Throughout my life, the beaches of Oregon and Washington were the places I’d found the greatest solace. Amidst ambient fog and the cry of a lone gull, the rhythmic crashing of the ocean waves laid my worries to rest. Losing access to those sandy expanses was an accepted consequence of moving to Colorado.

Shortly after our arrival, I found a new place to refresh my spirit: The Big Thompson Canyon. Learning to fly fish the canyon’s namesake river became a favored destination, where I allowed the world to be as it chose and embraced my spiritual pilgrimage.

On a late autumn afternoon, cold water swirled around my legs as the sun crested the canyon walls, its warmth penetrating my fishing vest. Golden hues filled the narrow panorama before me. Dry leaves rustled on skeletal limbs, their light percussion barely discernible from the river’s rumble. With each cast, restless pieces of my life flittered to the surface, drifting downstream to a far off quarter, already forgotten.

Catching two brown trout further expanded my senses. Their energy, transmitted through line and rod, reverberated into my soul. Releasing the fish, the frigid water heightened the awareness of my surroundings.

I waded with ease against the slow current, casting toward deeper pools and edges of shallow riffles. In a moment of time I don’t remember, my perception changed. Time hung in the still autumn air, refusing to pass. My awareness lacked a sense of body, or even a sense of self. There was nothing to feel, hear, taste or smell. Yet this void contained total peace and a warm sensation, as if I were wrapped in a blanket just pulled from the dryer.

The soft, inner glow coincided with the arrival of a spiritual change to my consciousness. My thoughts, unbounded by knowledge, reached into the infinite expanse. Eternity existed in those precious moments of knowing. My consciousness harmonized with the collective whole. There was no I, as I was totality.

Below, the physical “me” continued to fish, but the detachment from my external self was complete. I simply observed the scene, having released without effort or thought, all earthly bonds. A trout surfaced and swallowed the imitation grasshopper. My rod curled into a question mark as the line tightened against the fish’s energy. Instantly, I was drawn back to the river. I guided the fish into my net, more from repetition than cognizant thought. Releasing it, I breathed deeply, trying to recapture the fleeting past. With the nexus broken, I simply returned to self, standing in the cold, canyon stream.

I eased from the rivers current, climbed the rocky bank and sat down. Eyes closed, I faced the sun, soaking in its radiance, longing to relive the earlier warmth. Overhead, the cry of a solitary hawk reverberated in the canyon. Opening my eyes, I watched its shadow stitch along the canyon wall opposite me. The raptor circled once and screeched again. Riding invisible currents, the bird ascended the canyon walls and soared from view; my reverie complete.

I sat motionless, accepting those rarest of moments in my fifty years of life. Though the experience redefined my reality, I also knew there were more secrets out there. Certainly, not all would be found here on this river. A change had been affected, its full impact yet to be acknowledged. I remained grounded in the earthly realm, knowing I had been touched by the hand of the divine.