This past summer, I cooked for a remote fishing lodge south of Atlin, BC. On occasion everyone left camp and I was left on my own or with my five year-old son to while away the day. Usually I was busy preparing for dinner, but I still found time to get away from camp. After my son was taught how to fish by the camp owner, he would bug me non-stop to take him fishing down at what we called the Home Pool.
Fishing is not something I know much about, but I have done a little over the years I spent in the bush. I’ve tried my hand at fly-fishing and spin casting, but I still don’t know much. Fishing’s never really appealed to me I think because it involves a lot of standing around in icy waters or such like. Though fishing is a lot more fun when you go out with experienced fisherman guides. They treat you real well! I like it when they take care of baiting your hook and untangling your snags and removing the fish you’ve caught and filleting it all up so neatly without you having to get your hands dirty. It’s a real luxury, and I am starting to understand why some people pay big money for guided fishing tours!
However when it was just me and my kid – I WAS THE GUIDE, so to speak – and not a very good one. The first time we trekked down to the fishing hole, I carried the rods and we picked our way across the rocks to set up on the edge of some rapids. The kid starts casting and very quickly snags his line. I got him untangled. He casts again and hooks a bull trout. Great fun! I video him reeling the fish in and just before I lands it, the fish pops the hook and off he swims. Bugger! The kid hooks another trout soon after and this time he lands it.
That’s when I realized I didn’t have anything to get the hook out of it’s mouth. So with a kid who all of a sudden got real sensitive to the fate of his fish, I bashed it on it’s head a few times because I couldn’t get the hook out of it’s mouth with my fingers or a stick or anything. Those teeth are sharp! The kids wailing about the poor fish so I send him running back up the hill to camp to fetch my pliers (it wouldn’t do to leave him all alone beside the roaring river as I could just imagine that a grizzly would decide to pop out and eat him or he would do something stupid like jump in the rapids or something). It took him a while, because 5 year-olds like to get distracted and dawdle over every rock or stick that grabs their attention. However, eventually he returned to hand me my Swiss tool and I was able to work the hook out of the trout’s mouth.
Then I set about filleting the fish and realized that I hadn’t done a good job of keeping an edge on my knife. After a rather bad hack job that any chef would be embarrassed to admit too, I had some meat for the fish fry happening that evening. On the way back up the bluff, I stopped to take pictures of a few wildflowers that snagged my attention. Apparently thirty-some-odd-year-olds can dawdle and get distracted too!
The first to catch my eye was a scarlet bloom that I instantly recognized as a Columbine, because I have a plant with a different colored bloom in my own garden at home. According to the Haida people of BC, you shouldn’t pick red columbine or it will bring rain, hence it’s nickname the Red Rain-Flower. It is thought to be a good luck charm by some and used medicinally by others for rheumatism or aching joints.
The flowers are a sweet source of nectar for hummingbirds or long-tongued bees or curious children. I didn’t realized there were short-tongued and long-tongued bees. I guess there is and you can tell what kind of bee it is by the type of flower they get into. Of course I’m no expert on differentiating bees. I’m just glad I recognized the scarlet red of the columbine on my path across the rocks.
After we crossed the nearly dry creek bed and started up the steep path that climbed the bank towards the lodge, I stopped to snap a picture of some white yarrow – another plant I readily recognize. It grows in my pasture and it was one I learned quickly because it is widely known that yarrow stops or slows down bleeding and is a pain reliever. Despite it’s myriad of tiny delicate flowers this plant packs a healing punch. It is considered one of the oldest known medicines used by humans and whole books have been written on this plant alone. Along with staunching bleeding, being antimicrobial and a pain reliever, it is good to stimulate circulation, help with digestion, encourages sweating, and is considered an herb for women and any and all issues with reproduction and such.
At the time though, all I could recall about yarrow, as I bent down to snap a couple close-up shots of the white blooms, was an article written by an herbalist who likes to wildcraft her herbs. She was talking about yarrow and how many like to grow it in their gardens because of it’s medicinal benefits, however she said that when one looks for strong medicine in plants, one needs to go find it in the harshest of environments. It is strongly considered that the more severe the habitat, the stronger the medicine of the plant. Therefore, one should not use the cultivated yarrow for healing teas or tinctures but instead go find it out in the wilderness or especially in the badlands. (Badlands yarrow is apparently where it’s at, for all you wildcrafter herbalists reading this!)
I was thinking about that, as I fingered the elegant yarrow blooms, how that rings true of humankind. Wasn’t it Paul the Apostle, in Romans 5 who talks about how suffering ends up producing the tempered steel of virtue in us? Again it’s that line of thought, that the harshest environments can produce the strongest and yet most compassionate of people.
I wonder why so many of us shy from suffering? Well I know why; it hurts! But rather than avoid the pain that is bound to happen on this earth, what if we leaned into it, or at least walk through it, not shying from it, but a setting of our teeth – a determination? I don’t know if I’m that person, but I admire those who are. Those I see meeting pain head on. I’m more like a worm stuck through with a pin, squirming any which way to get away from the source of pain. I wonder though, if I could just learn to be still and lean, instead of squirm and thrash.
We are so quick to judge what is a bad time or what is a good time. What if we quit trying to be judges of what is good and evil? What if we just let God be God and let Him grow in us something good, something healing, something beautiful, despite the brutal and savageness that surrounds. What if what we think is bad is actually working towards something better in us than could have possibly happened in a time of ease? What if the harshness we face gives us healing qualities that will help others–––A wild, fierce, stronger medicine, than your typical garden-variety type? What if?
The kid beat me up the path, and was calling. So I left the blooms of yarrow behind to ponder about another day.
And that day was today.
My question to you is: Have you faced a hard time, a painful time, that produced something better and greater in you, than if you had never gone through that time?