Zen and the art of fly fishing

I’m in love. If you had told me that I could stand in an icy stream for hours and be totally attentive and happy, I would not have believed you – that is, until I was introduced to the beauty of fly fishing in northern New Mexico last week.

My teacher was my husband’s grandson, William, who is plans to major in marine biology when he graduates from high school.

Grandson William explains how the line works

William is a smart and passionate fly fisherman, and ties his own flies. These are his, made of fur and feathers and wonderful stuff, very artful assemblages that mimic nature: 

William was patient with me in teaching the techniques, but more importantly, he taught me how meditative this kind of fishing is – it’s really not about catching fish, since fly fishing is a catch-and-release partnership – it’s more like a dance.

It’s about the observation of the water and the creatures that inhabit it.  And it ‘s about the ritual, such as threading the fly rod with the tippet, the leader, and the line, each of which has its purpose in a successful cast.  The purpose of the leader and tippet is to complete the transfer of energy built up in the fly line through the casting stroke through the line and down to the fly so that your line rolls over and straightens itself out if a fairly straight line. Wow.

I also want to learn to tie my own flies – talk about an art. William told me that there are two kinds- wet and dry. This is a dry fly, one he made and floated in a glass to show me how it mimics a mayfly.

Lest I get too zen-like about all of this, it’s also about getting your line stuck in a tree across the stream. AAcckk!! But William saved me by patiently untangling the line.

Quite honestly, I’ve been totally entranced by this. You are alone with your thoughts, your rod and your serenity. You hear the rushing water and you stand and you wait. You cast and you wait. It’s peaceful. It’s rhythmic. For someone like me who can’t sit still for a minute, this is a revelation.

I’ll never be more than a rank beginner – there are people who devote their lives to this – but the gift of this discovery for me is a peaceful mind, a spiritual concentration, and an immersion in natural rhythms. Thanks, William, for showing me something wonderful! I came back from the trip with a new energy and a feeling of accomplishment. 

My teacher, William, practicing his art










Super-special-teacher-artist-new-friend Mary Johnston :)

Art One Linocut from one of Mary Johnston’s students

I love serendipity – what are the chances that (a.) a former student of mine (hi, Tyler!) who works at the San Antonio Museum of Art would (b.) start a random conversation with an art teacher from rural New Mexico in (c.) a folk art shop in Port Aransas?

And that (d.) my name would come up? And that (e.) that art teacher would then come to my Studio to meet me? She did, and we had a fantastic conversation!

The teacher is Mary Johnston, and she’s one of those art teachers who knows that art is more than drawing a realistic apple. It’s the heart of human culture, and that’s what she teaches. I received an email from her yesterday with photos of what her students have been up to – and these are students who had never had art before Mary arrived on the scene!

Look at the totems they constructed and the other work they created (below) and then read what Mary has to say about her approach to teaching.

From Mary: “Last year  (Fall 2014) was the first time any of my students had had art classes.  Because of this, I kept lessons fairly traditional and strove to stay in sync with the Northern NM rural community. I worked at nurturing what the students already knew and were comfortable with.

Art 1 . Georgia O’Keeffe Unit. Horse skull.Graduated painting technique. Oil paint on canvas .Mesa Vista High School in Ojo Caliente, NM. Teacher Mary Johnston

The ceramic totems were a grades 8- 12 collaboration and represented 12 NM Pueblos and their styles of pottery . The students chose a pueblo and used that specific pueblo style to inspire their ceramic creations. They studied and wrote about their chosen pueblo’s history and its contribution to NM history. The students  also researched  potters from that pueblo and their contributions to the art world and their pueblo heritage.

As well as being near many pueblos, the school is near Abiquiu, Georgia O’Keeffe Country .Almost all my students know of O’Keeffe and share wonderful  (never before heard)stories of their great grandparents and grandparents working for Georgia. Many of my students have interned  in  Georgia’s home at Ghost Ranch or  at Georgia’s Abiquiu home and garden. “

Isn’t this work fantastic? Mary concludes her note by saying, “My time teaching in Northern New Mexico has been a rich, rewarding and fulfilling experience .I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. However , I  need to get back to my Texas. I love the Hill Country and the San Antonio region and my goal is to reside in the direction of Boerne and teach in the  San Antonio area. My mother, almost 90 years old, is in Austin and needs me much closer than New Mexico.”
I would love for you all meet Mary and I have my fingers crossed that she can find a teaching job here next year – any school would be lucky to have her on their team. If you’d like to contact here about a teaching question or a teaching job, you can email her by clicking here. And you can see more of her students’ amazing work on their Pinterest Board.