I’ve lived, and I’ve left some good things here . . . that is enough

by | Jul 6, 2016 | 69 comments

His mother called him “Will,” because “William” was too big of a name for a small boy. But when his father needed to make a strong point, he was called “William.”

On a large tract of farmland, stretched along a rocky shelf high above the river, Will and his brother roamed through hundreds of acres, across unkept wheat fields and into the wooded hills. They made forts from fallen tree branches and swung on grapevines across the valleys.

The eastern flank of the property held a canyon of limestone and dolomite, smoothly carved by the cool and clear waters of time, originating from underground springs in marshy headwaters long miles upstream. And the deep, mid-sized river was blessed with wild brook trout.

When Will was eight, his grandfather came to stay with them. And three of the four sunroom walls in their small family home were made solid. A bed and a chair were added, and Grandfather placed an old wooden desk by the remaining windowed wall, where he sat and tied flies for what seemed like days at a time to Will. And in between each fly, the old man raised his head to scan the landscape.

Grandfather brought along chickens: ten hens and one rooster. And he promised Will and his brother that if they helped him build the chicken coop, he would teach the boys to catch brook trout at the bottom of the canyon using the feathered, hooked creations from his desk. So they built a fine chicken coop with scrap lumber. And on one late June evening, Grandfather told the boys, “We’ll walk down to the river in the morning and go fishing when the rooster crows.”

Will tossed in his bed that night, eager with anticipation for what events were to come with the daylight. Twice he arose and walked outside, barefoot, onto the cool stone porch to judge the length of remaining time left in the night. But Will could sense only emptiness in the still and silent darkness. He knew it wasn’t time yet, and he returned to bed.

Then finally, the rooster crowed.

Will and his brother walked in hushed shadows through dewy fields and descended into the half-lit canyon behind Grandfather, just as the earliest rays of light brought the wild world back into existence. It was the first true dawn that Will had ever been part of, and he could feel life waking up all around him.

That summer, Will learned the habits of trout and what it took to catch them. They spent every morning walking down the widening path into the canyon to catch fish and put them back. Sometimes, though, they kept enough trout for a family brunch, and Grandfather taught them how to clean and cook the fish.

And so, year after year, Will and his brother fished the summer mornings once the school year ended in June, rising to the call of the rooster and fishing until the high sun reminded them to go home and do the other things that boys should do.

By Will’s teenage years, the steep canyon path had become too much for Grandfather, and Will often fished by himself while his brother slept in. He would return to tell stories of the big trout he fooled and even bigger trout that had slipped the hook. Grandfather would nod in approval and tie more flies for Will to fish the next day — always when the rooster crowed.

After high-school, two brothers made two separate plans. And like cars in adjacent lanes at a stoplight, Will turned west, while his brother headed north over the horizon, never to be seen again — he became a police officer and was killed in the line of duty only a few months after his training.

The chickens died too. Grandfather continued to raise new hens and new roosters, but when Will came home it always seemed like the same group of familiar birds.

In his twenties, death was a mystery to Will. And once, sitting in shady porch chairs overlooking the wheat fields, Will asked Grandfather how it felt to know the end of his life was so close.

“Will, I can’t explain that to you,” Grandfather said with a thoughtful sigh. “You can’t know until you see your own children grow and succeed and hurt and live. And after so much pain and happiness in one life, it prepares a man for his own end, without regret and without fear. Just knowing that I’ve lived, and that I’ve left some good things here . . . that is enough.”

When grandfather died, Will and his father began to fish the canyon together, and Will brought his wife and family back to the home on the high shelf by the river more often. Having two daughters somehow brought him closer to his own mother, and Will watched as everyone grew and became more and lived in their own way.

At the age of forty-two, Will crossed the middle divide of his own timeline — with fewer hours left ahead for him than he’d already left behind. Will could feel that he was on the back half of his life, and the realization inspired him.

After his daughters were married, Will retired from the work that had given him the means for a comfortable life. Empty since his parents died, the house on the high shelf above the river received Will and his wife once again, and they made it their home. He repaired and painted the coop and raised chickens again. And he watched the birds find grasshoppers in the same wheat fields he’d run through as a child.

