With Rich behind the wheel, we traveled north forty miles toward the next wild trout. The two lane road turned into a turtleback with no lines. Then another hard left led us onto a gravel road, recently worn and torn by logging trucks and summer storms. The heavy throttle kicked big loose limestone into the wheel wells of the Grand Cherokee, creating enough rat-a-tat-tat to subdue our conversation.
Until then, Rich and I had been debating the intricacies of leaders designed for dry flies. It wasn’t much of a debate, I suppose. At twice my age and three times my own experience with dry flies, Rich was a mentor for me. He talked, and I listened. When I offered my own thoughts, my friend was kind enough to humor my musings about compound leaders and progressive tapers. I was in that stage of learning where I’d read more than I could put to use, while Rich had already fished more than he could ever find the words to tell.
We parked, rigged, walked a long path upstream and then stopped to scan the small stream. We stood together on a wooded shelf that overlooked a gorgeous narrow valley. It was moss-filled with bordering ferns — a lush, wet landscape that looked like a rainforest in the middle of the Pennsylvania backcountry. With a gradient steep enough that clear water bounced from one pocket down into the next, I looked upon a series of minor waterfalls for as far as my eyes could see.
Somewhat stunned by the beauty of it all, I fell silent and let time creep along, until the slow motion whitewater of the falls mixed with the endless emerald shades reflecting in the softwater glides. The impenetrable canopy above stood guard against the angle of the sun, disguising the true time of day. This timeless valley was either daytime or night — with the details of everything in between insignificant.
I stood still, with the chilly air against my bare skin, vulnerable but peaceful, feeling as though my arms and legs may never move again, even if I tried. Then, suitably mesmerized, I swayed in time with the rhythm of the pine boughs on the northern bank.
Rich’s stare snapped me out of it.
From the corner of my eye, I caught his gaze underneath the twill ball cap, which today read something about a fly shop in Colorado. Rich had an endless supply of fishing hats. And while they were always the neutral colors of tan, gray and olive, the logos and messages changed so often that I’d stopped noticing. I do remember that my favorite of his from years back was a brown cap with the state of Montana embroidered boldly in yellow. Underneath big sky country was a simple message: “Fish Here.” I swear it’s Rich’s hat that sent me to Montana with Dad ten years later. Some things get inside you and stick there like an unrelenting melody that persists until you finally sing it out long enough. When Dad and I did fish Montana, I thought of Rich and his dry flies. . . . Or did I? How could I remember those moments standing in the remarkable rainforest of these Appalachian wilds before it all happened?
His words finalized my jumble of mismatched memories and vanishing moments, pulling me back into some kind of reality.
“Well, are you ready to go fishing?”
I swear I heard Rich’s voice. It came somewhere through the fog and above the mist.
** For context, here’s another story about my friend, Rich. **
READ: Troutbitten | The Fisherman Is Eternally Hopeful
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