet very attractive when we rise above our own shortcomings and flaws desiring to do what’s best for those around us.    

If you decide to join me, please know there’s no hierarchy (whether you’re Trudeau, Trump or Kim Jong-un). It’s just a couple of guys hanging out enjoying a trout fishing trip together. I’ve read in history books some leaders see themselves as supreme beings or a form of deity. Out in the Rockies, circumstances constantly remind you you’re not. Though when we’re drifting down the river, some of the more severe rapids might make you feel the need to make peace with God. As far as who gets the front seat and who gets the back seat in the raft, we’ll figure out a way to split that up so it’s fair (no need to fight about trivial matters). I’ll be on the oars and my promise to you is that I’ll do everything within my power to keep us away from any unnecessary danger—all I ask is you do the same for me and the rest of humanity when you’re back in office.