“They flowed around me barely three feet off the water, and for a few mystical moments I found I was actually in the middle of their formation.”
SOMETIMES I go to the river to pray, and sometimes the prayers simply grow of their own accord, spawned by care and question and need that the fishing and the river set free and allow to surface, up from the dark depths of worry and the world in which I spend the larger part of my life.
These prayers are born in an instant, then flow unbound both outward and inward into an unfathomable stillness of peace and receptivity, where they are gathered by Him to whom they are sent to be caressed and considered and then returned with an infinite peace to their source to sooth and clarify the soul that first gave them wing.
There are other ways I could go, but I prefer to go by the river.
AS I DROVE along beside it this morning on my way in to the studio, the river had overspilled its banks, and last night’s fog was out playing among the trees and fields as it indulged itself in a world it visits only occasionally.
My hand hung loosely out the window of the car, feathering the cool morning mist—its water molecules flowing through my fingers as perhaps they had flowed along the sides of the old brown trout I’d released far upstream late last evening.
He had been badly hooked in the side of the face just behind his left eye, and I had slipped him alone into my flow-through creel and hung him from my wading belt in the river facing upstream to comfort him and keep him cool. He was still very much alive and complaining thirty minutes later. And so I tentatively lifted him from the creel and set him back into the water and held him gently and watched as he reoriented himself and finally eased away.
If his face was torn, his color and demeanor were still strong and good. And this morning I wondered if the mist that now comforted me had somehow comforted him during the night while it was still water.
THERE IS ALWAYS comfort in the water.
It is a separate reality not associated with the world through which I must pass in order to occasionally become a part of it. When I step through the river’s surface and find myself surrounded by her in every direction, I temporarily become a miniscule part of the entire ecosystem of which she is so integral a part, along with the trout and ducks and geese, the otter and muskrat and beaver.
I have watched them all since late last winter: that first pair of Canada geese prospecting their nest site at the head of the island; the mallards whistling through the wind as I etched the air with my fly line; the otter rising like an apparition from the twilight face of the water to try and figure out what I was.
There was the lone hen mallard with the seven mottled chicks that the following week were five and now are only three—but three nearly full-grown Susie’s that next year will hopefully find responsible mates and have broods of their own.
By contrast, there was the mated pair of wild mallards that when I first saw them had five chicks, and when I saw them yesterday evening still had all five—firmly attesting to the importance of active fatherhood.
The best I can tell, there have been either six or seven families of Canada geese along the stretch of river that contains the Otter Pool, and I have watched them all since that first prospecting pair I spotted last winter at the head of the island. There is nothing finer than seeing a father goose cautiously and proudly leading his family on a warm summer morning as they glide upstream through the rising mist, the goslings lined up in his wake with their mother acting as rear guard, then watching them grow as they and the seasons mature.
Yesterday morning I watched as all six or seven families came flying upriver through the late-summer air around me, and I could not tell the parents from their young. They had neither fear nor regard for me as I ceased casting and lowered my fly rod as they approached at eye level.
They flowed around me barely three feet off the water, and for a few mystical moments I found I was actually in the middle of their formation. I could sense the vortices rolling from their wing tips less than half a rod length on either side of me, and if I could have joined them I would have flown in these pockets of lesser resistance and been a part of their vee.
I haven’t seen the otter in months. But yesterday morning a young beaver entered the water from behind me and was a third of the way across the river before I noticed his wake from the corner of my eye as I changed flies. He swam all the way across the current and then eased out of the water to climb a grassy ramp on the far side where he disappeared into a tangle of wood that until then I had thought was only random and had not recognized as his lodge.
There were kingfishers.
But except for that one fish that I hooked in the face, the trout more or less left me alone—as though they knew there were more important things for me to do than catch them. I could see them occasionally flashing deep in the belly of the runs, and at first I thought they were bottom-feeding. But the water was not as cool as usual and the sun was close with its Dog Days demeanor, robbing the river of its rain and the sky its clouds and making the water unusually warm and most likely uncomfortable for the trout.
And so I tucked my fly into its keeper loop at the base of the rod and slowly eased back downstream, through the Otter Pool, past the head of the island, then across and out of the river and up the trail to my car and home, leaving my prayers floating Heavenward with the cool mist rising gently from the water to embrace the dusk.
This is a story from Michael Altizer’s book, THE LAST BEST DAY. This book, along with the author’s other books, NINETEEN YEARS TO SUNRISE and RAMBLINGS—TALES FROM THREE HEMISPHERES, can be ordered online at SportingClassicsStore.com—click on “BOOKS.” Or call 1-800-849-1004. You may also purchase here at www.riversandfeathers.com/Books.
The author always welcomes and appreciates your comments, questions, critiques and input. Please keep in touch at Mike@AltizerJournal.com.
© MICHAEL ALTIZER