Like many servicemen returning from war, Chad Brown found himself in a dark and troubled place. A graphic designer from Portland he struggled with deep emotional scars that made it difficult to find meaningful work and make worthwhile contributions to his community. It wasn’t until a ex-girlfriend introduced him to the sport of fly fishing that Brown discovered a way express himself and begin an amazing journey to explore not only the natural world but the urban environment in which he lives.
“Walking into a fly shop for the first time changed everything for me,” Brown said in an interview. “At the time it was very complex for me because it was new. It was something challenging.”
Taken out of his familiar world of pain and despair, he realized a productive alternative to give his life the focus and direction he longed for. And with some guidance from the man behind the counter Brown was drawn in deeper and deeper.
“The level of what he explained to me from an artistic standpoint, from a science standpoint…It was was little like going doing a rabbit hole. I was intrigued,” he said. “I dove into the sport and it became me.”
“I went to the VA hospital and told them I don’t want any more meds. I want to use flyfishing as my way of healing, my process,” he said. The doctors were supportive of that. That’s what gave me a smile. That was my medicine.”
In 2010 Brown created Soul River. Using his design skills to create clothing, equipment and accessories for fly fishing the new business was a direct result of his coming to terms with the trauma of his past to create a brighter future.
“Soul River is like a residue of my process of what I’m going through. The more it moved forward, the more it touched people, the progress it made it was like me healing and getting better and better.”
The sport of fly fishing and sharing it with others through his company brought Brown’s healing process full circle. It gave him a way to be productive, something that was challenging. And it allowed him to tap back into his creativity.
“And it gave me a purpose to be able to do something where instead of coming of up with a campaign for cigarettes or beer I could put it to something that I’m passionate about and what I love,” he said.
With designs targeted to appeal to an urban market Soul River aims to fulfill a very specific need in the fly fishing industry that artistically Brown describes as “bland”.
” Don’t get me wrong. There’s a rich history there and I respect it,” he said. “But it doesn’t speak to me. Plus the people I started connecting with, especially younger generations, they don’t have a voice. That’s what’s Soul River is about, speaking to those who have been overshadowed or those demographic groups, minorities, etc. To say welcome to this sport. There’s no judgement of who you are. Let’s get down the river together. Everyone can enjoy the sport.”
Reaching out to young people in his community around Portland Brown has put together a number of clinics and workshops on fly tying and casting at zero cost to participants. He works with local experts to provide specialized training to encourage kids to spend outdoors and on the water fishing. Brown also works with area veterans to provide them with the same opportunity that he was to experience the sport and perhaps heal their emotional wounds.
“It’s a program not just to teach veterans to fish but to raise their consciousness awareness to become the consciousness of an angler, a smart angler on the water. The classes range from conservation, to fly tying, etymology, river navigation. Everything they learn, they applied on the water.”
Many of the Brown’s fly clinics are taught in public spaces like coffee shops and small local cafés. He believes that it’s important to bring the sport right into the heart of his community and allow those would might otherwise never be exposed to enjoy some of the culture and the many fish stories that go along with it. In addition to fly tying Brown’s programs also include sessions of spoken word poetry meant to enrich the soul.
you see i shall talk amongst flocks of precious men women and child
movement along time like clocks lock stock and barreling down
infinite sounds along the waters that cleanse through the after
set into free no more to be bound
i resound beyond tears into word
flowing down I am the euphrates the nile
the columbia run wild the willamette with style our soul…
river runs deep
and i seek through the mist once the misfit the misled the twice
living and the once dead
come into the resurrection of nature
call it this environmental nomenclature prerogative healthy, wealthy,
the size of the earth when at first the birth could not be rehearsed
value beyond worth more well than wealthy
i am the richness of the soil beneath
I am the conservation of life
the catch the release
we govern the the feast uniting the beasts of the field
the fruits and the yield
the truths are revealed
revelations across nations
where lines are most defined within the light of rainbows
and i receive pure sight from where the moon glows and
you know like i know so we know
the sewing the growing the all that shall reap
the promise to keep
the return is the harvest and often the farthest traveled becomes the
like a knotted thread stretched out
then stretched out again like relations amongst men
within a modern day Kiva
a cycle this is the honor believe her
she is naiad you cannot deceive her
she is the triad like trinity
or infinity times 10
and times 10 again…
she is ultimate mate my friend
… the one i shall keep, for soul…
So live fly, baby!