The Underneath …by Brandon Hill

I like loneliness and the solitude of fishing – of getting away from crowds – to escape our world and into that of another. I am a naturally anxious person. A person whose mind swells with “what if’s” at every glance. There was a time when my anxiety fueled my success as a corporate person, racking up titles and promotions like notches in a belt. Channeling anxiety into the next promotion became something like a drug. And, oh boy, did it feel sooo goooood. 

But that is not the drug I chase these days. Rather, that of an eddy’s swirl. The breeze over a field of tall grass. The ballet between bug and fish. A world in which I become so immersed, I almost lose all sense of the physical reality that I’m ultimately stuck with. Where a stretch of river grinds my machine gun pulsing head to a brisk halt. No more, with you. Enough, for now. For now, I am with the bugs. And if I do this dance correctly, a trout will rise from the depths and gobble me right up. Covid19? Not worrying about getting it today. Losing my business and unemployed friends? Can’t control that now. Focus. Does the line, drift, and presentation of my buffalo midge look perfect? I roll underneath. I find that being underneath (or at least pretending I am underneath) gives me a greater perspective of what I’m looking at when I’m fishing. And maybe even when I’m not. The world around suddenly looks different, and you are connected to the littlest of things. I look crippled, not yet ready to rise out of the water. Rise up and cast again. Rinse and repeat. My world is now a 10×10 run of cold Uinta mountain stream water and my tiny insect brothers and sisters. Alone in my connection to a world that is more comfortable than our modern existence. 

Photo by Brandon Hill

Since I was old enough to remember, the Uinta mountain range and its streams and lakes have been a refuge. I remember my cousins getting shipped off (one happily, the other would’ve been happier rotting in a desert summer sun) to scouting camps and the drives to pick them up felt like entering another universe. Ahhh, wonder. What did they get to see in those dense woods? What was beyond that shale rock face? As a teenager, whenever the grips of sadness, loneliness, and in general, teenage angst hit, this place was a close friend. Family. Likewise, with the girls I met during that time, this place also meant something of the opposite of those glum feelings. Ahhhh, privacy and wonder! The peaks and valleys of the human body to be explored. The dirt roads and lakes to admire. 

But always, there was a connection.

As I age, I still feel a connection to this unique mountain range. Mainly, a stretch of the Upper Provo River that my wife and I like to fish. The same stretch that, when I was much younger, I heard what can only be described as a forceful mother moose and her calf not so subtly telling my friend and I that we were most certainly not welcomed to fish here any longer. We took her advice. Begrudgingly. 

Nowadays, watching my wife throw a Royal Wolf or Chubby Chernobyl on a warm late summer day while the peaks behind us turn gold and amber is about as close to pure happiness as I will ever know. We are one. And we are one with the river before us. One with the mountains that surround us. I might even call it mystical. But let me come back around to that in a bit.

Photo by Brandon Hill

When I first heard about Paul Stamets, I was listening to an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast. Paul Stamets is an expert on all things mushrooms. From their mystical properties to their mental health benefits. From their dietary benefits to their very evolutionary tale of human development. One thing that I was intrigued with was the idea that Stamets laid out as it relates to the network of root-like material that connects mushrooms and the greater areas they are found. Mycelium. Think of them as a central nervous system. Like a fan of fingers that not only connect to other mushrooms but every other living organism around them. Plants, trees, flowers. You name it. And most surprisingly, humans. He lays out the phenomenon that happens when the mycelium sense the traffic of humans and other animals as they trounce around on the ground floor above. Like an obnoxious upstairs neighbor who seems to be wearing clogs. When they sense that, it signals itself to look for possible places to fruit. Thus, a very unique connection is formed without us even knowing what is taking place. We are rooted into the ground, in some sense.


So what does that have to do with fishing, the Uintas, or anything else for that matter? Perhaps nothing. But let me tell you a story about myself.

I have never met my biological father. I’ve known that he existed since I was about 11 or 12 years old and have never had much interest in meeting him, knowing him, or having much of a relationship with him until recently. As I migrated out of corporate life I found I had time to reflect on things I had never, or perhaps was not ready to, reflect on. While I was deeply interested in learning about my mother’s family and their and our connection to southern Utah, it dawned on me that I was missing an entire chapter of my own book. Hell, half the book was missing! Lost source code from long ago. 

As I started asking my mother about all of the difficult questions one has to face up to after unacknowledging my father’s existence for the past 28 years, I started to learn some things. Slowly. 

I learned about how they met. I learned they used to drink a lot. My mother from a stately Mormon family. He, of an intensely Catholic background. In Utah during the early 80’s, that must’ve made for quite the pair! They drove around the foothills of Salt Lake and Davis Counties. In general, I must admit, it sounded like they had a pretty damned good time! But there was one lingering question that I had been reluctant to ask. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps because I was worried there wouldn’t be a good story to it. The back of a car seat. A cheap motel room. A tv room after parents had left. “Where was I conceived?” started to run in my mind and then suddenly made its way into a text message. 

A text message back. “The Uintas. He loved the Uintas. He wanted to be up there all the time.”

Photo by Brandon Hill

Connection.

I do not know if Paul Stamets’ theory on our connection to the ground underneath our feet has any greater meaning than we currently realize. I am fascinated as to why some people feel such connections to places than others. Why they are rooted. And I have spent much of my life not believing in things “unknown”. But I am willing to consider the circumstance between my father and I. I am willing to consider the way that I look upon my wife as she tosses her Royal Wolf and Chubby Chernobyl in the late summer months might much be the way my father gazed at my mother on that late summer evening. I am willing to consider that my anxiety, fears, love, laughter, might all be part of my mother and father’s collective emotions dropped into the very earth where I was conceived. Left for the mycelium to one day tap back into when the boy returned. A place so dear it is in my, hell, in our DNA. That the overwhelming pull I feel to that area near Hatch, Ut. and the overwhelming pull to the mountain range I have such intense history with, might be something more than we can possibly know. Something underneath drawing me back. Something, maybe, mystical. 

Brandon Hill is a Utah native and a small business owner who lives in Salt Lake City. In his downtime, he is an avid fly-fisherman, outdoor enthusiast, skier, poor golfer, and sometimes writer. He is married to his wife Rhea, and they have one dog, Truman. 

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5 comments for “The Underneath …by Brandon Hill

  1. Kevin Eagan
    December 1, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    What a fantastic, beautiful, and personal essay. Brandon Hill, thank you for sharing deeply personal experiences with us. You are an incredible, emotive writer and a wonderful human being. I look forward to your next essay. Thank you for the Connection!

    • Brandon
      December 2, 2020 at 9:51 am

      Thank you, Kevin!

  2. Christina Kulakowski
    December 1, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    What a beautiful and personal story of connection not only to place but to the earth and connection to others. Thank you for sharing.

    • Brandon
      December 2, 2020 at 9:52 am

      Thanks, Christina!!

  3. December 28, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    My father passed when I was young, so my first experience of organized camping while learning outdoor skills was at Scout camps in the Uintahs, back in the sixties. I loved those camps and learned things that carry through to today. Great article!

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