The movie A River Runs Through It is filled with stunning, pristine mountain streams and forest glades which server as the backdrop for great fishing scenes. Although the story ends in tragedy, the sweeping panoramic vistas touch something deep inside all of us who love and cherish the mountains.
The San Luis Valley is defined in many ways by the great river, the Rio Grande. It has shaped not only the mountainous areas surrounding us but also the wide fertile valley stretching out below, a compilation of countless eons of rain and snowfall runoff. Destructive in its raging floods; life giving in its supply to area farms; the river lives on through abundance and drought.
Through all of man’s interventions, dams and modifications and uses, the ancient river still survives and will be here long after man no longer walks the earth. It has a life of its own and, no matter how much we try to contain it, a will and power that must be respected.
Earlier in my life I had two distinctive relationships with the Rio Grande. On one hand, it was the palette I would write epic fishing stories upon. And, on the other hand, it terrified me for good reason.
One summer, my son Kody and I were fishing near Coller Wildlife Area. We were wading upstream and I had given him the lead as we fished in the fading evening light. The setting sun played its golden hues upon the red rocks far above, sentinels left from floodwaters many years ago, whose constant coursing flows, carved great designs in the hard faces of the mountains.
Following Kody up the river, his casts coming in a steady cadence, I watched the trout being scooped into his net. A father's smile creased my lips each time he caught one as I remembered how he struggle as a child to gain the skills needed to be a first class fly fisherman.
Without realizing that I was watching and enjoying his fishing more than my own, Kody offered some fishing advice just as I would have offered to him years earlier. The idyllic moment was lost as I stumbled on the rocky bottom and found myself falling, caught in the rivers cold embrace.
Rod, hat, glasses and tackle I struggled to save and after a 100 yard tumble down the fast current, I found a soft eddy the water and I was able to extract myself from its embrace. Wet, cold and embarrassed I knew that I was now to endure my son's laughter both then and in stories to be told and retold countless times to friend and family alike.
In those first few moments, though, as the cold water gushed around me the river had lost its poetry and became a life-threatening force.
It would be some time after that before I lost my fear of the river. I have my children to thank for that. We had rented a cabin on the Rio Grande and I came out the front door to see my children and their cousins swimming in the fast current. They had donned their life jackets and were whooping and hollering running up the river bank and jumping in enjoying the ride around the bend. I realized then that I had feared something that was never really all that dangerous if you approach it with the right attitude.
So it is with life. Most of our fears are of things we have little experience with and easily conquered if we try.
We are indeed blessed to experience the lifecycle of such a great river. I recommend a book called, Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History written by Paul Horgan. It’s a story about the Rio Grande and its people in their entirety. To live at the rivers source and see the beginning of its march to the sea is both wondrous and mystical. It will give you a new appreciation for the water floating past you now.
The Indian summer weather with golden aspens and crisp fall air is available in limitless supply. There are still limits of trout being taken in all area waters and worms seem to work well in the lakes now with all the runoff from recent rains. Many small streams remain clear although springtime full and the fish are eager to bite caddis and prince nymphs as well.
The hunters are in the mountains seeking game, hikers still ply the mountain trails and adventure awaits all who will come to the valley's great bosom. As for Cooper and me, we’re taking it all in and loving this beautiful area we call “home.” As I write this, The Rio Grande is high in its banks thanks to last week’s rainfalls. This day reminds me that the River -- ancient in its path yet new with every rainfall which courses down its bed -- runs through it still.