PAT NEAL: ‘Tis the season of holiday stress

It’s been another tough week in the news. The holiday stress is running at a fever pitch.

I blame the media. People are stressed out from watching a 24/7 news cycle of stories about people being stressed out by the holidays. There could be many reasons for this.

They say people who have suffered the loss of a loved one can have a difficult time dealing with holiday stress. Which begs the question, who among us has not suffered the loss of a loved one?

Maybe it was the loss of your grandma or maybe it was your dog. Maybe it was the loss of your grandma’s dog that can make the holidays a time of depressing regrets of what might have been.

Life is full of loss, grief and suffering without regard for seasonal celebrations.

The holidays can make for a lot of painful remembering of the past that can make it tough to appreciate the present. Welcome to my world.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday, but the vagaries of time and space are irrelevant while steelhead fishing.

We are trying to catch the fish of a lifetime. That can blur conceptions of time.

Fishing may not be a matter of life and death. It could be much more important than that.

For those of us whose spiritual beliefs dictate that a day’s fishing is not counted against our lifespan, every day we don’t fish is one day closer to death.

You may not catch a fish on a fishing trip, but it’s impossible if you don’t go fishing. And besides, Christmas was coming.

The holiday stress was mounting.

I had to get a Christmas steelhead for my smoked steelhead dip. I could have used frozen salmon, but once again, the ego and the holiday stress got in the way.

Nothing but a Christmas steelhead would do. Those are my excuses and I’m sticking with them.

And besides, we’d been down that river a hundred times before. I figured there’d be no harm in one more trip.

The fact is, we’d been on the rocks more times than I can count. I always said I was sorry and would never do it again. But then I did, again and again.

We always managed to patch things up, but she had more holes in her than one of my fish stories. I was left with that sinking feeling. It was a pattern of abuse.

As an unlicensed relationship counselor, I see this all stuff the time. Taking a relationship for granted. It’s a mistake spawned of greed, laziness and ignorance that leads to grief, loss and suffering, whether it’s a holiday or not.

This is my story.

Any relationship involves a lot of hard work to maintain an even keel, but at the end of the day, it’s about having fun.

I’m not the bad guy here. I just wanted to go fishing without the guilt of spending more time on the bilge pump than I did fishing.

I’m not going to pretend I’m sorry. There’s no looking back.

Life happens. And when it happens, it’s better to just go for the ride instead of placing blame, pointing fingers and asking a lot of pointless questions that have no answers.

Steelhead fishing has always been a tough game. More than half the people who fish for steelhead don’t catch one.

Casualties such as friends, family and boats are many.

So, I got a newer model. She’s into metal and so am I. We fish the river without a trace of holiday stress.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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