Feb 16

Native Intelligence

I’m reading my daughter The River Why. She’s nine and if she wants me to still read to her, I’m going to damn well pick the book.

The River Why might be a bit heady and she didn’t like the part with Abe and we haven’t come to the nakedness part. I’ve also had to substitute “shit” with “shoot,” but only because if I didn’t she’d go run and tell her mom (my ex-wife) I was reading her dirty words.

One part I rediscovered was the bit about “native intelligence.”

“A native is a man or creature or plan indigenous to a limited geographical area – a space boundaried and defined by mountains, rivers, or coastline (not by latitudes, longitudes, or state and county lines), with its own peculiar mixture of weeds, trees, bugs, birds, flowers, streams, hills, rocks, and critters (including people), its own nuances of rain, wind, and seasonal change. Native intelligence develops through an unspoken or soft-spoken relationship with these interwoven things: it evolves as the native involves himself in his region. A non-native awakes in the morning in a body in a bed in a room in a building or a street in a county in a state in a nation. A native awakens in the center of a little cosmos – or a big one, if his intelligence is vast – and he wears his cosmos like a robe, senses the barely perceptible shiftings, migrations, moods, and machinations of its creatures, its growing green things, its earth and sky.” David James Duncan, The River Why

I have known that kind of native intelligence and I have lost it, like a foreign language fading from disuse and time.

I was only a guide for one season up in the mountains of Northern California, but I felt like I was developing this kind of native intelligence, but I also noticed in the years since that this intelligence has dimmed. I no longer feel the pulse of those rivers as finely and sometimes I don’t feel it at all. I still know spots and techniques that work, but I don’t know the mood of the place. I still stumble upon a secret from time to time, but they are spoken with such whispers now and my ears are not so sharp.

Native Intelligence

Native Intelligence

This native intelligence is on display with any good guide. For me, the native intelligence of flats guides is particularly impressive as the flats are so different from my mountain childhood home, where I once had and lost it myself. These guides know the tides and the movements of the fish and how to find a leeward flat when it is blowing 20. They can look at a fish from 200 feet and get a sense of its mood and what will or won’t work, just like they can get up in the morning and look at the sky and know how the day will go.

I’ll never develop that kind of intelligence by fishing a week in a place or by fishing every year in a different place. That sort of knowledge comes with years of consistent effort and a desire to posses it. That sort of knowledge comes from having a home water and investing time. A lot of time.

I have a new home water, but I’ve hardly made the first payment and it will be a long time before it is all paid off and owned outright.

In two weeks I’m heading to the Bahamas. Part of that time will be spent soaking in the native intelligence of the guides who will be waking up in their own cosmos. The rest of the trip I’ll be trying to develop a fraction of that intelligence for myself.

I can’t wait.