We’d finished a cold day trout fishing in the North Mill River outside Asheville, N.C., thrown our gear into the back of the truck and made ready to head to town when Steven, my fishing partner and guide for the day, offered his last bit of advice. Reaching for my cast-off wading boots, he tied the laces together.
“Always keep them tied together when you’re hauling them,” he said. “That way, you’ll never lose one. Or, if you do, you’ll lose them both, and it’ll be less aggravating.”
I can’t argue with logic like that. What I’d learned that day went well beyond tips and techniques for catching rainbows and browns, although there had been plenty of those. It was more about life, liberty, and about the pursuit of happiness in particular.
In the course of our day in the hills, Steven told me about his past jobs, about a series of academic studies and professions that put him in close contact with people of every economic strata and every character stripe at one time or another. It was soon clear he viewed money as a necessary evil, but more evil than necessary for sure.
“I love guiding kids, especially kids who are eager to learn,” he said, “but doing this, you run into all types of people. Doing this here, you run into people who have unfathomable amounts of money, people who live with incomprehensible degrees of wealth. Usually, the richer the parents are, the worse their kids are. You can just about count on it. The kids don’t get much better when they get older, either. Not from what I’ve seen.”
In his late 30s, Steven drove a long-paid-for pickup truck away from steady income and reliable benefits and headed to the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He replaced what he’d left behind with goods more valuable than money and bounty from the streams that doesn’t necessarily swim like leviathans in the current or sail through the wind like ghosts knotted to monofilament line. Now, a steady tourist trade makes for regular guiding opportunities through most of the year, money that’s good in the season as the Jimmy Buffett song goes. Odd construction jobs bridge the gaps that span the colder weather days between.
Through months on and the weeks off, he’s passed the last 9 years in Asheville. What does the future hold? Who knows? For now, the work is as steady as he wants it to be. He’s self-sufficient and self-reliant in times that continue to test everyone’s character. Those are two traits you can always tie together. Then you can be certain you’ll never lose one.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.