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Wu-wei Rainbow Trout

A trout quickly rising from its lie on the stream bottom to snatch a drifting mayfly nymph provides a beautiful lesson from nature on the nature of wu-wei, the Taoist tenet of action through non-action.  The trout does not needlessly battle the river’s mighty flow in pursuit of food.  Rather, it spends most of its time in its lie on the downstream side of a large rock where the swift current is broken.  The trout maintains that position with minimal exertion, but is keenly aware of everything around it.

The trout marshals the river’s power with finely tuned, subtle action.  At precisely the right moment, the trout gives a burst with its tail.  With the leading edges of its pectoral fins tilted upward, the current helps swiftly lift the trout off the bottom.  After snatching the hapless drifting insect, the trout quickly tilts the pectoral fins downward, this time using the current to push it back towards its lie.  The calligraphic inscription contains the first six characters of chapter 63 of the Tao Te Ching:

“Wei wu wei, shi wu shi”
(do non-doing, action through non-action)


The trout were printed in black ink.  Faint washes of blue, pink, and gold watercolor and the spots were added later.  The stones of the streambed are inked impressions made from cobbles collected from where the fish were caught, the San Juan River of northern New Mexico.

Size:  24 x 17 inches  (2000)

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