“Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?” ― St. Augustine of Hippo
On March 13, Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, posted the quote above from St. Augustine of Hippo to Facebook. Thank you, Bishop Coyne, for this wonderful reminder. It arrived at a perfect time for me.
In these parts, the world is coming back to life. Trout are becoming more active in mountain freestone streams I’ve grown to love. Those wildly colorful fish live in watery worlds that meander through forests now turning green, seasoned with the colorful blooms of new life.
Every year about now, I think of my late friend Charlie Heartwell. When we met, he managed West Virginia’s trout hatcheries. He also had a successful commercial fly-tying business, turning out thousands of imitation aquatic insects that fooled trout from streams near his West Virginia home to those near West Yellowstone, Montana, and many other places.
Charlie was man of faith, and we used to talk God at least as much as we talked trout. I have a hunch that he knew the quote from St. Augustine that Bishop Coyne posted because he often would visit some of his favorite fishing spots just to read from that great book. He often shared pages from it with me.
“Where are you planning to fish next?” he asked one spring evening when I’d called him. “I thought I might fish the Dry Fork from the white church up toward U.S. 33,” I answered. “Good choice … there are several browns bigger than three pounds along that stretch. I watched ‘em just the other night.”
Charlie didn’t fish nearly as much as he looked … above him at the insects (mayflies and caddis flies that were flitting around after hatching from the stream) … and below him at the brown trout, rainbow trout and native brook trout that were actively feeding on those hatching flies that were struggling to break free from the surface of the Dry Fork.
He offered some really specific locations where those big browns lived, and he knew where others hung out – like the one I encountered above U.S. 33 on the Dry Fork during another spring outing.
Charlie answered his ringing phone with the friendly “Hello” I’d come to grow fond of. “Charlie … I lost the biggest fish of my life on the Dry Fork.” He responded to the dejection in my voice with a jolly chuckle. “Where were you?”
“Above 33; you know where the stream makes that dogleg left and runs along a rock bluff with a big break in it?”
“No … you didn’t hook him,” Charlie said with real emotion in his voice. “Tim, that might be the biggest brown on the Dry Fork. The last time I saw him, he look like he weighed at least six pounds!”
In that moment, I was grateful and terribly sad; grateful because God had enabled me to do everything right in order to get that fish to take my dry fly – one I had tied myself. Fish don’t get that big by accident. And I was sad because the big trout had gotten off. “Charlie, it straightened out a number 12 dry-fly hook,” I said. “That’s how it got off.”
“Praise God,” Charlie replied. “That fish isn’t going anywhere; it’s too big! You’ll get another chance.”
I never did, but that’s OK. Every time I knew I would be within 10 miles of that spot, however, I had rod, reel and flies (or lures) with me; and I made time to make at least a few casts there.
Looking back, I understand now that I was making time to look; to read that page from God’s book. And no, St. Augustine – neither Charlie nor I could even imagine a louder voice that that.