Salmon Fishing on the Columbia River

The noise of barking sea lions echoed off the sides of the giant steel boats in the harbor. Our guide had just dunked his aluminum boat into the water and pulled his shiny Ford pickup and trailer dripping with river water up onto the boat ramp. I noticed his personalized license plate was abbreviated to read, Night Moves. He was a small but strong man with thinning blond hair tied back into a gnarled ponytail. He wore rubber waders, a navy and red rain parka and a weather worn grimace. The four of us on the dock were quiet as he went about his business of loading and preparing the boat for our day of salmon fishing on the Columbia River out of the gray port town of Astoria, Oregon. IMG_1650

I followed him to the boat alone, the others were finding the last refuge of a bathroom. I’d never done anything like this before and it already wasn’t what I’d expected. Billie, our boat captain and fishing guide struck up a conversation with the guide in the boat tied next to ours while I sat and listened and observed and waited for my friends to walk down the dock. The fishermen were using terms like spinner, Chinook, Coho, hatchery and wild. They seemed to be speaking a different language entirely and I was fascinated but trying to appear cool. I nodded and mmm-hmm’d every once in a while even though I had no idea what they were talking about. Finally my friends came toward the boat and Billie helped each of them on board. He told us where to sit and we listened. That’s the thing about boat captains. You do what they tell you to do and don’t ask questions. Billie was gruffly friendly, capable and confident and puttered us out through the barking sea lions into the wide river as we looked on toward our adventure with smiles and wide eyes.

From my experience of the Pacific Northwest, I can tell you that most days are cool and gray. This one was no exception but at least it wasn’t raining. I was dressed appropriately in several layers, the outer most of which was galoshes, worn jeans, alpaca gloves and a rain jacket. I felt I fit in and flew under the radar and didn’t give anyone the notion I was a recovering Southern California resident.

We flew across the smooth dark water to a spot under a bridge that joins Oregon and Washington. Cars and trucks traveled high overhead and I felt lucky to be looking out onto the water instead of at traffic and the road. Billie was making calls on his cell phone talking to his fisherman buddies trying to find out where the Coho were jumping and the Chinook were biting. He decided this was a good place to start and he began baiting hooks and distributing fishing rods. His authority was a bit daunting and none of us wanted to make a mistake or tangle the lines because it was going to piss Billie off. No one wanted that.IMG_1636

The least experienced among us caught the first fish. Billie jumped in her direction when he saw the rod take and she squealed as he took over her spot at the rod and began drawing the fish into the boat. There was a flurry of excitement as he called out rapid-fire instructions for us to reel in our lines and make room for the match about to take place between him and the Chinook. We clumsily did as he instructed, all stomping around the boat as it rocked back and forth with the current and Billie called out orders. I handed over the net as he reeled the flopping fish to the surface and someone slid the net in underneath the silvery fish. This first catch of the day was about an hour from the dock. Much to Billie’s dismay, after the catch, we took a while to regroup. “When they’re bitin’ they’re bitin’ and we gotta get those lines back in the water.” He said sternly. We picked up the pace and got back to dropping our bait and manning our anchored poles. We were each sure that if it was that easy, if Patti could do it (and come up smiling), we could do it too. We waited…and waited. Billie’s phone rang to the tune of Night Moves and he picked it up to talk with his fisherman buddy about moving to a new location. We would hear this same conversation over and over again throughout the day.IMG_1645

We reeled in our lines and flew to the next spot. David, the most experienced among us, brought up a beautiful wild salmon that, unfortunately had to be thrown back. It seems the rules and regulations governing what fish can be kept and which must be thrown back are constantly changing and cause severe contempt among local fisherman. Billie grumbled through the peace and quiet of the afternoon. After a lengthy attempt and no more catches, Billie picked up the night moves cell phone and found us another spot back toward the bridge. Apparently word had gotten out about this particular spot though and there were boats everywhere. “There’s no nets out.” Billie said. “Not a good sign.” He watched the other boats as we trained our eyes on the tips of our rods dipping just into the water and the waves rolled up underneath us banging against the metal boat. Just as we were about to give up on this spot, David’s wife Cissie had a bite and we all jumped into action again. The fish pulled her gracefully around the boat and she reeled it to the surface; but it was another wild and we had to toss him back. We were one for three and eventually Night Moves called with another tip and we headed for the next spot. For the rest of the day, we had several bites and several false alarms. We sat and watched our rods and bullshitted the day away. We learned that Billie had been fishing these waters for 45 years. Billie learned I was single and tried to set me up with a logger friend of his. We found out Billie’s other buddy was in the state pen in Texas for robbing banks. This was his third incarceration; he kept getting out and robbing more banks. I never did get Billie’s buddy’s phone number for a date.

We finally gave in around noon and headed back to harbor. We were a little defeated, but felt lucky to have caught at least one fish for dinner. We trolled our boat into the dock, the voices of the barking sea lions blasting off the steel boats as they lazed their beastly bodies on the docks.IMG_1651

We left invigorated by our day on the river and, later that night, we feasted on fresh Chinook salmon.  We bonded and regaled the stories of our adventure over wine and Patti’s fish.

Choosing Simplicity

When you create the opportunity to turn your life upside down and shake everything out, what you’re left with isn’t emptiness. What you’re left with are the parts of you that can’t be separated from who you are on a soul level. What’s left are your truth and authenticity.

