Somewhere in our neck of the woods, there is someone catching bloody fantastic Trout today.
I know this because of that demon called social media. And its always going on. The social media I mean, not necessarily the catching of Trout. Although you would think so. Pictures appear today of fantastic fish, or perhaps just fantastic lighting, landscape and conditions, and I don’t know if you are like me, but I get instant FOMO. My mind latches onto a state of rueful despondency, in which I berate myself for staying home to pickle chillies instead of manning up and heading out. I cast my mind back to yesterday, and count my pitiful achievements reached within the comfortable arms of domesticity. I had told myself the heat was too severe, and the rivers too full from the storms the day before. My temperament was frail and my resolve was usurped by the thought of a day pottering around the house in shorts and slops. The curtains and windows on the north facing side of the house were closed, to seal out the oppressive heat, and I regularly recharged and consumed iced water with a dash of lemon and sprigs of mint, which clinked pleasingly in a large earthenware jug. The cat lay sprawled on the concrete floor as if to expose the maximum of its surface area to the marginally cooler stone. My mind too, lay metaphorically sprawled on cold stone, resigning itself to slower movements and deliberate restfulness. I think I tied three flies. I was slowed to a pace set by my embattled demeanour. A kind of calculated self-preservation strategy for someone who has a veritable allergy to heat.
And then I see a picture of a twenty-inch brown from the Bushmans.
But my mind is a trickster. It fails to recognise the disjunction of the timeline. The backdrop of the photo reveals a cloudy morning. The water has been artfully excluded from the picture. And then there is the bankside grass, which is a subtle shade of Kelly green, with hints of a shade of fern in some of the short swards: harbingers of mid-summer which creep insidiously into the spring veld.
But we are now in the height of summer.
Right now the bankside grass is shoulder high, and all stem and seed. Yesterday the river was a torrent, and it may have been clean for an hour before the storm, but that is questionable. That storm that hit, ripped trees by their roots and it broke just after midday. Before that was a searing white heat, in which any trace of a shadow was evaporated by the intensity of the cloudless African sky. Even the snakes suffered!
If that fish was caught yesterday, I’ll eat my hat. Since a hat is a piece of survival equipment at this juncture in our season, that is no flippant wager!
I think too of the times that I have posted a memory on social media. Perhaps I was at a venue a week ago, but took no decent pictures, so I slipped one in from a previous visit. Of the twenty or thirty photos I have of the place (and not all from the recent visit), I pick the best three, and post them. My motivations stem from what I like to believe is an altruistic desire to showcase our lovely streams and their fly fishers’ bounty.
But somewhere, someone is sitting in his lounge scrolling on his phone and in a state of disconsolance triggered by my lovely pictures. My well-intended showcase belies the fact that on that day we suffered unpleasant winds; that we got in only an hours fishing; that we caught only one fish (but photographed it from three angles); and that on our return we silently reckoned that the diesel burned and the tyre written off were not worth the reward.
Maybe the light was great, and the Trout was twenty inches (on a cheap Chinese tape measure). Maybe it was a marvellous interlude. An interlude set between maladies and malfunctions; crashes and catastrophes; disappointment and discontent. But damn it looks good on the celluloid. My day and yours that is. Her fish and mine.
And why did he see my fish, and why did I see his. What were we scrolling to see? Were we scrolling to see what we missed out on, so that we could feel dispirited when we found something we missed out on. Were we looking for our demons? Someone once messaged me to tell me how wonderful my rich outdoor life looks, and how he envies me. Damn, I felt like a fraud!
While I was pickling chillies yesterday, my wife and I listened to an interview with Johann Hari about the afflictions of modern media, our inability to focus, and the challenges that lay across the path of achieving our goals. It was at once illuminating, exonerating and inspirational. I was sent the link by a thoughtful fellow from whom I have started buying wholesome sourdough bread, and for whom I have set aside a small jar of pickled chillies.
And so, I sit today and write this piece with a clinking jar of cool water set on the table in front of me, the curtains and windows on the north side of the house sealed, and a sprawled cat at my feet. I think later I will tie some flies, but probably no more than three. Maybe I will post some pictures on social media. I promise they won’t be more than three years old.