Catch and Release

Eric Resting Before Dinner

Catch and Release

            I learned about Catch and Release, not from a fishing expedition, although we were on a river in Northern California, but from rocks.

            I have a faint glimmer of an understanding of why the Eel River has such a spectacular selection of rocks. I know a little bit of the geology of the area, but of course the reason I was out there was to go canoeing with my friends on Memorial Weekend.

            I was walking on a beach made of rocks from fist to head sized and occasionally larger. I was with Don and Karen and we were all looking at the rocks as we walked along. We had to look because the footing was dangerous – the rocks were unstable – but we were also treasure hunting.

            The rocks. At least half the shore was some kind of marble. We stumbled across pink, pale green, deep red, blue, purple rocks, all with tangles of white crystals of quartz running thru, sometimes cutting a deep groove in the rock.

            We were all ooooing and ahhhhing over our finds. I was particularly drawn to one the size, color and shape of a brain. The quartz had formed valleys between the lobes. There was a deep crevice where the brain stem would go and the reptilian brain hid deep inside, full of sand. We admired it.

            “Maybe I can take this one home.” I tapped it with my toe.

            “It’s a long way to the cars from the take out,” said Don. He was right of course, carrying a 15 pound rock a quarter mile then all our gear and the boats spoiled a lot of my attraction for the rock. Even carrying it back to camp was going to be a chore.

            But it was so beautiful. We formed a small triangle of appreciation around it for a moment, then left, picking our way along like demented ostriches.

            Karen picked up a more reasonably sized rock. It was green but this time, instead of white quartz crystals, it had blood red veins running through it. The stone had worn down, tumbling down the river,  the veins of red, slightly harder than the green were raised a little above the green surface. She handed it around.

            It was small enough that it wouldn’t be a problem to carry it home but she placed it carefully back in the bowl of packed sand she had taken it out of.

            “Don taught me about Catch and Release,” she said. “I see them. I admire them. Then I release them back into the wild.” She dusted the sand off her hand on her pant leg.

            I loved the image of the barb-less hook catching a flashing and alive rainbow rock. The excitement of landing it and then the moments of love for it, then feeling it leap free as you lower it onto the sand to release it.  Applied to rocks, catch and release was a pretty funny idea; they are anything but alive and picking one up isn’t a challenge, but Karen was right, we pick them up because they are beautiful. They thrill us with color and light and texture. They bring us into the world. But we don’t have to own the rock. We don’t have to carry its dead weight uphill from its source or bring it home and display it in the garden only to have it be forgotten in the weeds. Great rocks can be loved in place. Besides, they get heavier the further you carry them.

            Anything can be loved in its place. Love is in the mind and heart after all, not in the rock.

            Perhaps the reason I want to take the rock home is to have a reminder of the river. I fantasize a trigger on my porch to make me remember and love the place again. A portable idol to replace the missing river. The missed river. The missed conversations around the campfire after dinner. The peacefulness that everyone feels after a long day in the wind and sun doing energetic things. The rock is a remembering device. It is for feeling the moment of discovery and admiration again, later when you need it.

            Besides, where would we be if everyone took rocks home with them, there wouldn’t be any left!

            I joke, but I have to admit that in the back of my head I would hesitate about carrying the rocks home with me because they took up precious cargo space in the boat. They added weight to an already overloaded boat, slowed it down when there wasn’t much current. And when you are among thousands of beautiful stones how can you possibly just pick one? All those other ones need to come home with me, too. I also felt that there was always the slight possibility that if the canoe flipped the rocks would cause problems like tangling in my gear and sinking the boat or bashing my legs or head.

            Many years ago I had to go to a Christmas party where I was supposed to have a small gift for everyone at the party. There were 7 or 8 of us. Financially this was going to be a stretch and I stumbled on the idea of buying 7 gifts under $5 each and making the wrapping of the packages be the gift. I bought a deck of cards and a small puzzle and other similar things. I also bought a package of origami paper and spent several hours folding and wrapping the packages. It was a lot of fun and each package was a fragile and lovely work of art. I loved the idea that they would have to tear the package apart to get into the present.  There was something about making these presents deliberately temporary that appealed to me.

            This was before I discovered ‘catch and release’ with Karen and Don on the Eel River, but I suppose the reason ‘catch and release’ caught me was that I was already practicing it when I wrapped those presents. Karen gave me the words for a form I already understood.

            I live in a house full of things I have difficulty in releasing; furniture from my Grandmother, the interior designer, and paintings by my mother, the artist, things that feel good to me, that I want to hold close. Things that are beautiful and valuable not only to me but to someone who might buy or inherit them someday.

            But I am getting tired of lugging them around. I am not as interested in the quantity of stuff I can cram into my shrinking space but of the quality. What things do I really care about? What is the shape of my life and how does this thing, this object, this treasure, fit into it. What things, fish caught years ago by generations of my family, can I release?

            Is the coffee table beyond repair? Do I really need a 5 disc CD player? How many tea cups do I need? Should I take down the Christmas ornaments that have hung in the living room for years beyond memory? Can I really live in three rooms instead of eight? How do I trade off functionality versus beauty? Toss the cups and keep the mug? I’ll use the mug…

            The tea cups have a lot of memories. Some are from my grandmother and others my mother but a large portion of them, Charlie and I collected. Maybe I should keep one from each generation and let the rest go.

            Letting go of things has become a complex issue, too. There is a part of me that is kind of greedy, that wants to squeeze money out of these objects, that wants to hold a huge yard sale with huge prices. But there is  apart of me that feels that it would be selling the rocks on the Eel River. The objects have no intrinsic value to me – or do they? What is the cash value of an antique, hand-painted tea cup? If my time is worth $25/hour and I spend an hour researching the sale price of the tea cup and it turns out to be $5 I have really wasted my time. The value of the tea cup would have to be at least $50 to make the whole process worth while financially. I don’t think this is very likely.

            I know people who really enjoy this process. They go shopping and take home loads of stuff. Others are really good at selling things and getting $10 for  the cup they spent $5 on makes them happy. I suppose that’s the engine that makes capitalism work. Buy low, sell high.

            I guess I didn’t catch the capitalism rock. I am not enchanted by selling. I like money but selling feels like a waste of time. Giving things away cheers me up.

5 thoughts on “Catch and Release

  1. I love your description of rocks as “remembering devices.” I have a bowl of rocks, small ones, that I’ve collected from all the rivers I’ve paddled and hikes I’ve taken throughout the world. On one side of each rock I’ve written the location from which it came. My bowl of rocks holds my memories, and connects me to the places, perhaps even more than photographs.

  2. What kind of rock is this? Leverite. Leave-er-right where you found it. This name can be applied to a rock that is too beautiful to be taken out of its natural habitat, or to a rock that is only beautiful in its natural habitat– one that you’ll lug home to discover that its just a big ugly rock.
    Lovely essay. Thank you for sharing.

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