Song of the River

By William Simonsen

There is a place on the river above the lake where I always go to fish with flies. It is best in the fall when the water is low and the tourists have all left.

The way the current roils against the east bank at the mouth of the creek is magical. It bubbles and gurgles and talks and sings as the two waters meet and mix together.

It is not the best fishing on the river by any stretch. But it is the most peaceful.

As the trees begin changing color and the early mornings are brisk I find my pickup headed for this place. I’ve caught dozens of fish at this spot and turned every one loose. As I tell them I’ll be back to catch them again when they are bigger.

And sure enough, I catch bigger fish there every year.

I found the place a decade ago. Late in the summer. Autumn really.

I was recovering from horrible treatments for a horrible disease. I was sad and weak and lost. Undead, but not alive. I went to the river out of habit. Fishing with flies as the snow flies.

I never stop for the day until ice forms on my line and I can’t cast it.

Earlier I had stopped at a couple of places I knew and they no longer felt right, so I kept driving along watching the river.

It was an unmarked dirt road heading off toward the river. I followed it to a very small open area, then walked the remaining hundred or so feet to the bank.

This far upstream the river is small and gentle and alive with fish. Trees are close on the bank making casting a good trick. The current twists between the gravel bars. Small trout hide underneath overhanging banks, the big ones lie in deep holes below snags.

Fishing with flies, when done properly without paid guides who have phony western drawls and thousand dollar rods, is a pure sense of oneness with water. Flowing water. Free flowing western streams.

When I find the perfect casting, floating, retrieving rhythm, I forget that I am fishing. I forget I am standing in a river. I forget who I am supposed to be.

On certain days when I am lost in thought I’ll snap off a fly on a sloppy backcast. Uncaring I’ll continue to cast and retrieve my line without a fly. My world is calm. The fish can wait to be caught until the rhythm and song of the river inside my heart is finished.

Time stands still.

Eventually I’ll smile and laugh out loud at myself for having become such an old fool. Then I’ll stop my foolishness and tie another fly on the line.

When the cold water has numbed my legs, or the snow is falling so hard I can no longer see the fly on my line, I will stop. If the rhythm lets me.

I’ll drag my failing body out of the river. Walk to my truck and perhaps drink the last of the coffee cold from the thermos I have saved. Then I’ll walk back to the river and talk to it. Thanking it for such a lovely day. Telling the fish to grow bigger. The river knows the stormier the weather the more I love its company. It bubbles back at me. Reminds me I’m still alive and that my life must flow along with it.

Sometimes I’ll stop at the general store halfway home for a fresh cup of coffee. And perhaps lie to the cashier about my success fishing. If I’m really lucky the storm will be blowing in full force by the time I turn off the highway into my driveway and a fire will be burning in the woodstove. When I was younger I would stop and chop wood to take inside. But I can’t do that anymore.

I take off my hip boots and wool sweaters. My wife watches. I’ll smile knowing I’ve cheated death one more day.

© 2012 William Simonsen. All rights reserved.

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