When the Struggle is Worthwhile

My excitement rose with the sun.  Despite the previous night’s rain—which had served to muddy many of the famed fisheries of Paradise Valley—we were headed for the clear water of DuPuy’s Spring Creek, arguably one of the finest trout waters in Western Montana.  Our guide had warned us that DuPuy’s was a more technical fishery, and some days, expert fishermen leave the creek empty-handed.  Still, I was giddy with anticipation as we wove our way down the dirt road from our lodge to the DuPuy’s house. 

If architecture is any indicator of place, our pickup truck seemed to land squarely in southern Georgia after a short drive.  We approached the Main House with a healthy curiosity, wondering how this Tara-like dwelling had managed to find its way to the banks of a spring creek in Montana.  After ascending the steps and knocking on the hand-carved double doors, we were welcomed into the foyer by current resident Daryl, who met us with a kind and knowing smile. 

With one foot through the door of the Dupuy Mansion, we had stepped into a steady stream of fly fishers, all on the same quest for majestic, quiet waters, wild and sometimes wary trout, and the kind of labor and strategy that leaves you with contentment in your heart and hunger in your belly.  I bent down to sign the standard waiver without glancing at its text; I somehow knew this place wouldn’t ask anything of me that I wouldn’t willingly give of my own accord. 

Introductions complete, papers signed, and plans laid, we headed for the creek to scout for feeding fish.  The morning was quiet and still; we strolled the waterside path in solitude, as if the creek was ours alone for the day.  With rings in sight, I slowly stepped into the water and began letting out my line.  The fishing required focus, as the perfect, natural drift would be necessary to catch any of these trout.  I casted, recalibrated, and casted again—on repeat.  My ears attune to the slightest sound, I turned my head to see deer thundering down the trail, a muskrat sliding into the water, and even a bald eagle soaring overhead.  One of sixteen rods allowed for the day, the privilege of fishing this beautiful water was not lost on me.

We worked for a couple of hours before I squealed with delight at my first hook set of the day.  The singing sound of line peeling off my reel matched the joy I felt when I landed a beautiful wild rainbow marked with pattern and color that would make any artist envious.  I could have walked away from DuPuy’s content at that moment, but what respectable fly fisher would make that choice?  I spent the rest of the afternoon happily engaging the trout on DuPuy’s Spring Creek, pulling a couple of browns out of the stack at Dick’s Pond and then heading downstream to try my luck near Eva’s Hut.  There the setting sun found me, aiming my drift at a feeding trout near the opposite bank for at least half an hour.  The fish taunted me, first rejecting my hopper, then my ant.  Eventually the grass along the waterline claimed my ant as a sacrifice, and I begrudgingly tied on a small, black beetle, huffing at my misfortune.  As it turned out, the beetle was no second-rate choice; the cutthroat I had been eyeing darted out after the tiny foam insect on my first cast—but in my sulking, I missed it!  Cheeks puffed out with angry air, I instinctively casted my line back to the same spot, slapping the insect down with little care for presentation.  The fortuitous slap prompted the fish to take again, and I raised my rod in celebration!  As I stood in the water, calling this fish back to me with every strip of the line, I felt a deep sense of gratitude.  No one had promised me a fish on DuPuy’s that day. In fact, our guide had warned me of quite the opposite.  Yet there I stood, with the sun sinking lower in the sky and others waiting on my retreat, reluctant to leave the water that had yielded to me a sampling of its bounty. 

Just a few days back from my Montana adventure, I sat next to my husband in a metal folding chair, listening to the yearly admonitions for parents at my children’s classical school.  Eight years into this family ritual, it came as no surprise for me to hear a school administrator utter the familiar encouragement: “To struggle is good.  Let them.”  But this year I didn’t envision my kids at the dinner table, rubbing their foreheads over difficult math problems or erasing untidy handwriting.  I saw myself standing in the crystal-clear water of DuPuy’s—a place where difficulty mingles with beauty and struggle yields satisfaction, where failure forces recalibration and technique is refined, where fishermen are forced to wrestle with the very definitions of achievement and success. 

There is great similarity between my children walking into the halls of their highly-sought-after school and me dipping my toes into the hallowed waters of DePuy’s.  Both are a privilege, and neither of us are the first to tread the paths before us.  We’re both stepping into the thrill of a tradition that is bigger than we are, and certainly one that’s older.  Yes, there will be struggle and frustration along the way—maybe even days of empty-handed pining—but there is wild beauty and unspeakable satisfaction for the taking here, for anyone who is willing to accept the challenge.  I hope my children will think of me when they encounter obstacles in the upcoming school year—and remember a mom who wanted to step into the water anyway, because she believed the struggle to be worthwhile. 

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