By Andrew Cremata

During dark winter nights, northern lights sometimes set Skagway’s skies ablaze with primeval colors forming swirling shapes that dance to chaotic natural rhythms. Beams of green energy tipped with magenta highlights radiate from heaven’s vault before coalescing into undulating curtains that flow along unseen currents.

When the lights appear, Skagway’s hearty winter souls eagerly wander into the windswept night, bundled in layers to experience one of Nature’s finest performances. Voices of appreciation cry out into the valley. Friends message one another to make sure everyone has an opportunity to witness the spectacle with their own eyes. Some watch in awestruck silence while others take photos. 

The northern lights are the product of two elementary forces — electricity and magnetism. Electrically charged particles from the sun are carried on the solar wind until they eventually collide with the earth’s atmosphere. The particles are absorbed by the planet’s magnetosphere and channeled toward the poles where they collide with various gasses. The reaction between magnetically charged electric particles and atmospheric gasses creates a spectrum of bright colored light. 

In more artistic terms, the earth’s magnetic forms willfully absorb solar force to create the sublime colored shapes that fill observers with joy and inspiration. 

Wherever solar forces and magnetic forms meet, creation soon follows. This simple truth is just as evident during spring, summer and fall as it is in winter. Ice melts, waters flow, rain falls and life blossoms along the banks of every lake, river and stream. 

A handful of years ago, as I sat eating lunch under an overcast sky, the clouds suddenly parted. Bathed in raw sunlight, I leaned my head back to fully enjoy the unexpected warmth against my face. All around me, quarter-inch-long, red, winged insects began emerging from the rocks and gravel. In under a minute, the termite-like bugs were all around me as far as I could see until the ground looked like someone had painted it red. 

Ten minutes later the insects were entirely gone, scampering back under their rocky confines as the clouds once again blocked the sky. During their short time under the sun, the small insects were entirely focused on their reproductive cycle, yet another interplay between force and form.

Anglers call these events “hatches.” Under preferred conditions, certain insects emerge. Some may live mere hours — just enough time to conduct their business and ensure a future generation. Meanwhile, they scatter and fall in places where fish live and thrive. 

Anglers seek out watery confines where sunlight’s warmth triggers insect hatches that cause fish to gather. While fishermen are undoubtedly a natural force, many lack any real sense of form. This explains why so many fishermen spend countless hours pounding away at their favorite fishing hole, rod in hand, without so much as a nibble.

It’s possible many a fisherman’s failure has something to do with a belief that natural forces are somehow a commodity. Endless social media advertisements and magazine articles designed to sell brand new boats, lures, rods, reels, braided lines, trolling motors, electronic fish finders and everything else under the sun eventually dull an angler’s senses. Success becomes an entitlement, but blind force without a form of expression leads to frustration, anger and failure. 

Form’s expression is the product of skillful limitation called restraint. The successful angler understands that gear can only complement force. Throwing a marine engine at a school of fish may yield results but artistically presenting a fly to a hungry trout makes a lot more sense. 

An angler’s form is evident as they tie on a lure, cast and retrieve. Their gear becomes an extension of body and an expression of restrained force. This is art, and it’s why the act of fishing is capable of relieving stress and anxiety by focusing the mind.

Patience is another essential aspect of an angler’s form. The act of patience is restraint applied to time, with a little faith sprinkled on top for good measure.

The same truth of restraint applies to harvesting fish. Catching and keeping every fish in the water is certainly an act of force, but a lack of form in the style of self-limitation will quickly lead to overharvesting. When the fish are gone, there is nothing to eat, which proves that form is an act of self-preservation, an essential part of the unified whole.

There is something of a divine nature in these simple rules of fishing. Natural law states that any system out of balance will fail. Take a look around and ask whether these truths apply to more than the art of catching fish, especially in a culture where force seeks to control form and sell it for a profit.

I recently took a friend fishing in Lake Maud, British Columbia, one of the smallest lakes in the region and the only one that I know of that bears a woman’s name. A grand army of insects had recently hatched and they clouded the air all along the bank of a narrow rapid that emptied into the lake. 

My partner and I presented small flies to rising grayling, catching fish on almost every cast. Maud Lake is a small body of water, so many of the fish were undersized and had to be released, but we still managed to limit out in less than 90-minutes. Unwilling to injure fish for no reason, we hopped in my canoe and set our sights on trout.

Later that night, I fried my grayling filets in breadcrumbs and topped them with fresh, over-easy eggs supplied by my fishing partner’s chickens. In places where force and form freely mingle, simplicity resides.

Sun and earth. Fire and water. Electric and magnetic. Grayling and eggs. These are all things that belong together. Sacrifice one for the other at your own risk.