When the morning rooster crowed, Will again descended into the canyon to join his memories and the wild world in its daily routine. While releasing a brook trout, he noticed the age of his own hands. They were old. They looked like his grandfather’s hands.

“How many knots have I tied into my fishing line using these hands?” Will wondered. “How many flies have I tied, and how many times have I wet these hands to release another trout? How many more trout have I left to release?”

The age was also in Will’s hands. There was pain in the most common movements now, though he’d learned to accept it. He could see and feel the history in his own hands as he folded his fingers around the fly rod to make the cast again.

At eighty years, Will realized that he would never take the trips or see the destinations that he’d dreamed and planned for as a young man. He felt the breakdown of his body, and he knew that time was shorter for him now than it ever was long. But it didn’t matter, because he’d lived and hurt and loved — he’d felt pain and happiness, and because he a knew his place on earth so completely. He knew the canyon and the shelf, the wheat fields and the woods. He knew the trout and they knew him by the waves rippling beyond his boots. Will and the trout played a symbiotic game — sometimes Will won, and sometimes the fish won. And because of all that, everything was okay.

Will climbed up the mountain path and out of the canyon. He walked through the back door and into the old sunroom to sit at his grandfather’s wooden desk. He paused in thought and then put pencil to paper.

When he’d finished, he looked up through the sunroom glass toward the fading orange October daylight. Will walked to the porch and felt the cool stone under his feet as he scanned the landscape of his life.

The rooster crowed before dawn.

Will lay still at last. Hands folded on his chest. Eyes forever closed.

On the wooden desk lay pencil, paper and the message: “Just knowing that I’ve lived, and that I’ve left some good things here . . . that is enough.”

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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69 Comments

  1. Excellent, Domenic. I really enjoyed this piece.

    Reply
  2. Domenick, your pieces are just incredible. Whether it a technical article or an emotional prose, it is just a joy to read. Thanks for sharing your talents with us.

    Reply
    • Rich, sometimes I need a comment like that! I really appreciate it!

      Reply
    • Rich. You took the words right out of my mouth. Great articles always.

      Reply
  3. Well done!

    Reply
  4. Masterful writing Domenick. This one hit home for an old guy.

    Reply
  5. I’m turning 54 a week from today – This piece has hit VERY close to home for me as I’ve been thinking on the back half of my life lately. Thanks for this Domemnick

    Reply
    • Cheers, Cliff.

      Reply
  6. Incredibly touching story that evokes tremendous raw emotion and thought. What a story to read over my morning coffee.

    Reply
    • Glad to be part of your morning, Gary.

      Reply
  7. Beautiful work as always, Dom.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Shane.

      Reply
  8. Domenici, all I can say is “Wow”, brought tears to my eyes.

    Reply
    • Thank you, David.

      Reply
  9. Beautifully written. A Maclean-like sensibility is a wonderful thing.

    Reply
    • Cheers

      Reply
  10. A truely inspirational and emotional story, Domenick. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Ron.

      Reply
  11. This is one of the most emotionally moving pieces I have ever read and I consider myself well-read. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thank you, John.

      Reply
  12. As I turn 48 today I can relate to everything written here. My father,grandfather,wife and children. I know I have more good days behind me than in front of me as well. My only wish for the rest of my life is that I can leave good things behind .

    Reply
    • It’s a good wish.

      Reply
  13. Dom, your writing career is ahead of you. Ive read them all….you are a contender.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Andrew.

      Reply
  14. Wow…just Wow.
    Awesome piece.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Lowell. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  15. Thank you. At 74 I am starting to understand what is truly important in life.

    Reply
    • That’s what my grandfather said, too.

      Reply
  16. I live in the country and I remember watching my dad sitting on the back porch looking out over the field and I wandered what he was thinking.Now I know.Know I sit in the same spot and look out over the field thinking the same thoughts.PTL thanks Don.

    Reply
    • Sure thing, Mike

      Reply
  17. very special story

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Reply
  18. real dusty in here

    Reply
    • Don’t know what that means.

      Reply
      • its a sideways way of saying it brought a tear to my eyes

        Reply
  19. Great piece and thank you for the perspective.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Todd.

