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Seeking balance in the creek, where therapy swims
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I’m going to call it another form of vestibular therapy.

With hooks.

And a whippy graphite rod.

A line, too, of course. And, if pure luck and some measure of skill and experience and the right equipment and presentation coalesce, a wild brown trout or two.

Saturday morning there were actually five or six wild browns willing to take my fly on a pleasant little stretch of Rapid Creek well within the city limits of Rapid City.

I say “pleasant” because the water was cool and shaded by the overhanging — but not overhanging too close to where the casting was taking place — cottonwood trees.

And I say “pleasant” because the trout were in the mood to take a beaded tungsten nymph, drifting along near the bottom two or three feet below a dry fly all dressed up like a grasshopper.

My hope was that in the shade the trout would rise to take the hopper-pattern fly because there’s nothing quite so beautiful or exciting in fly fishing as a surface take of a dry fly by a hungry trout.

But my realistic expectation was that the nymph would catch most of the fish, since they usually do and since there were few fish rising, even in the shady areas.

I might have been a little too late to get on the water at 11 a.m. or so. The temperature was already 88 degrees on its way to 95, which is unpleasantly warm and uncalled for in the middle of September. The fish seemed to agree, clinging close to the gravelly bottom or the shadowy comfort of bigger rocks and cut-bank overhangs.


The day heats up and people come down to chat


The early-morning life along the creek was gone. The deer had moved away from the water back into the cool shady protection of willows and ash and buckbrush. The mallards were up on shore in their own shady haunts, preening or snoozing with a beak under a wing.

And the people who frequent the creek this time of year, and most times of the year, were coming down to the water for a dip or a scrub.

“How’s the fishing,” said a Native American man as he glanced back and forth between me and the white bar of soap suds up as it tumbled over in his hands.

I said it was better upstream a ways a little earlier. I had time to talk because I’d just lost my nymph to an overhanging branch. I figured I was done fishing for the day. And the guy was comfortable with a bit of conversation.

He said he was an Alaska native and described with hands held three feet apart the salmon “we used to catch up there all the time before people messed it up. No salmon like that anymore.”

I suggested that it was probably “my people” more than his who messed it up, and he didn’t argue. He said he was an electrician who had been out of work for 3 1/2 months. I didn’t ask why, with all the construction going on in these parts. I figured he had reasons that were none of my business. And he’d offer more information on that if he wanted to. He didn’t.

And as we finished a pleasant conversation about the cool waters of the creek, another fellow joined us, saying it was time for his daily dip. About then I figured I’d had enough fishing for the day, and offered my goodbyes and best wishes, which were returned.

I’d only fished for about an hour. But these days, especially in the heat, that’s a pretty good stretch of time on the water for me.

The swirling water and changing light of the stream plus moving along on the slick, uneven bottom, push buttons in my vestibular system that can wear me down pretty easily. Dizziness, nausea, and headaches can be part of it, too.


A quick lesson in “vestibular”

In case you don’t know the “vestibular” talk, let me shortcut it for you. It’s essentially your sense of balance, and the much more complicated physiological system, centered on the inner ear, that makes your balance work well or not so well, depending on what’s going on where.

I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been having so much dizziness and nausea and sporadic headaches since early this year. Nor am I sure why starting in about mid-February it became increasingly difficult to read a book, read a computer screen or type a story into that screen without getting sick to my stomach and headachy and dizzy.

Some of the best doctors anywhere  — if you presume, as I do, that the Mayo Clinic has some of them — have been unable to determine for certain the cause. They did find a lesion on my brain that seems to be stable. It’s unclear what role that lesion plays in the symptoms now, but I have to believe it’s some. Doctors aren’t sure.

I’ve had more tests than I could easily catalog.  The focus now seems to be symptom control. That includes some meds and some therapy designed to improve the way I feel and maybe eventually allow me to do a bit more reading and writing and TV watching.

That work includes vestibular therapy through the Monument physical therapy program, with a PT specialist named Marie. She has worked me on cushion platforms or moving platforms with my eyes closed, so my vestibular system has to work hard to keep me upright and stable.

I also do eye exercises that include a string of beads you attach to something and peer down with your eyes, making one bead after the other appear double. I have other eye exercises and balance exercises that I do at home, at Marie’s direction.

It occurred to me Saturday as I negotiated the slippery rock-and-gravel bottom of the creek in moving water that there was some vestibular therapy at work there, too, only with my eyes open. I haven’t been fly fishing much during the last couple of months because of the heat and my symptoms. But last week I made it out with the fly rod several times for a half-hour or so of fishing here and there.

It’s wonderful and harder than it used to be, to be moving around in the streamflow in my waders and wading boots, looking for rising fish or likely trout haunts. Negotiating slippery rock bottoms in moving water and changing light is more of a challenge than it used to be. Following the drift of a surface fly with my eyes in the middle of all that is more of a challenge, too.

It wears me out fairly quickly, this on-the-water vestibular therapy. But it puts me in touch with a part of myself that has been overlooked in the weeks and months of questions and symptoms and tests and fears.

And when a wild brown trout takes a fly, it becomes a form of therapy that transcends the vestibular system and reaches deep into my heart and my soul.