The walk to the creek wasn’t bad, mostly downhill, and it gave me a chance to start peeling my orange. It was a bit messy and juicy, so I figured I could always rinse my hands in the creek. Of course, I also forgot I just brushed my teeth, so the taste was horrid for at least three slices, and I was therefore glad I was walking behind him so he couldn’t see the hideously ugly face I made each time. I tucked the peels into my pocket rather than litter in the forest, and planned to drop them into my backpack after we arrived, especially since I would need something to do.
We walked for about twenty minutes and I was rewarded with a beautiful scene when we reached our destination. The greenery framed the creek on all sides. Tall pines and aspens blocked most of the rays of sunlight, and with the indirect route the water meandered, the trees commanded where the creek was and was not allowed to flow. A handful of flowers dotted the bank, along with patches of moss on dry rocks that protruded from the water. Not quite enough to cross without getting my feet wet, the stones begged me to play hopscotch across the stream, where in places its width ranged from ten to twenty yards across. Other plants and ferns filled in the gaps between the banks and the trunks of the trees, and in the midst of all the flora, the creek itself trickled sweetly not minding any of its neighbors.
I stepped close to its banks to cleanse my hands and found the water far more chilly than I anticipated and quickly dried them on my jeans, leaving hand prints on my thighs. As I looked down at my streaked jeans, I was at least thankful I had not dried my hands on my backside. The lumberjack-turned-fisherman was already settling in at a particular crop of rocks that formed a perfect spot for him to sit and view the stream head on and likewise be able to cast his line close to his position or farther upstream.
He began pulling various lures from among his tackle and finally chose one to fasten to the line. I wanted to be useful, but I didn’t quite know how that worked, so I was thankful that he was handling this task and I could be free to enjoy the view. I took off my backpack and set it near the rocks and walked upstream a short distance until I ran out of stepping stones. I stood listening to the chatter of the ripples as they bumped against the rocks and fallen branches. It reminded me of a homeless man who used to live near my apartment outside Austin, who would talk softly to himself, randomly. The creek likewise continued in an unending diatribe of liquid dialogue. And so the flow of water spoke to itself, in an endless one-sided conversation, allowing me to listen to its language and interpret its words in my own way.
“Okay, here you go.”
A voice other than the water’s brought me back to the moment. The Lumberjack left his perch near the rocks walking towards me with the pole in hand. “Okay,” I likewise replied and returned to him, meeting him halfway.
“Do you fish often?”
“No.” He should have asked if I have ever fished.
“Have you ever been fishing?” And there it was.
“No.” He nodded, and realized he would have to start from square one.
“Start by putting your thumb here, to keep the reel from unspooling.” As he transferred it to my hand, I saw what he meant and the hook immediately dropped to the ground. Poor guy. He’d be better off just letting me watch. He wound the line back into the reel.
“This is your line. When you throw it out into the water, that’s called ‘casting your line.’” Now, I knew that much, but my skill was the real aspect of this adventure that was on trial. I knew the terminology, it was the practical application where the two did not effectively coincide. I took my first attempt at the endeavor, and while it went better than I expected, it wasn’t pretty.
“Is there a training video available?”
He chuckled slightly, and at least he appreciated that I admitted my need to receive further instruction. “Let me show you.”
Wonderful. I extended the rod to him.
“Why don’t you reel in the line first?” Yes, that made more sense. I did as he suggested and then again held out the rod to him. I lost my fingering for a moment, and the hook again fell to the ground. He didn’t take the pole, but he did reel the hook back up for me. He could probably do this with one hand, yet it appeared both of mine were useless. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to do better, and I wanted him to not think that taking me fishing was a mistake.
I kept the rod extended, but he didn’t take it. Instead, he tried the silliest, most stereotypical option he could have tried. He stepped behind me, spread his legs as broad as his shoulders, keeping his right hand on the fishing pole. He walked me through the first few steps, and I did everything I could to focus on his words and not on the fabulous aroma that emitted from him. Wow, he smelled fabulous.
We’re fishing. I’m focused on fishing.
Fishing. Yes, fishing. Oh, but he smelled really tasty.
“You are aiming for that spot just beyond those three small rocks.”
I corrected him. “At this point, I am aiming for water.”
“Yes, but if you can land the lure over there, where those plants are, that’s a great place for fish to hang out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Ready to cast your line?”
He swung the rod to the side and gently wrapped his arm around me as we crossed the line in front of us. We missed the mark, but we hit water. Good enough.
“There you go.” I watched the end of the line slowly easing its way downstream. At least the lure hadn’t gotten hooked on something, like the tree behind us. “Nice.”
I remained so focused on hitting water and his wonderful smell that I had failed to notice that his voice had gotten softer, but closer. His head was nearly resting on my shoulder and his mouth was inches from my ear. His words of encouragement did not have far to travel. He took his hand from the pole and I was fully in control of the line, but trying to keep myself in control of myself with the smell and the voice and the patient instructions made the challenge brutal. What could I ask about fishing at this very moment? Quick, think of something.
“So how long should I leave the line out there before I reel it back in?” That sounded plausible.
“It depends. Maybe when it stops drifting downstream, because that means it could be caught on something. Or if it passes you. You have some space here, but if it gets around the bend to the right you’ll have to step out into the water to get it to reel back cleanly.”
“And the water is cold.”
“Yes.” The word was just breath against my ear. This had to stop.
“Okay, I got it.” I reeled the line in and thought he’d take it back.
“Cast it again.” He didn’t reach his arm around to assist the second time, but instead took a step back. He did place his other hand on my left arm, slightly gripping me as if to hold me steady. I wondered if he realized what he was doing, and not the fishing lesson, but the distraction.
I swung out to the side and successfully launched the hook a decent distance downstream.
“Nice.” Yes, he was correct, this was nice. “Okay, I think you’ve got a handle on this.”
“Yep.” I felt comfortable giving the pole back to him.
“Okay, I’ll see you later.”