The sun climbed high enough to reach through the overhead branches frequently and provide warmth. I appreciated the canopy of coverage as I didn’t think to apply sunscreen. Hopefully I wouldn’t be fried by the time I returned to camp. I realized my two new friends wouldn’t be so lucky.
I tried to calculate how many fish I might need for a decent lunch, especially if there was nothing but fish for us to eat. I could get by with the two guys who were already, literally, in the bag, but the Lumberjack would need a lot more protein and calories than me. If I could make due with two, he would need at least four unless I caught a couple really big ones. I doubted the creek would be that generous, so I would have to keep fishing for a while. If I could catch one every hour, it would be early afternoon before I finished, then, of course, more time to prep them and cook them, and…
Oh crap, was I going to have to cut them and clean them? Oh, no! I certainly wanted to do my part to be helpful, and I already embraced the fishing experience, or at least this part of it, but I really had no business using a knife to slice off their little heads and cut open their guts and filet their little skeletons.
“Oh, so sorry, guys. If I had any other choice, I’d throw you back in, but this seems to be what I have agreed to do, and I’m telling you, I’m not good with death, but if I can get the Lumberjack to do the dirty business, it might be better for all of us in the long run.” Man, I hoped he was planning on doing that portion of the day’s fishing.
As the day warmed, I decided to change positions moving farther upstream. After my third fish, Penelope, I skipped the sanitizer and just washed my hands in the stream. It was still cold, but with the warmer air, I didn’t mind it as much. After my fourth fish, Speckles, I decided to take off my socks and shoes and get my feet wet. While most likely not the smartest decision of the day, I quickly altered my plan and sat barefoot with my feet on a rock protruding from the water.
Every so often I would dip my toes or my heel into the water and remind myself that somewhere upstream, way upstream, the snow pack from last winter continued to let go of its grip and flow towards me and my fish friends. This time of year, there was nowhere back in Texas to go to see snow, but here, high in the mountains, nature was just now getting around to delivering its winter wonderland to my seat along the stream. As cold as it felt on my feet, I realized how long it took to get here, and how much farther it would travel: to the Bighorn River, to the Yellowstone River, then through the Missouri and Mississippi locks before getting to the open waters of the Gulf and on to the Atlantic Ocean.
Maybe this was the discussion happening as the water bumped into the rocks in its path. I spent Thursday night busily bumping around my apartment piecing together the items I would need for my weekend, and here these melted snowflakes were traveling together, talking with each other about their upcoming trip, the route they would take, and what awaited them. I completely understood their excitement and uncertainty about what was around the next bend. At least they were in the company of their closest friends on their journey downstream.
I was here at this point in my journey with a near stranger, one who seemed pleasant enough, especially in comparison to those who went before him in my life. If I tried to imagine my own life farther downstream, I wondered what to expect not only this weekend, but this winter, and over the next year. At least I’d always been thankful I’m no longer in the company of the men who are part of my melted snow pack farther upstream. I lived the last several years trapped in my own snow and ice through a pretty rough, long, exhausting winter. Now that my world began to melt, I didn’t want to lose the enthusiasm within me that this small flow of water similarly enjoyed as it lapped against the branches and dampened and smoothed the rocks, and even where it hid all my new fish friends. As cold as it was, my feet enjoyed their symbiosis with the water and the pleasant unknown of where we were all being carried.
As I listened to the tranquil sounds of the water, it occurred to me that the chain saw ceased its distant, bellowing hum. With no watch or phone, I guessed it might be noon already, maybe earlier, maybe even later, and he could be anxious to have a meal. The banana probably didn’t do much to sustain him, and I failed to make adequate progress to fulfill him, either. Maybe I could limit myself to one fish and let him have all the rest.
“C’mon, little fishies. If one of you could just hop on that hook and make this process so much easier, I would appreciate it. I would also really appreciate anything you can do to help me not look like a complete idiot in front of this guy. So far I haven’t fallen in the creek and for me, that’s great, but I need you to do your part. You know, for example, like jumping on my hook and letting me get back to camp. That would be really helpful.”
They didn’t seem to be listening. Maybe they were too busy listening to the excitement of the water. “Hello, little fishies?”
I heard a rustle of leaves behind me. Oh crap, I didn’t need the fish to help me avoid looking stupid, I needed me to not look stupid. I turned slowly, knowing I would have to face my embarrassment as the Lumberjack witnessed me talking to the trout.
He wasn’t there. I heard another rustle of leaves and wondered if the breeze was returning, but the upper branches weren’t swaying, so I doubted the lower ones were affected. I set down the pole and stepped onto a taller rock to see if I could get a better view along the bank. As I did a doe walked about slowly through the crop of aspens beyond my rocky perch. Trotting behind her, her fawn paid far less attention than its mother, and I suddenly forgot all about how I appeared and how many fish I caught.
The mother and baby walked together, looking for food, presumably, but also passing through the quiet, deserted stretch of the mountains. Had the chainsaw still be running, I might not have even known they were there, but now I could see them, together, wandering through life, being cautious and carefree respectively. The elder would eventually teach the younger how to be guarded, how to watch for humans who can hurt them, maybe even kill them; how fortunate that they stumbled upon me. Near this creek, they could camouflage themselves in a veil of trunks, find nourishment along the earth, and rejuvenate themselves in the folds of the forest. I wished I were them, although I was trying my hardest to soak all the tranquility I could absorb from my surroundings.
I heard my fishing pole fall from its perch and it startled me, and in turn, my visitors. Mother and baby fled, and I felt guilty for having frightened them, but the swimmers behind me listened to my pleas and a fifth fish pulled at my line. I reeled him in, the largest one yet, and I knew I could call my first fishing outing a success. I suddenly couldn’t wait to get back to camp and show off my new-found skills. Even if the Lumberjack wouldn’t be impressed, I would be. I put my socks and shoes back on, carried Jason, as I chose to name him, back to the bag with his friends, removed the hook and tied off the top of the sack. I even figured out how to lock the reel so I could hike back to camp without leaving a trail of fishing line the entire way.
I splashed my hands in the creek to rinse them off, and then pulled the now-squishy candy bar from my backpack. I tore off the end, squeezing it like a tube of toothpaste into my mouth. It may have been messy, but it was a sweet reward for my sweet victory over the fish.
I managed to balance the tackle box in one hand and the pole and our soon-to-be lunch in the other hand, all while trying to pat myself on the back and climb slightly uphill. Just two days ago I considered the possibility of driving into the mountains for the weekend, to enjoy the view and maybe camp overnight. And despite not being entirely on my own, I accepted this little facet of my outing as a big accomplishment for me, even if no one else celebrated the achievement as I did. As stunned as I had been earlier in the day to be left alone, I doubt I would have appreciated my success had the Lumberjack and I spent the day fishing together.
NEXT: Splitting Wood – Part 25