Whose Woods These Are

WRITTEN BY: Steve Gilbert

About three months after Lia’s diagnosis for Type 1, I went away for a weekend. It wasn’t a long away, just an overnight camping in the mountains to do some fly fishing with a friend of mine. My wife, Franca, had just returned a week earlier from a school trip to France and with the hefty challenges of being the lone caretaker weighing heavily on me, I was eager to log some solitary time. Even better, if it was on a river somewhere. It’s a good idea to steal any time for yourself that you can, even if it seems requited, and while Franca and I have never treated our relationship with give-and-take reciprocity, we both knew I needed a break all right.

I will say, I am not a very good fly fisherman, so this trip was not at all about the catch. In fact, often I go and never even see a fish. I’m that bad. They are there and I know they’re there, their noses pointed upstream, wavering in the slick dark current, and the reason I know they are there is because I see other fisherman catching them. Or, more likely, I watch the occasional satisfied angler come clomping through the brush on the path along the riverbank carrying a string of rainbows, or browns, but mostly rainbows in their hand and nodding their head in my direction as they raise their catch just high enough so that I may see and know they are a real fisherman. But then again, it has never been for the fish that I went to the river.

The morning we woke at the campsite was cold. The firewood was damp and only would burn for a while and only if someone was constantly feeding the damn thing twigs and blowing it back to life whenever it went out. So, we quickly made our coffee and ate our small breakfast of toast and peanut butter while waiting for the sun to peek over the ridgeline. Afterwards, as the day warmed, we cleaned up and broke down the camp except for the tent and we got into our waders and readied our fly lines and watched as the daylight slowly crept down the opposing mountainside until it reached the open meadow just to the south of our camp. Then we walked down the hill through the field and followed the sound of the river. We passed through a thin strand of woods and came to the river. It was wide and fast moving and shallow, too, except for a couple of deep-looking pools. Already several fisherman were scattered standing knee deep in the current in the various poses of fishing, but they paid us no attention as we climbed down the bank and into the river.

I left my friend at a wide open stretch of water where low hanging branches would not interfere with his cast and I walked up along the side current to one of the pools I’d seen. I did not see any trout, but trout, like most wild things, understand the importance of camouflage while man only knows how to get from one place to another as quickly as possible, so there is no guarantee I would have spotted them if they were there, which they were. I was encouraged nonetheless as I made my way upstream, choosing my step very carefully and keeping to the shallower sections where the brown bottom was clear and the current was slow and the footing on the rocks more reliable.

I stood at the edge of the pool, the water up to my thighs, my feet staggered against the undercurrent driving against my legs. In the pool the water was darker and the sunlight that passed through the glassy surface reflected off the tops of sunken boulders then was swallowed by the depths of the hole. I read the lay of the pool and fed out some line with a few false casts and then laid the fly down in a spot just upstream. The nymph at the end of my fly line lit on the water and sunk and the floating line caught in the current and brought the whole rig floating back towards me and I quickly began stripping line to stay ahead of it, feeling and watching for a strike, of which none came. I cast again. And again, and again.

For five hours I fished the river, hole after hole, bend after bend, one white-capped ripple after another. I stopped only for a bite of lunch and not once did I let my mind wander to think of needles, or of test strips, or of boluses and blood sugars. At one point a river otter passed a few feet away from me on the opposite bank and I watched after it as it went bouncing and bounding over fallen trees and rocks until it disappeared into a rock crevasse and I thought how nice it would have been for Lia and Krista to have seen it, too. But mostly I thought of nothing more than just being a part of that river in every moment, letting my mind clear itself of the worry that had been with me the last three months.

Not long before this getaway I was sitting at my desk one workday when Lia called to say she was having a low. I thought about it while I had her on the phone and I told her what to do and she hung up then and I sat there and I thought of my wife and felt a bit of envy for her. How nice it must be to have a job away from home to occupy her attention. Not waiting for the school to call. Not dosing from long distance. Not sitting there wondering if the correction I’d just given was right. That was foolish of me to think that way, of course. Occupation, work, vocation, they do little to free someone from the worry and stress that is the daily routine with diabetes. There is no such thing as down time.

But that afternoon on the river did something for me that sitting at home at my desk day after day could never do. It gave me permission to play, to take a small break from the worry. To let go and take something back of myself.

At the end of the afternoon I sat down on the riverbank with my feet still in the current. I took off my hat and my sunglasses and closed my eyes and felt the river’s heartbeat with my own. It felt good. I felt happy.

More from Steve: Unconscious and Mums the Word. Visit his website Without Envy.

Steve Gilbert

Steve is a writer, husband and father of three, the youngest of which, Lia, was diagnosed with Type 1 in 2009 at the age of eight. Since then he has shared their story on the blog, Without Envy. Steve has served on his chapter’s executive board of JDRF, with his contributions embodying the spirit of community, outreach and raising awareness. He is also a novelist and serves as the Director of Operations and Social Mission for a small, friend-owned, natural products company operating out of Raleigh, NC. He, his wife, Franca, and family enjoy being outdoors, backpacking, cooking, and living a sustainable, health-conscious life. In 2013, they hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany who also has Type 1. Zuza has become like another daughter to them.