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Casting For Life

by Dana Shino

Several weekends ago, Bob and I treated ourselves to a fall backpack into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Other than our backpack in July, it’s been the first real physical outing we’ve done in awhile and it was much needed in the middle of the outrageous fall energies and chaos. As we pulled out of the driveway we looked at one another, like a couple of kids escaping on a forbidden adventure, grinning, saying, “Wow, we’re really going to do this!”

The drive over the mountain passes could not have glimmered in more sunshine and fall color. It reminded me of the fall days when we began dating four years ago. It reminded me of our fall drive of three years ago when we looped from Durango to Ouray to Telluride and back to Durango on a reconciliation drive (a nice way of putting it!). We breathed our ooo’s and aaaaah’s viewing one mountainside of color after another on our way to the Gunnison feeling extremely lucky.

After bouncing up the four-by-four road to the top of the trail, we geared up and began the backpack into the canyon in the lengthening shadows of late afternoon. Once again, the stunning qualities of the canyon struck me: desert canyon layers in beiges and red giving way to its secret, far below, of an emerald green river and lushness cutting through such an arid zone. We gradually moved down the trail enjoying the openness of sky and land and the outdoors, leaving the electric, digital networks behind.

When we arrived at the base of the trail and the river, the campsites weren’t too far out. The first campsite was filled with what seemed to be a group of fisherman. Bob got an eye full of gear strewn all over the place. I didn’t pay much attention because by then, I was ready to set down my pack and I was looking ahead at the next camping space that we’d reserved about a quarter mile farther on. The light was beginning to fade and it was time to pitch the tent and cook dinner.

When we arrived at our campsite, we were surprised to find that the regular tent area was now filled with rocks, some boulders and debris. We’d found evidence during the hike of a major geologic disturbance from earlier in the summer. The Gunnison had received massive rains during one storm in the late summer and the waters had not just washed out gulleys, but had torn away and brought trees, rocks and boulders down the sides of the canyons. Our campsite where we normally pitched tent was now filled with all kinds of debris. My first thought was, “Oh God, I hope no one was camping here when this thing hit!” It brought Bob and I the clear message that nothing ever stays the same. It’s always changing, shifting, eroding, creating, recreating, moving. The Earth is breathing and moving with us. 

That evening, as the sunlight faded, retreating off the opposite canyon wall, the stars arrived and the massive waters of the Gunnison flowed, we set up our tent and arranged camp. I went off to wash in the river while Bob cooked dinner and we spent the evening watching the stars, the Milky Way and then the moonlight (we were out one night from the Full Moon) move along our side of the canyon wall until it lit up the canyon. It was so peaceful. Such a relief. What luck to sleep on the canyon floor next to a great river. What luck.

The next morning, Bob and I were in the middle of enjoying our cups of tea and coffee along the Gunnison River, when the fishermen from the camp next to ours traveled through. I was still living in the cobwebs of the dreams from the night before and reveling in the magical river morning to pay too much attention to our neighbors. This first fisherman crossed to the other river bank and just nodded at us. Bob mentioned that it sure was nice to see a teenager out learning how to fish with his dad. I nodded in oblivious contentment. The next fisherman tromping through directly arrived on our sandbar and immediately, without invitation, launched into a monologue about packing in on a Full Moon and all the fish caught the previous day and what fly you should be fishing with and he’d fished this river 40-50 times and he was here teaching these other guys the “right” way to fish and and and . . . . I didn’t say a word. My magical reverie was officially broken. Bob nodded a lot and listened to this man regale us about his fishing.

Turns out, this was one of those once-a-year gem-of-a-fishing trips for these five professional men from Denver — doctors, attorneys and engineers. This was the fishing adventure they’d talk about for awhile when they returned to their offices in the middle of the I25 bee hive. The person Bob assumed was a teenager was a doctor in his thirties. The man who blessed us with his monologue was the friend and guide teaching these gentleman to fly fish. After he finished his talk with us, never minding our possible story, he immediately plunged into the river and waded across in chest-deep water hollering at the fisherman who’d gone ahead. I didn’t have to ask. I looked at Bob and saw the thought bubble hanging over his head. Bob sat there, sipped from his coffee, pushed his cap back from his forehead, shook his head and mumbled something about shin-deep water only yards down river. Then he turned to me and said, “Oh, my God. When the shit goes down, these people are going to need so much help.”

The remaining three fisherman eventually came along. They were nice guys, not saying much, and followed suit wading into the waters at dangerously deep levels. Two of these men had their Labradors with them — dogs who absolutely love water. But by that morning, these dogs had swam across the river one too many times the day before and their tails were hanging down in exhaustion, not wagging. I watched as these fisherman coaxed their dogs with them through the powerful Gunnison waters not even considering the dogs wading in shallower waters. I didn’t know whether to be amused or furious — I was probably more of the latter.

As these men moved down river, casting out over the waters, I turned to Bob and asked if he didn’t want to go get geared up and get to his fishing. Bob snorted. “Are you kidding me? These guys are doing all the fishing for me. I’m going to enjoy fishing through them.” So we did. We made our breakfast and watched. Eventually, Bob geared up and walked down river, fishing in the exact opposite direction the other five had gone.

I stayed at camp, finally alone, tidied things, then grabbed my camp seat, book, hat, sunglasses, notepad and pen and found a favorite river spot to do what I do best. Float. Float with the waters in the sunshine and just be — float in and out of existence with the greater universe, losing my boundaries and becoming one with the natural world. Breathing with the river. I dabbled some notes on paper, read someone else’s words and just enjoyed. Woolly buggers came and went. Snakes visited from the grasses. Spiders wove webs. The water wushed by. And the fish? Well, as soon as everyone left and the river calmed from the commotion, the fish came out and jumped in the waters around me!

