— This story originally appeared on Troutbitten in May, 2016. It’s rewritten and revisited here. —
I guess I’ve been searching for something.
For months now, I’ve spent my time on the water fishing progressively more remote locations. Turning down offers to float and cast over abundant wild brown trout on our major rivers, I thought I was looking for solitude. What I’ve found is a companion so powerful it cannot be passed off as simple memory. It’s my own history, and I’ve felt it so presently that it seems at times my flat shadow may take form and rise from the leafy ground to start a conversation.
I’ve returned to the waters where I’ve been, to revisit not the fish, but the places in time. These memories are eminently tangible out there, without the clutter of accumulated things in my home, the garage or the grocery store to get in the way. A trout stream, miles removed from hard roads, and sunken into a valley beyond the distance of average effort, offers a peaceful reward and a naturally blank slate for anyone willing to seek it. And when thirty years have passed between visits, the reflections I’ve found in these familiar waters are astonishing.
These wild places tucked into the narrow, protected reaches of state forests are permanent; they are stronger and more lasting than a generation of persons. It takes tens of thousands of years for water and weather to erode the valley into a new shape, and I have less than a hundred years to roam through my own space in time.
— — — — — — —
Rising before the sun, my grandfather left camp. He walked a hundred yards to the cold stream and crossed it. Then he climbed to the top of the mountain. Hours later, he raised the shotgun, killed a twenty pound bird and hiked three miles back to the camper with a wild turkey on his back.
— — — — — —
This is where we camped when I was a boy. My grandfather, my uncle and my father often appropriated this small pocket of land, firm enough to support a well-used Coleman pop-up camper, or at times a musty and leaky tent.
In this place I learned who we are as a family and why I feel the pull of these wild places so deliberately. As I stand on this ground and inside this memory, I can see and feel it all again.
Buried under decades of fallen leaves-to-dirt, the fire ring is gone. But I can feel the heat and hear the laughter as I stand here. I’m taller now, and I’m stronger than when I was a boy. I’ve grown, and yet I’m old enough now that I’m slowly falling apart. What will I be in another thirty years?
Standing here, I feel the inevitable certainty that I will die, and I think of my own sons. Who will they be in thirty years? I finally understand that they are the reason all of this is so important.
Eventually, I pick up the fly rod and move toward the stream. Led along a path suggested by the spacing of standing oaks and spruce stumps, I can feel the balance as I walk where I once walked before. Halfway to the water, and I’m again overwhelmed by the awesome weight of present memory and my own history in this place.
Walking in his footsteps, I take a knee and whisper . . . “Grandfather.”
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N