Seuss, Pooh, and the Inner You

Dinner parties and tastes aside, my inner child joins me on every trip to the river. I suspect the reason for this is best summed up by Christopher Robin’s honey loving companion when he said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” For me, the biggest boots I have happen to be my wading boots, which is perfect because there are fewer things that my adult self and my inner child enjoy more than a fly-fishing excursion.

by Derek Bird

Even in the age of Google Maps and GPS, I can still become lost. To be fair to technological advancements, I’m not necessarily speaking about ending up temporarily detained from a geographical location, but I occasionally find myself inwardly lost—like “I knew who I was but I don’t recognize who I am” kind of lost. It’s an unsettling place to be to say the least, since normally I identify with Winnie the Pooh’s comment: “I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

I’m biased of course, but in my mind fly fishing is one of the best ways to preserve sanity levels. Though realistically the pastime can also create levels of insanity (that’s a topic I’ll either repress or explore fully in some later column). In the mean time I’ll make some completely unfounded leaps regarding the human psyche, but each leap is defendable only because I’m doing it to prop up the quiet pastime. Spending time near a river or a lake sitting quietly watching a trout rise to a caddis has a way of reconnecting the adult self with the inner child, which in turn allows an individual to fully relate to the importance of Dr. Seuss’ concept: “Today you are you / that is truer than true / There is no one alive / that is youer than you.”

Our pastime has a way of fostering the essential balance between the adult self and the inner child, encouraging an angler to avoid becoming fully adult or fully child. Which is a good place to be because if you’re fully adult then you’re no fun at dinner parties and life quickly loses flavor. And if you’re fully child then your entire bag of party tricks likely relies heavily on flatulence, which is funny but doesn’t scream, “I’m marriage material ready to be successful in the next stage of life.”

Even something as simple as screaming or shouting phrases when out casting flies to trout can result in life-lessons that help preserve the connections between the young and old self. Take for example the phrase, “Got one!” For many it’s an automatic response: trout rises to a dry and the angler yells, “Got one!” The phrase is the universal signal for those present to come running, either to help with a net or to just simply observe the excitement. In my youth shouting the phrase was as automatic as running toward the sounds of an ice cream truck. It’s just what you do as a kid.

However the phrase “got one” becomes more complicated the more experiences one has. I’m very careful with the phrase now, not because I’m not excited to catch a trout, but because over the years I’ve become more sensitive to others’ feelings. Fishing taught me that just because I’m having the time of my life doesn’t always mean that those with me are sharing the exact same experience. In fact, me yelling “got one” every few minutes might cause dark thoughts to percolate in a friend’s mind. The only way I know this is I’ve also been on the dark side of the “got one” phenomenon, and it’s a frustrating place to exist.

The sanitized inner child knows when to use this phrase and when to refrain. To pull in a sporting reference, as an adult when you’re watching your kids play sports and his or her team jumps up by five goals, there’s an unwritten rule that you either stop cheering so exuberantly or you begin cheering for both teams (restraining the inner child). The parents who haven’t learned this unwritten rule are the same parents who are often perceived as possessing less maturity than those they’re cheering for.

My inner child after yelling and making a fuss about hooking a fish also has a strong desire to be recognized and praised by others for the monumental accomplishment of fooling a trout. Because I never brought a camera with me back in the ‘70s , the part of my inner child that needed to be refined was the part that culled trout for the purpose of receiving praise. Yes, I’m ashamed to admit it now, but in my rawest angling form between the ages of nine and 13 I used to kill trout. As a kid, I was all about the ‘Y’ shaped sticks and stringers. I told myself it was because Mom liked to put trout in the freezer, but truthfully I loved the feeling associated with walking through the door after riding my bike back from the lake and soaking in the praise of proud parents.

That kid is still in there. Even at 45, I’ll text or call Dad when I’ve hooked a steelhead or a large bull trout, but I’m more situationally aware now. For starters, I don’t kill fish. I take pictures sometimes and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m fine with just knowing I caught the trout and other times I want to show family or close friends. But now I don’t do it to receive praise. I do it to connect with my parents because I want them to share in my life even though I live 15 hours away. I’ll also take pictures for my close fly-fishing friends because I like it when they do the same for me. With the busyness of adult life there are a lot of text exchanges that go something like this: “You up to hit the river on Saturday?” “Can’t make it. The kids have a soccer tournament. Let me know how it goes.” Pictures are worth a thousand words in this case.

As an adult, I actually enjoy releasing fish for many reasons, one being I’ve always disliked the taste of fish, which has nothing to do with irony and everything to do with preferences. In fact when I’m out for dinner with new people and the menu offers trout or salmon, I wish I had a fly rod for every time a non-angler at the table says, “You’re a fisherman. You going to order the trout?” My response is always the same: “I’m not a fan of the taste of trout.” To which they normally say something like, “You’re a fisherman who doesn’t like fish? That’s strange.”

Is it really? I bite my tongue because the conversation naturally dies out if I don’t pursue it. The refined inner child knows this. The childish adult wants to reply, “Is it also strange if an Ornithologist doesn’t order the Duck a’ l’ Orange? Why would he not order the prime rib or the salmon wellington?” However, I refrain from making the comment because I’m grown up enough to realize answering a question with a question is misleading because it indicates I’d like to continue discussing the culinary interests of Ornithologists.

Dinner parties and tastes aside, my inner child joins me on every trip to the river. I suspect the reason for this is best summed up by Christopher Robin’s honey loving companion when he said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” For me, the biggest boots I have happen to be my wading boots, which is perfect because there are fewer things that my adult self and my inner child enjoy more than a fly-fishing excursion.