Joey let go of the golden brown trout and watched it tail-kick into the shadows. With a big grin, my son handed me the net before sliding to the right and finding the submerged limestone ledge just downstream of the rock again. For an eleven year old kid, sometimes...
I stood next to him on the bank, and I watched my uncle kneel in the cold riffle. Water nearly crested the tops of his hip waders while he adjusted and settled next to the flat sandstone rock that lay between us. He pulled out the Case pocket knife again, as he’d done...
I was driving a small Nissan pickup, halfway down a steep and rocky logging road, somewhere in the Pennsylvania backcountry. The truck crept down a small boulder field of mixed slate and sandstone. And the frame held solid while the suspension complained against...
These places change, but they are more constant than shifting, more lasting than fading. The stream that I fished as a boy every April still holds the same trout, and I follow those familiar bends upstream around rocky mountains. Fallen trees have diverted the channels enough to move the main flow twenty yards east or west, but permanence is more powerful. Here, change is minimal. And that’s comforting . . .
. . . He feels it too. And so he’s drawn to the woods, to these places larger than his small life that often seems too big. I’ve been doing the same for forty-three years . . .
All my life, I’ve walked the woods and water and thought of trout. That’s what tied me to these wild rivers and to nature itself.
But I’ve learned something about Aiden this summer . . .
What draws him to nature and connects him is the identification of living things. He’s an explorer, digging with his small, dirty hands to catch a frog or build a rock dam. And he has the best pair of eyes I’ve ever been around. If you’re looking for something, tell Aiden. He’ll probably find it.
His attention to all of the living things that surround us out there is contagious. And that is the base of his connection to the woods and the water . . .
Follow-ups are tough. That’s what I told the boys as we prepared for this year’s family beach vacation. The sequel to last summer, I assured them, would host its own wonders. Wishing too hard for a perfect repeat might get in the way of enjoying the new moments — the unexpected things. That’s a good lesson for young boys. It’s a good lesson for anyone.
This year, when we raised the garage door of our new beach home for the week, the boys flew up four flights of stairs. And it was immediately clear that this house, with a huge kitchen and bedrooms to spare, with its endless decks and terraces, would be the feature of the week.
Having that kind of space and such comforts changes things. I think we all sunk in and relaxed in a way that we hadn’t for a long time. No Little League games, no school, no work or business calls. We took a vacation the way it’s supposed to be. And I saw each of us unwind. We settled in easily. We rested.
The boys found their own avenues of enjoyment. They discovered routines that suited each of them. We walked a lot, road bikes, explored the island, spent loads of time on the beach . . . and we fished . . .
All of our favorite rivers were high, but clearing. Joey is ten years old now, so he knows the drill. We fish, because trout like water. And it’s the water clarity that matters, not the flow so much. We find wadeable pieces of river in almost any conditions, as long as the river isn’t the thin, brown color of Yoo Hoo.
Last weekend, sandwiched between two big days of baseball games and long team practices, we short-planned some time on the water together.
He didn’t fish. He hunted. Wandering over wooded mountains, and whispering through the wheat fields, I followed my grandfather into a broken forest. We climbed over long oaks, and we scaled fallen hemlock trunks to reach the other side of a small stream. My footsteps fell into his. He walked slowly — much slower than a boy’s patience could match. And when my eagerness overtook me, Grandfather turned to force my pause. He leaned in and granted me this wisdom: “Slowly, child. Life’s secrets are in these trees.”
He was gone before my sons were born.
And now, when I enter these forests, these forgotten tramps, miles away from industry and deep inside shaded canyons, the wet moss absorbs my footfalls and silences the mental rush of an average life. These muted and hushed moments are given for remembering . . .
“Let’s go somewhere a little different today,” I said to him.
So at the bottom of the driveway I turned left instead of right. Then at the bridge a few minutes later, I headed upstream instead of down.
We followed a road that parallels a no-name creek for ten miles. Joey peered across the fallow fields, through leafless branches of standing maples, trying to get a glimpse of the water. All the while, I talked to him about having the heart of an explorer.
Then as I eased the truck off the blacktop, into a soft gravely mud, Joey sat attentively, leaning forward to see ahead. And where the gravel finally touched the grass, we rolled to a stop.