“I believe I am in Hell, and therefore I am,” wrote Arthur Rimbaud in one of his gloomier moods, of which there were many. Rimbaud was never much of a ray of sunshine, believing that “every sun is bitter and every moon atrocious”.
I was reflecting on his words as I sat on a rock at the lower end of Beat 2, contemplatively lifting a pork pie from one of Rose’s splendid picnic baskets. A fingernail moon had just made itself visible in the duck-egg sky and I could not for the life of me see it the slightest atrocity in it.
The day had bustled with beauty. Clear, hazy sky, a shimmering breeze and bees humming about the water mint.
Earlier, I had shared part of the beat with a kingfisher, feeling godly privilege to see it dashing electrically upstream and down. A surprising number of suicidal trout had launched themselves at my Silver Doctor and, just before I broke for a late lunch, I had felt that unmistakable, confident pull of a salmon. I say unmistakeable, because a hooked salmon feels very different to any other fish I’ve ever caught. Other fish panic, flap and dart about. A salmon conveys the impression along the line that it is perfectly in control of the situation. Hooking a salmon feels like a firm handshake from a worthy adversary, wishing you well before hostilities commence in earnest.
So the swelling in my chest broadened my smile as I tightened the line. But I’d made a mistake. Perhaps because I’d spent most of the day dallying with trout, but I tightened too early, before the fish had had chance to turn. I withdrew the fly from his mouth and he receded into the depths of the pool.
I stepped back onto the bank. My smile mellowed from one of excitement to one of mere contentment. I’d made contact with a salmon, the noblest fish in British waters. Today, the fish had prevailed, but still - I had communed with Nature, and from that I derived some pride.
As I sat down on my rock and opened the small hamper, the breeze coaxed a smattering of applause from the aspens, which I accepted serenely.
At that moment, a salmon-fishing friend appeared in the middle-distance, stumping up the path along the river, fists balled and face purpled.
“If I ever tell you I’m going salmon fishing again, shoot me!” he bellowed.
I inquired what calamity had befallen him.
“I’ve had nothing but trout all morning, and now I’ve just lost a b***** salmon!”
Thankfully, he declined to ask what sort of day I’d had, as I’d have been obliged to tell him that it had been just the same as his.
I considered the non-atrocious moon and thought about a time when a chap I worked with surprised me by saying that he absolutely loathed the very same job that I loved. Every day, he felt, was a struggle. Persuading unappreciative people to follow good advice was a near impossible task, he lamented. I was shocked. Certainly, our line of business was hard, but then, that’s what made the occasional successes so gratifying! Happiness, it seemed, truly depended on the lens through which one viewed life.
Anne Frank, who somehow managed to see sunshine when all around was darkness, wrote, “I firmly believe that Nature brings solace in all troubles”.
I find it hard to argue with her. Standing in a river, immersed totally in Nature so that it floods all ones’ senses, connecting and communing with the monarch of the river, I find it hard not to be happy.
But then, I suppose it all depends on how you view life.