Monday, April 27, 2009

Holding a Trout in Your Hand

On one of my first fishing outings of the season, I was fortunate to find a pool full of trout on a local Connecticut stream. Although the river was narrow and shallow for much of it’s length, there was one deep spot. I tied a red Copper John to my tippet and then proceeded to have an experience that I had dreamt about all winter long. I caught, landed and released 6 good-sized trout in half an hour, 4 rainbows and 2 browns.

It was like child’s play, with almost each cast leading to a fish. Then suddenly, the pool went quiet. Another thirty minutes of casting yielded not a single bite. Only one other time have I ever fished a pool like that, two years ago, also in April, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On that day too, I drifted a nymph, a zug bug, and for a brief time, each cast led to a trout.

It was exciting, almost addicting, to cast my fly into the invisible depths of the pool, instantly feel the tug, and then pull a beautiful trout out of the water. The highlight of the experience though was actually holding the fish in my hands. To ensure that the trout would survive, I dunked my hands in the water and I only kept the fish out of the water for a few seconds, before releasing it back to the stream. Yet those were remarkable moments when I looked at the beautiful colorings of the fish, and felt the strength of its flesh. Holding the trout, I felt awe at seeing such a beautiful creature. I felt powerful, because I could hold this hidden treasure in my hand. And I felt compassion, for a creature that was so strong and agile in the water but now was so vulnerable in the open air.

One of the rainbows I held in my hand, taken with a camera phone.

In the Bible, God has the power to hold us in the Divine Hand in the same way that I held that beautiful trout. Sometimes God’s hand can be strong and even punishing, as when God brought the 10 plagues upon Egypt. In the same way, I had absolute control over that fish when I held it in my hands and could have easily taken it home for dinner.

The hand of God can also be a hand of compassion. When God heard the suffering of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, God freed them with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand. God’s hand can free the oppressed and help the suffering to find comfort. I too wanted the trout to be free, and so I released them from my hands.

The hand of God can also be a hand of protection. A hamsa is a small amulet shaped like a hand often with an eye in the center of the palm. Some Jews wear a hamsa as a pendant or on a necklace to provide protection from the evil eye and other misfortunes. A hand can be sheltering, helping those who come under its protective care. The spiritual “He’s got the whole word in His hands” sung by African-American slaves captures this same idea; even in the midst of the worst of conditions, God’s hand can protect and shield us.

Hamsa from:

Even when fly fishing, our hands can provide protection, for the fish and for the beautiful places where they live. At the end of the day, I found myself wanting to give something back, to the stream that had shared such abundance with me and to God who had ultimately created such a beautiful world. As I hiked back to the car through the woods, I saw a pile of trash, about a dozen empty beer cans and some plastic bags and small boxes. I was disgusted for a moment, as I often am when seeing how people harm nature for no good reason. But then I took the same hands that had held the trout and used them to pick up that trash, and in the smallest of ways, leave the stream a little bit better then when I arrived.

Finally, the hand of God can be loving. After Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, God told them that they must leave and earn their bread through hard work. God then made garments for Adam and Eve and clothed them. God’s hands were loving, ensure that His children did not have to go out into the world with no protection at all.

When I was holding those trout in my hands, I too felt this type of caring. I could not help but think of the sensation of petting a dog. It is an imperfect analogy, as man’s best friend likes being scratched, and a fish is in danger in human hands. Yet, I still found myself wondering if maybe all of the trout in the world are like our pets, and by spending a moment with them in our hands, we too can appreciate their beauty and grandeur. Then like God releasing Adam and Eve into the world so that they could live, I opened my hand and returned the trout to the stream, unharmed and whole.


James C. said...

Wonderful post. I enjoy your blog. I've stalked nearly every stream in the Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest, and although I release 99% of the time, my Cherokee and Yuchi ancestry dictate that, from time to time, I take a trout for supper. I also feel obliged to pick up after others. I've been in remote areas, miles away from anyone -- or so you'd think -- and found garbage that by rights should never have made it into these areas. Tight lines. I look forward to your next post.

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...

Thank you James. Sounds like you have some great fishing in the Smoky Mountains.