“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot” – Aldo Leopold.
Why immerse ourselves in Alaska’s wild landscape, and explore the untamed rivers? Why fish and camp far beyond motorized transport? Partly because we are looking for better fishing than we would find near the lodges. But perhaps, we seek something more through our fly-fishing passion than a day trip provides or than a trophy fish in a photograph could recall. Author Paul Brooks said in Roadless Area, “In every Wilderness trip there comes a moment of awareness, a sudden sense that you are there.” He described a deepening feeling of connection to nature after he and his wife had put three or four canoe portages between them and the last settlement. Do some of us need to immerse ourselves for longer periods in wilder places, not only for the fishing, but for other reasons too?
Once we’ve been dropped of in the Bristol Bay Wilderness, we are certain of several things. Our raft will certainly pass through a vast, post-glacial landscape. Between casts, we will wade in the clean cold water noticing grizzly bear tracks and salmon carcasses scattered about. We will walk downstream re-casting the fly, watching the drift, mending the line, and retrieve. Gusts of wind coursing across the tundra will blow our mental clutter away, making us focus on the fundamentals of our sport. The Arctic Tern will dive in front of the raft, emerging while dripping beads of water, with a sockeye smolt in her blood red bill. The passage of the cloud shadows on the tundra will create dramatic light. And, perhaps, let come the realization that “I am tremendously grateful to be here at this exact moment participating in nature’s great drama.”
Only in Wilderness, can we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the events of these moments are “true”, and not modified by man. There is no detail except our own actions that can be changed to make the moment a more “perfect” experience. If we find fault – it reflects only our human limitations. Perhaps we feel diminished by the weather or nervous about the Brown Bear. Perhaps we fail to land the greatest rainbow trout of our life. Or, it is equally possible that we land the lovely fish and learn about the bear and don’t simply fear it. Perhaps we will adapt our minds to the weather. One thing is certain; when we fly fish in the Bristol Bay Wilderness, we’ll participate in a drama in which man’s role is small in a vast natural world.