Yes, meditation. Like surf, tides, and rain, a fly-fishing river displays statistical reliability—the flow of water changes constantly but in a relaxing, predictable way. Moving water, researchers have found, permits a deep state of attention that is easy and restful, especially compared with the depleting alarms of electronic life, the flat harshness of living and working in boxes. By scientific standards, our fishing party is an oxytocin fest, our mirror neurons firing in tribal unison as we all flood with GABA, the feel-good neurochemical, and slow-burn endorphins. Even doctors know this works. In 2009, a Salt Lake City VA study of 67 veterans with PTSD showed that, surprise, after a four-day fishing trip, their salivary cortisol (and salivary immunoglobins, and urinary catecholamines) were way down. Which is good.
So you could get your drugs by sitting for eight hours in a VA waiting room. But you could also take the other medicine, what biologist Wallace J. Nichols has called the “blue mind” treatment of running water. Chad is doing both, taking his government meds but also hunting his steelhead, the long road of a tired small-business man struggling to live up to everyone’s hopes. On this trip he looks drawn and tired; he says the “low points” are back. Then he wades out into the river.
“When I am able to help Chad medicate,” Brian says, watching, “it makes me feel like I have a purpose.”
Aren’t we all taking our medicine in the outdoors? When did that become a joke? No, the joke is the fish itself. Chad doesn’t get his steelhead that day. But another drift boat passes by and suddenly, insultingly, hooks one. The anglers pull over and, right in front of us, play and land the fish on a $20 rod from Walmart, using a big pink spoon.
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