The term gypsy first appeared in record in the 16th century from a category of people thought to be Egyptians who arrived in Britain. When the gypsies began their migration, people in other countries didn’t welcome them because they looked and spoke differently, and they were often harassed or even physically harmed. This likely contributed to the development of their wandering lifestyle.
A hit TV show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” has me finding it hard to turn the channel. The show looks at the milestones in a Gypsy girl’s life leading to the biggest day of all – her wedding. Gypsy girls dream all their lives about the wedding dress and as they move toward their goal of ordering “the Dress,” they have no idea that their energy may be misplaced. Literacy and education largely deemed unnecessary and domestic abuse startlingly common, the contrast between the daily life of a gypsy girl and the glitz and glamour of their wedding day is stark. Within a week of being married, some girls report that married life is nothing like they thought it would be. They are not alone on that brainwave. Present company excluded, of course.
Why is this noteworthy? Why am I like a Gypsy?
It is a snapshot into the human condition. The show makes me wonder what cultural cues led me to my traveling ways. My goal, to “capture the top game fish,” rather then “the perfect dress,” took me far from home and at times, put me in harm’s way.
We come into the world as travelers – through the birth canal – and leave, perhaps, on the wings of an angel. Not everyone wants to journey to places unknown. Something about my development has made me an adventurous soul.
What we do and what we want changes over time, usually due to tragedy or boredom … or both.
Wealth, spices, power, prestige, trade, religion, or building empires motivated other explorers. The possibility of catching trophy fish and sharing conservation practices motivated me.
Not unlike the gypsy girl who is disenchanted with where her journey has landed her after the honeymoon is over, I find myself at a crossroads.
Perhaps you have heard me telling the story of being told not to come home until I managed to land that elusive Atlantic salmon. I needed to land the Leaper on camera for the pilot of my TV series, “What A Catch!”
I fished in the highlands of Cape Breton, Canada, a dozen years ago. With that trophy under my belt, I travelled, filmed and fished my way around the globe to some of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.
I can still remember how it felt fishing in a warm, fragrant, tropical rain in Costa Rica. I couldn’t cast for a full day after my battle with a hot giant trevally while fishing near the desert in the Straight of Hormuz.
I shared stories of my childhood with my Indian guide, Misty, while we tied flies in the middle of a lazy stretch of river in the Himalayas – a great trick to suffer through the heat of the midday sun in India.
I understood the possibility of freezing to death when I lived in the Yukon – off the grid. Styrofoam is a wonderful material as a perch in a doorless outhouse with a snowy view of a frozen lake. I felt so vulnerable and alive when I fished all night in a starless sky. My senses made it possible for me to see and feel clearly for the very first time.
I never thought I would step foot in Russia after growing up during the Cold War era, but I did fish several times in that part of the world and a former KGB agent served me a streamside picnic lunch. Imagine that! We didn’t talk much; I was busy watching the poacher with the AK 47. Coffee never tasted as good as those brisk mornings at sunrise when the loon cries carried forever, north of the 49th Parallel before the sun’s warmth had a chance to awaken the black flies in the bog beyond the tree line.
I celebrated a birthday of note with my Icelandic friend and hero Orri Vigfússon. We were born on the same day, but many years and miles apart. What were the chances of that? The day was made all the more perfect because I was his netsman.
I bathed in the glow of the sun as its rays managed to find me in a clearing in the jungle canopy in Nicaragua. The monkeys entertained me to no end as they stuck their tongues out at their own reflection in my camera lens.
I loved hanging out with my Bahamian guides and their cooler of chilled Kalik in the cab of the salt pocked, powder blue pickup truck as we waited in the shade for the changing tide.
I left money behind with a herdsman to provide food and shelter for a Mongolian dog. Not sure if the young animal would have survived a Siberian winter in the land of Genghis Khan without my charity.
Just the act of leaving Australia made me feel good, but finding a McDonalds in Japan made me feel better.
Negotiating contracts with networks and feeling like somebody until they made me feel like nobody, is a necessary part of the business and I enjoyed the ups and downs. Sitting with some villagers and understanding how much a smile will communicate when language is a barrier … priceless.
What it means
Sure, catching prized game fish was a thrill and I have several books’ worth of stories waiting to be told about my travelling ways and days. It was always the people I met along the way who helped me to find the richness and beauty in everything.
When I turned 30, I set out to capture the top game fish from around the world. Fifteen years later I realized that what I was chasing wasn’t what I was looking for.