The afternoon wore on. Bob returned for lunch. The fisherman guide returned and went back out with a bag of lunch for his buddies. Bob finished lunch and went up-river in the direction of the fisherman, and again, I was alone to enjoy myself. Instead, I found myself waiting in a kind of tension that seemed to be laying up and down the river. The calm that I was hoping for wasn’t completely there. I wondered how Bob’s fishing was going. I wondered how the dogs were doing. I wondered how these five fisherman from Denver were handling the hot, late fall sun. I figured none of them would let themselves be out-fished by the other. And I waited.

Eventually all the men and dogs and commotion came back to camp and the sun reeled itself out of the canyon, hooking and pulling the cooler shadows along with it. As Bob and I shifted camp for dinner and cooking, Bob told me about his afternoon and more of his philosophies about fishing. Every time I camp with Bob and watch him fish I learn a little more. That afternoon, Bob said he fished around the other fisherman who were so intent upon their fishing they noticed little else. At times, Bob left the riverbanks, climbing higher up along the canyon for other adventures besides fishing. And from there he watched as these men flailed themselves at the river, cast after cast, in an anxious attempt to fish as much as humanly possible in a short period of time. This was the netting of tension I felt all the way back to camp — men wrestling with a river when they had no means or reason to wrestle with it. The very act of the tension, the wrestling, the flailing seemed to rob them of the very experience they were so hungrily seeking — just being there. Just being fisherman.

Bob continued and told me about fishing techniques in that you never cross a river unless you absolutely have to. When you do, you cross in the shallowest position. To cross a river means to disturb its bottom, the very environment the fish inhabit. So, if you are constantly crossing the river (as it seems these men did repeatedly in deeper areas), you are thrashing the very environment you’re trying to fish. Bob also mentioned that approaching the river bank is incredibly important from the perspective of maintaining the nature of the bank and having a great perspective to watch the fish swimming in certain tides and near certain rocks. Scoping out the water terrain, the insect flight and the responsiveness of the fish to this is imperative — and a more delicate approach to the river works wonders compared to the navigational aplomb displayed by these other fisherman. No wonder the fish were jumping at my feet!

It seemed clear to us that the fisherman from Denver, in their veracity and hunger to fish, were crushing the very nature of the situation they were trying to grasp in the short period of time they were granted. Yet, they seemed perfectly happy to do so because they were on their big fishing adventure — completely unaware of themselves in their true relationship with the river, with the fish.

That night, as the stars came up and the moon arrived, I felt an ancient tribe step out of the Pinon grove near us. I was reminded that this canyon was and still is very sacred and the presence of any of us was disruptive. We were there at the privilege of the ancients and the grace of Mother Earth. I felt the honor in this as bats gyrated and flitted on the whims of their aerodynamic radar in the night. I felt the edges of humanity at tipping point around the globe, easily able to crush a place like this without even trying in its eagerness to connect. I felt lucky to be there anyway and reminded myself to leave things as undisturbed as possible.

The next morning, the fisherman were out early, trying to squeeze one last round of fishing out of the river before leaving. I wanted to tell them to give it a rest and just sit on the bank and breathe with the waters, float with the grasses, feel it all rise around them. But they were intent on bagging as many fish as possible before leaving. I watched their exhaustion in the way they cast their lives in the lines out over the waters. Echoes of the importance of success vibrated in their lines–a certain, honed focus on a certain success. The cost of it robbed them from what was hovering in and around the river — the sacred rich nature of the river ready to give in a moment the gifts of its secrets to those who were willing to patiently, intently listen without agenda.

Eventually, they returned to camp, packed up and began their pack out of the canyon to drive their trucks into the flow of traffic on I70. Bob knew they were gone when the tension left the river and remarked on it. I felt it too and we spent our last few hours at the river in an abbreviated, but thankful peace.   

Later, as we packed out, the river growing smaller and smaller below, I wondered about many things. Our human connection with nature is a vital coordinate not only in our spirituality, but our very physical lives. Mother Earth is at the heart of our awakening and we are at the heart of hers. It seems obvious to me that we cannot use her natural resources into oblivion without a sobering reality check — yet we need to be connected. How do we connect with Mother Earth in a way that disturbs her the least, honors her the most and gives us the greatest connection?

It begs the questions to the very canyon we were hiking out of: When is enough enough? Enough rafts during a day? Enough fisherman on her banks? Enough backpackers and campers and hikers and horses on her trails. Who gets to decide? At some point, we’re going to have to learn to listen and listen, not just with our ears, but with sacredness and honor in our hearts.

It’s a learning of standing at the top of a trail and asking in honor to the sacred canyon, if its in alignment to tread to her river below? – And honor the answer. It’s a learning of standing at the base of a tree and asking if it’s okay to cut or is it better to leave it bee? (Pun intended). It’s a learning of standing at the edge of a field and asking for the privilege to drop seeds of intent in the ground. It’s a learning of remembering to ask and then remembering to listen. Listen with honor. Listen with intent. Listen with sacredness. Listen with the heart of knowing we are lucky to ask and lucky to hear the truth that is told to us everyday from the soils, the waters, the plants, the creatures, the air, the sun and the moon.

The success of the life lines we cast upon river waters depend upon our willingness to courageously step forth into sacred heart space, listening with the very Mother who holds us here — and then respond in kind, in unison to the rhythm she shares with us.

The fish really are here with us and so is the sacred canyon; yet, we are not separate. We are all a sacred one in the casting over water, fish beneath, canyon above and beating heart of the universe flowing through all – life line casting through all.

Dana Shino is a spiritual coach and metaphysical journalist working out of Durango, Colorado. She lives with her husband, Bob, and their two cats. She can be reached at and her work can be viewed at