      Reply
  20. Very touching indeed!

    Reply
    • Cheers, Ahmed.

      Reply
  21. As my grandson would say “you da man”(you can’t possibly fish as well as you write,Solzhenitsyn is jealous)

    Reply
    • I’d like to think that I fish better than I can describe it. But I don’t know.

      Reply
  22. Heartfelt, sentimental, but profoundly true. Life is only lived once and once only, it is imperative we have little regrets. Nice story, Domenic.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Will.

      Reply
  23. Very well written. You need to write a book. You’re that good.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ed. I’ve written a book of short stories. They’re all here, brother:

      https://troutbitten.com/category/stories/

      I’ve chosen the self-publishing model because I like keeping everything here. These Troutbitten words are what tie everything else together.

      But I know what you mean, too. And I will at some point in the next few years, collect some of the best of these and expand them. I’ll add to that group, and then publish a printed book.

      Thanks, Ed.

      Reply
  24. Really poignant and beautiful. Thanks for the Saturday morning read.

    Reply
    • You got it.

      Reply
  25. After following this site for 2 years, I have tried to read everything on here, I have fished with you , I have learned so much from you. I have said before that one of your stories was the best that I had read, but now that I have read this I am amazed, stunned even. The depth and diversity to your writing style from technical article to this beautiful story, I am continually surprised with what I find every week here on Troutbitten.
    Thank you for the lessons and the adventures you take us on every week.

    You should write a book or two.

    Reply
    • Thanks Emmett!

      Reply
  26. Domenick,
    This brought back memories of my grandfather and father. I’m 67 and I’m starting to emulate them with my grandsons. Thank you for this.

    Reply
  27. Wow. Amazing. Brought a tear to my eye.

    Reply
    • Cheers.

      Reply
  28. Domenick, this narrative was perhaps, in my opinion, the most beautiful, inspiring, heart wrenching and honest writing that you have created in this style thus far. It reminded me somewhat of magical realism: the beauty of the environment and characters are crafted so exquistitly that you think they must be endowed with some sort of glorious magic-yet the ease and familiarity with which you write about them inform the reader that these are indeed very real places and people. Your prose is sublime and ultimately endearing without any sense of pomposity accompanying it. It maintains the sincerity, genuine authenticity and skill that can only come from one who lives life unapologetically and with great passion and love for the people, places and experiences that have shaped us and formed who we have become. This, my friend, is how I believe a rich, rewarding and productive life should be traversed by all.

    I really cannot express how much your writing-from general philosophical musings and ruminations regarding fly fishing, life, nature, and the world at large expressed therein-have meant to me recently. You have provided a great source of insight, knowledge, inspiration and comfort during what has been a very difficult time for me recently. For this reason, I am truly indebted to you. Thank you.

    Regards,

    Kris

    Reply
    • Thank you, Kris. I might print that comment out just to look at it once it a while. Cheers.

      Reply
  29. Your story is like a brook trout stream: full of light and darkness, merry speed in the shallow riffles and then, suddenly, slow, evocative depth. Well done.

    Reply
  30. Beautifully written, Dom! As a young guy trying to find my own way in this world this type of story, and this style of writing is inspirational and guiding, reminding us all of what’s truly important. Keep up the awesome work!

    Cheers,
    Robby

    Reply
  31. Truly enjoyable. First Class writing describing the path that we will all walk. Hopefully with as much dignity and wisdom as Will.

    Reply
  32. Loved it. My father is also getting old. I think I will ask him what the boy asked his grandfather, about how does it feel to be so near the end of his life. It’s something that I probably would not have thought to ask, but after reading this I will.

    Reply
  33. Hey Brother, you made me cry. Young or old in our journey as a fly fisher, it is the passion in your words that bring us all together.

    Reply
  34. You made me cry and get busted by my wife and mother… a conversation I didn’t want to have. Bravo

    Reply
  35. Very touching, beautifully written.

    Reply
  36. Dom, this is written so magically I felt as if I lived it. Simply beautiful. Wouldn’t it be a blessing to depart this world in that way? Something to aspire to. Thank you for allowing me to escape into such a wonderful story.

    Reply

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