Monday, March 10, 2014

A Tale of Two Fisherman

I wrote the following story a short time ago. It is fictional.

A small Catskills brook flows over boulders of many colors, its gin clear water sparkling like gemstones. The banks are vivid green with moss and ferns, dripping with moisture. Hemlocks and Mountain Laurels block enough light that the forest floor is cool, even in mid summer. The same dark canopy keeps the brook cool. That water flows down from springs high up in the mountains. It tumbles over rocks, collecting oxygen. This cold, oxygenated water is the lifeblood of fish. Brook Trout, their young, small suckers, and minnows flit about the bottom. This life attracts a small group of fisherman. Such sportsman no longer want to catch the biggest fish. They live to find the most beautiful, wild trout in pristine surroundings.

I found myself obsessed with the beautiful Brook Trout of this Catskill creek as a young man. I had found my heaven in those woods. I would drive up an old logging road to where it crosses the creek. I then fished upstream. The day I discovered the stream I fell in love. I caught the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. The river was healthy, with young of the year trout darting in the shallows. I had made my way up a small ledge when I stood to stretch. I saw an old man sitting on a bridge. He had a fly rod and a net lain next to him on the bridge. He was jabbing a fly out of his box, and tied it to his leader with obvious struggle and frustration. I shouted a hello, and he looked up. He struck me as a mountain man, his scraggly grey beard reaching nearly under his ancient chest high waders. We started chatting, at first about the fishing and what fly was working, then later about life. We instantly became friends.

Over the next few years I met the old man on the bridge nearly every time I fished that stream. His name was Bobby James. That was his actual birth name. Bobby was a tough man to be around. He had no filter. He said what he felt regardless of how abrasive it may have been. I learned he had moved to Alaska from the Kills in hopes of getting rich gold mining. He had done some bad things; treated a lot of people disrespectfully. Bobby moved back to New York, only to find his family and friends long gone. He no longer felt that he fit anywhere other than in the woods. I found that I felt the same. I wondered why I should be spending my life in the woods. I wasn't spending time around other people, but Bobby was a person. We talked often, and over the five years that I knew him I talked more to him than anyone else. Bobby and I talked about how brutal society could be, how awful cities were, and how much we disliked electronics and what they were doing to the younger generations. After some time we had both realized that our own opinions and lifestyles were what was wrong with us. Bobby and I were the ones who weren't willing to understand other people. We were outcasts by our own will. We were missing a big part of what it means to be human. But we decided not to change that.

One day Bobby asked me a tough question. “Will anyone miss me? Other than you, that is. I've been such an ass to people all my life.”

“I don’t know.”

I thought about that for while. Bobby seemed like he didn't care that nobody would miss him. I came to believe that he felt some regret for the ways he had treated people, but was at a point where it wouldn't matter. I saw some of this in myself. I did know that some people would miss me. I would be missed by my family and close friends, all of which were avid outdoors-man. All those Bobby had grown up with were gone. It was a few weeks before I found myself at the bridge again. Bobby wasn't there. It was a few trips before the reality had set in. My friend was gone. I sat on his seat on the bridge and wept, the salty tears dripping into the water of the stream. The sun came out, and I could feel it’s warmth on my back. It calmed me, and I went back to my truck. Two weeks later I received a package. It contained a net, a box of flies, and a rod. They were Bobby’s. He had left them for me. I was told by the judge that they were the only things in his will.
I went back to the woods. I fished. I listened to the birds and the crickets. I observed the wild flowers and vegetation. The woods are static. Without human interference they will be alive indefinitely. The changes occur with the weather and the seasons, but these are each good moods, all beautiful in many ways. The stream, the trout, the water, and the woods are friends that can not die, leave, or betray.