It’s last light in the valley and the sound of rushing water drowns out all others. I walk the river’s edge with my dog, Mosi, whose inability to hear over the cascade renders him nervous. Despite his impressive size, he trots sheepishly at my heels. Ostensibly we walk to fish, but really, we move at the urging of men long since past—of John Burroughs and John Muir, of Loren Eiseley—and of my parents, Norman and Paula, who are alive today but live far from this Kenyan valley. Walk in the woods, their voices advise, along the banks of a river where, in the blue end of a day well spent, you may find the rhythms that elude you. There, among the fish and the flowers and the forces that bind them, you might make peace with your worried mind.
I began to venture to the highlands of central Kenya in 2013, with a hope that its rivers might exert their transformative power upon me, smoothing my edges as they have, over time, polished the stones in their path. I’ve never been free of emotional distress but my years of working as a photojournalist in some of Africa’s most conflicted environments left additional barbs in me. With time, it became hard to differentiate the conflicts within and before me. Gradually, it seemed, they became intertwined and I came to feel an expanding sense of tension and discomfort in my core.
Fly-fishing, with its knot-tying, wading, and rhythmic casting, embodied a type of artistry that seemed a meditative antidote to the chaos I’d photographed in recent years. I’d not cast a fishing line since the age of 10 or so, when I used bait and lures to fish the Atlantic waters that surrounded the places I lived as a child, first along the coast of New Jersey and, later, in Massachusetts. My mother’s boyfriend at the time taught me the basics. He was a large, avuncular man who’d been an interrogator in the Special Forces, an experience that left him with his own scars. As he affixed lures to his line, he explained that he could handle little more than fishing and taking photographs, the latter his chosen profession after leaving the military. At dusk along the jetties, his hand resting comfortably on the rod, he seemed at ease.