Two years ago I considered myself to be content. I was living in my half million dollar Los Angeles condo, driving my fancy convertible, working a glamorous job and earning a six figure salary. I was so preoccupied with collecting labels, money, men, material possessions, status and power that I never stopped to consider what it was I was passionate about or ask myself if my lifestyle would continue to make me happy into the future as I got to be 40, 50, 60, 70 years old. I just lived in a state of ego driven contentment with the status quo. Fortunately, two years and some life-altering lessons, teachers, mentors and adventures later, all of that has changed.

My transformation began with an overwhelming urge to start purging my belongings. I started making weekly trips to goodwill with years and years worth of things I’d accumulated. I began distancing myself from the myriad of superficial attachments to lackluster relationships, designer purses, sunglasses, beautiful clothes and painful high heeled shoes.  Thanks to some very special people, over time, I traded these attachments for ones to travel, genuine relationships and new kinds of conversations. I became acquainted with my latent dreams and passions; things I’d never paid much attention to before. I began to realize I’d never felt a sense of true fulfillment and I started to see the glimmer of importance in that and seek it out for the first time. I started turning down fancy dinners and professional obligations for camping and kayaking on beautiful lakes. I cancelled plans to spend more time at home in quiet reflection and contemplation. I was in the process of simplifying as a means to…what end?  I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t know, but before that point, I’d never even asked myself that kind of question…to what end?  Isn’t that funny?  Isn’t that interesting that I never once thought, well, where is this all going? Where do I max out? With that question, I finally came to the conclusion that I needed a big change.

It took me two years of downsizing and simplifying to uproot and get to the beginning of my new life. I have finally landed in a place where I get to live for my passions and work every day toward fulfilling my dreams. It has been the most challenging and emotional thing I have ever done, but also the most rewarding. I have created freedom, new life and new opportunities for myself and my existence has become so simple. I live in a small town in Oregon, three blocks from the beach and my rent is dirt cheap. My bike is my only means of transportation and it is liberating! I wait tables at an oceanfront restaurant where I look at the water all day and come home to write. I am LOVING my life in a way I never even thought was possible until fate intervened two years ago. These days I am light and free, creative and spontaneous.

SimplicityFinding simplicity takes cutting through layers of accumulation and nonsense. It begins with clearing away the literal and figurative clutter that surrounds you. Maybe it’s so hard because, in order to enjoy a simple life, you have to really be happy with who you are as a person and make peace with all the hard stuff. But I’m here telling you it’s worth it; that there is a lot to be said for ease. In fact, I’ve learned that flexibility and freedom are where I find real power. In flexibility and freedom, in simplicity and ease, we can catch glimpses of ourselves in a natural state. It’s like looking in the mirror first thing in the morning when your face is bare, without the makeup and worries of the day. It’s the same looking at our lives in those moments of time where there are no commitments, distractions or bookends.

The more I de-clutter my life, the more beauty and joy I find in the simple things. Instead of wandering the mall buying clothes and makeup and purses, I wander along the beach or along the street admiring the water, gardens and sunshine. I find beauty in the rain and the moon where I just didn’t see it before.  I no longer rest my happiness in things or superficial relationships. I have become someone focused on the value and beauty of the things right in front of me; things I already possess. I’m happy and truly content here and now and in this moment, regardless of the things that surround me or take up space in my orb.

As published in the August 2013 issue of Soulwoman eMagazine

Finding Freedom and Flow in Bali

There is freedom in the simple act of making time for yourself. It doesn’t matter what you carve out time for exactly, just that you use those moments to listen to your heart and follow its yearnings. 317401_10150425030320086_799755270_n

In 2011 I spent three months in Morocco and returned to my home in Los Angeles feeling like my wings had been cut off. I’d found my sense of wanderlust during those months embedded in such a rich and unique place and was going stir crazy being back in the box of my old life. A severe case of culture shock left me feeling like I needed to flee the country…again. So I bought a ticket, a Lonely Planet, packed my backpack and set off for a month in Bali with a loose itinerary and without an agenda of any kind.

Traveling around Bali, I found a gap for magic in the time without bookends. It’s true, I may have found that sense of freedom anywhere, but in Bali that time was soft, lush, beautiful and barefoot. It was an easy country to navigate and everywhere I went was a soft place to land. I traveled from Ubud, rich in art, craft, culture and music to a meditative place where the river meets the sea on the black beach of Suraberata. I learned to scuba dive on a whim with a handsome Aussie in the crystal waters of a seaweed farming island called Nusa Lembongan. I took in the pristine beaches of Sanur from a hammock on a quiet stretch of sand.

In each place, I found that when I was able to put everything down, stand still and clear my mind, I could allow myself to be carried from place to place and from experience to experience.  Once I began to go with the flow and let the right moments nudge me forward from my resting state, I understood my own capacity for freedom.

I spent a month this way, letting each day, each hour, each minute, carry me to the next. I saw and experienced things I couldn’t possibly have planned for before I left for my trip because my mind was smaller before I began the experience. Travel has this capacity to break open your perspective of the world, but you have to allow it space and time.

Especially in our Western day to day lives, we force ourselves into tight work and life schedules that leave little room for flow or spontaneity. It’s difficult to let the universe have its way with you and naturally guide you to the people and places you are meant to encounter when all of your time is committed or obligated. I learned in Bali, that real freedom is a gift we can only give to ourselves.  We become our own captors in the prisons we create with schedules and attachments and it can be tough to find the key to freedom which is hidden in our own pocket.