Stranger: “A wiser fella than myself once said, sometimes you eat the bar; and…sometimes the bar, why, he eats you.”
The Dude: “That some kinda Eastern thing?”
Stranger: “Far from it.”
                                      The Big Lebowski


Skunked. Shut out. Goose-egged. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. Empty-handed.

When I write stories about my experiences in the wild, with all of its romantic aura and divine insistence, there is an undercurrent, I suspect, of at least some measure of what we might call “success”in whatever pursuit it is I’m pursuing.

Whether it’s the quest for the perfect backcountry campsite, the challenge of catching wild mountain trout on the fly, or the search for reflective solitude, I tend to write in terms—at least subtly—of how having somehow accomplished those things I find my inspiration.

Nobody wants to read about my bruised toes from hiking too many miles with untrimmed nails, or the times I’ve busted my ass on snot-covered rocks, or the hours of sweating through nettle-filled underbrush that goes along with getting off the so-called beaten path in order to experience those transcendent moments.

But sometimes, “sometimes the bar, why, he eats you.”

The truth is, those moments when everything comes together, the ones which fill our memories and the ones we tell stories about, those moments are the exception rather than the rule.

Sometimes, you just get skunked.

Most of us, when that happens, find a way to wax philosophical about the whole thing.

“Well, at least we got out today.”

“A bad day fishin’is better than a good day workin’”

“The fishing was great, but sometimes the catching just isn’t so good.”

“I just like being where trout live.”

Our power to rationalize is indeed formidable.

But mostly, it’s bullshit.

The truth is that it sucks to get shut out. It kicks our ego in the gut. It reduces us to—God forbid—ordinary.

Let’s face it. Our triumph is where we want to build our identities. Why else would we construct glowing Facebook profiles or write blogs or retweet every wise tweet that pops up on our timelines?

We want to be extraordinary.

But I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of getting skunked (perhaps because it’s happened to me a few too many times lately!). And I think maybe there’s something in it that I need to pay attention to.

When I have one of those days when the fish just aren’t biting, or I’m miserable and exhausted from bushwhacking off-trail, or my feet hurt because I forgot to cut my toenails, there is something in those moments that speak deep truth into life.

It’s not just that sometimes things go wrong. It’s more than a lesson to persevere through hardships. It even goes beyond an awareness of our imperfect existence.

I’m beginning to believe it’s in our moments of failure that our moments of success are actually defined. It’s only by knowing how easily everything can fall apart that we are able to truly enjoy those times when it all clicks into place.

Life, I’m learning, is an exercise in constantly navigating contradictions.

And so, yeah, it sucks to get skunked. But if I never get skunked how will I ever know how awesome it really is to have one of those days when everything coalesces and the gods of insects and trout choose to play nice together and I just happen to have stumbled blindly into their game at the right time and pace?

It’s only on those days when the bar eats you that you understand the glory of eating the bar.

Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And yeah, it’s probably some kinda Eastern thing.

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