What? What, what, what? “No.” He should not leave me alone to fish.
“Yeah, you’ve got this.”
Is this why there was only one pole? “What if I catch a fish?”
“You’d better catch several. This is lunch.”
“What?” This time I just said it out loud. “What am I supposed to do if I catch a fish,” because I think we are getting nothing for lunch, Mr. Lumberjack-Architect-Fisherman.
“What do you think you should do?”
Yell for help. Make you do this. Order pizza. My panic was creating one of those comfortable pauses in conversation that he mastered but that I used to hide my mental chaos.
“I think I should give it an adorable name and have a conversation about how I am shocked to find him on the end of my fishing line.”
“Or you can take it off the hook and go again.”
“Or I could do that.” I hoped he appreciated my humor. I’d already given myself kudos for my attempt to not freak out, or at least not look like I was.
“How many fish do you think I’ll catch?”
“How hungry are you?” I’m so glad I brought an apple.
“You’re not going to stay and make sure I don’t catch the wrong kind or the wrong size?” I learned several of the forest service regulations, but I did not know these rules very well.
“At least six inches. And don’t worry about what kind they are. Most everything here is legal.”
“I don’t even have a fishing license.”
“You don’t need one.” Now I knew the rules enough to know I did. I did not need a violation from the Wyoming Fish and Game.
“I think I do. What if someone comes by?”
“If someone comes by, tell them they are trespassing on private land.”
“I thought we were on forest service land.”
“No, just on the edge of it.”
“Oh.” I knew we were near the edge of the forest, but I didn’t realize we had crossed over. It was fairly dark when we arrived last night and I obviously didn’t notice. “Whose land are we on?”
Really? I wanted to ask him about that, but it was time to reel in the line and cast it again. This was a topic I could save for around the campfire later. Or perhaps the middle of next week when I finally caught a fish. This was a train wreck.
He tugged on my sleeve, not to get me to pull in my line or adjust my stance, but just as a good-bye and he headed back up the path leaving me alone with the beautiful scenery and the horrible idea. I allowed the line to cruise downstream and then I repeated the in-and-out action again. He was already out of sight.
“Okay little fish, I think it is pretty obvious that I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t see you, so I’m not even sure you are out there, much less listening to me, but if you could help me out and find your way onto my hook, I would appreciate it. And I apologize in advance for eating you, but to your credit, you are probably delicious and that is entirely your fault.” I sighed deeply and made my best effort to hit the spot he had suggested. Most times I actually landed it in the water.
After about forty-five minutes of senselessness, I finally heard a legitimate reason for my being here by myself. I wondered why he abandoned me to try to obtain us lunch, a task at which I sincerely believed he was better suited, and I tried to decide if he invited me on this weekend to spend time with me or to use me as cheap labor. I was leaning toward the latter when I heard the chain-saw engine scream to life in the distance. At least I finally knew there was a reason why it was in his truck, and why he might be otherwise occupied and therefore leaving me alone to fish.
If he was cutting firewood in the national forest, he would have to be slightly to the east, back on federal land, which did coincide with where the sound originated. When it came to distances, I struggled to estimate, and with sounds, especially the way they carried through the valleys, I couldn’t imagine how far away he might have been. I enjoyed the silence of nature, and the new vibrating screeches of the machine deafened most of the natural sounds I enjoyed even in close proximity, including the water’s ongoing conversation. Even though I would catch a few nearby sounds, it became easier to distinguish when the equipment was pushing through a log and when it was waiting to return to its useful purpose than it was to hear a squirrel foraging for pine cones.
I nearly lost focus on my own responsibilities, trying to visualize him at work with his howling machine, when my line suddenly tugged.
Fish! I had a fish!
“Come here, you little dickens!” I kept reeling in the line waiting for him to lift up above the creek. When he did, I gloried at my victory over the gilled world. “Hey! Look at you!”
He looked huge, but as he got close to me and I reached my hand out to grasp him, he suddenly appeared much smaller, but I didn’t care. I caught a fish.
“I caught a fish.” I said it twice for good measure. “I caught a fish.” I wish my fellow camper was here to pat me on the back or take my picture, although truthfully, I couldn’t imagine him doing either.
I spoke politely to my new little friend, and thanked him for being the guinea pig. “Listen, I am not entirely sure what happens next, so I am going to lay you right here on this rock while I figure out what to do with you. He flopped madly about the boulder, clearly not understanding the concept of just laying there as I had requested. I expected this behavior and until he relaxed, which I did realize meant ‘until he died,’ he would need to stay on the hook. So now what do I do with him?
I opened the tackle box to see if there were any options or idea starters. Immediately, the container he placed inside before we left camp tumbled out and down towards the water’s edge. My reflexes snagged it before it went in the water and to my joy, I discovered it was nearly full of trail mix. Excellent. Of course, I just had my hands on Mr. Fish, so I probably would wait until I washed off the fish residue before opening it and have some.
As I lifted one of the removable shelves in the box, I found on the bottom a folded plastic grocery bag. Bingo! Mr. Fish found a new home. I lowered him and the line into the bag, and he continued to resist, of course, and when his head reached the top of the bag, I grasped it around him and used the wrapped protection it offered to hold him snug while I removed the hook. This process itself sounded much easier in description than in actual application, but I did get the hook out, finally, and I folded the bag around Mr. Fish and set him on the rocks.
I set down my pole, slathered my hands with sanitizer, and then resumed the cast-and-retrieve process again. I nearly completely zoned out the shrillness of the equipment in the distance. I’d also forgotten to open the trail mix, and instead told myself it would be my reward after I caught my second fish. When I formally introduced Mr. Trout to Mr. Fish about forty-five minutes later, I felt I earned it.