This past fall I spent three glorious weeks fly-fishing up in the Smoky Mountains. Well, now that I think about it, that's not really true. I mean I was up in the Smokies, and I did spend some time fishing, but no one who really knows what it's supposed to look like would call what I do fly-fishing. I spend most of my time watching my cast fall short of its target or trying to disentangle it from the tree behind me, while, all around me, real fly-fishermen and -women are catching trophy trout. Still, from time to time, I do manage a halfway decent cast, and I have to tell you: there are few things that make me feel better about myself and the life I lead than working the perfect fly over good water with the split bamboo rod my father once used.
My father. I was a lucky child. Dad was one of the best teachers I have ever known. He never made you feel stupid, never used your ineptitude as an excuse to show off his own skill. He had the rare ability to make you feel as if your struggle were his, that he was just as perplexed as you by whatever it was you were having trouble with, that, together, the two of you would win out over this thing and gain from the experience. It was fun learning from Dad. Playing student to his teacher was one of the many ways in which I loved him. But, oddly, I never asked him to teach me how to fly-fish—a skill of his I most admired, one that he always exercised with exceptional grace and beauty. I must have been about twelve when I first began thinking about fly-fishing, early adolescence, and maybe that explains it. The male thing. The son beginning to distance himself from his father, for the first time not so much proud of the old man's abilities as jealous, unwilling to confess his own incompetence in the face of such enormous, seemingly unattainable talent.
And so, when I finally did take up fly-fishing in my late teens, I did so entirely untutored—whipping my line back and forth almost resentfully, watching my every cast buckle down onto the water in large, graceless, overlapping loops, while, in my mind's eye, Dad lay out cast after flawless cast, his fly always coming to rest at the end of a long, perfectly straight length of line. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to give up in disgust.
But several years ago, long after Dad had passed away, I was messing around in a dark corner of our garage when I came upon an old, green fly-rod case, its surface dulled by use and time. My father's rod. And immediately I had a vision of the place I now work, the Talbot County Free Library, and the notion that at least one of life's regrets might yet be rectified rose before me like a bright and merry sun. For the library, like my father, is an exceptional teacher. It never preaches, never judges, never shows off. The library accepts you as you are, lets you learn at your own pace. You choose what you want to learn and how quickly you want to learn it. And, most important, you get to decide when you've learned enough, when you think you're finally ready to venture out on a stream and strut your stuff.
I've read the library's "Fly Fishing for Dummies" (799.1 KAMI), John Bailey's excellent "Fly Fishing: the Fish, the Tackle, and the Techniques" (799.12 BAIL), and, through the library's free inter-library loan system, I've borrowed books on the noble sport from libraries all across Maryland. Of course I still don't fly-fish as well as my father, probably never will, but now I live in hope. For I am a card-carrying member of the Talbot County Free Library.