tracks

there are no cars in the parking lot and no tracks in the snow. when i stand still i can hear the snow flakes filtering through the trees. the river is the only sound i hear all day.

i wade cautiously. a few recent falls and wader shots have me thinking about the air temp, the long walk out and the destroyed iphones that litter my past.

under a sky as grey as a whetstone, the day feels monochromatic. the only bits of color are in my flies and the sluggish brown trout that eat them.

when the weather is at it's worst i find some midges circling in a back eddy and catch an unexpected rise out of the corner of my eye. i warm my hands on the back of my neck and slowly rebuild my leader.

with numb fingers i chip the ice from my guides and redress my small emerger after every fish. for an hour the snow is sideways and it collects in my beard. i keep telling myself to wade to the bank and stomp around so i can feel my feet again but another fish rises and i choose the less logical option.

eventually what little light there has been, starts to fade and i think about a warm house and a decent meal. i finally call it. on the long walk out i painfully regain feeling in my feet and look for grouse tracks but only find one set of footprints on the trail. they are my own.

they are tracks left by a fisherman with low expectations but still hopeful for the day ahead. someone who is ready to exchange the wind and the cold or a few hours of quiet solitude and for time to stop thinking about a year that has not gone the way he planned. i wish i could tell him about the rising fish he'll find. i wish i could tell him there is nothing to do but take things one step at a time.

but then i look at the tracks he has left, one in front of the other, and realizes that he already knows.

gravity

i pulled up to our shitty little rental one day to find my daughter crouched by the curly willow tree in the front yard. she was kneeling by a baby bird that was barely covered with downy feathers. i could see the nest, high in the tree, too high for any of us to reach.

it had been on the ground all day so we picked it up and it spent the night on the kitchen counter sleeping against a warm water bottle and eating crushed up and moistened dog food. since i'm not a bird and don't have bird instincts to guide me, we googled things and followed directions. later the following day it died. we buried it in the nest my daughter had made for it.

the next morning there was another one on the ground and the following day, another. they all died in the end.


a few days later i pulled up to the shitty little rental after fishing and walked to the mail box. i heard a screech owl in the pines on the side of the house. years ago i learned to call them in. i sounded off and in seconds the tree above me had six small screech owls on staggered perches all purring and looking at me with confusion and interest. screech owls are better parents then the grackles.

it's high summer and the humidity had me thinking it was time to check on my shotguns and reapply a protective coat of oil. as i worked i looked out the window and saw my neighbor standing in his driveway, motionless and staring at the ground but also off into the distance somehow. he stood there a long time and then turned and went inside. maybe he was watching ants or maybe he has a lot on his mind. either way i can relate.


the water is low and clear. i took my son fishing for crappie and he stood in the shadow of a bridge and caught a pile, all just slightly too small to keep. i wanted to fry them in bacon grease for him. i spent the following day catching browns and sweating behind scratched up polarized lenses. when i was done i cut a few roadside tiger lilies to bring home for my girls.

this time last year i was recovering from cutting off most of my finger tip while making kindling for a fire. this time last year everything was up in the air. over three hundred days later and my finger has healed, but other than that, not much has changed.

fortune

when i first saw you, you were tucked up tight against the bank, directly under an overhanging branch.

good choice.

the day started slow. the water was high and off color. a few of your buddies ate a crayfish pattern. impulse. that's what i was counting on. the river itself wanted to pull me into it's brownish flow, the rocks were slick and angled all wrong. my shins took the worst of it.

i finally came to slow section, probably frog water at normal flows, but your pals took advantage, sipping mayflies from the weeks' rainfall in weak flows. i took advantage and used heavy tippet and picked my way up through them.

already a day well spent and i was about to climb out of your home when i saw you bulge subtly. i stood there, with water swirling and grouse drumming in the background, i stood there thinking...

...thinking that i'm glad to be in this place. glad to be surrounded by water, some familiar some new, all of it to be learned again. i almost lose focus thinking but then i catch you being more showey then you should have been. the slight splash made me think "maybe it's not such a big fish" and so i had the upper hand. with lowered consequence i back hand a cast that nips the branch and falls perfectly, unreasonably close.

the rest is in the past. you made a mistake and this time i did not.

driving with the windows down

our winter started back in october, back in nebraska and it seemed to follow us as we headed east across the country. the otherwise mild winter here turned cold and the snow began to fall as soon as the last box was pulled from the moving truck. winter seemed to have barbs and wouldn't shake free. it can make you forget what shorts feel like, or flip-flops or driving with your windows down.

on these early spring mornings the birds are up before the sun, sending their chorus echoing through the halls of another temporary home. the cool nights provide a cool room and we lay awake, warm under cheap covers, silently listening to the songs of horny robins busy weaving nests from lawn scraps and road side garbage.

eventually there are bugs. bugs caked on my windshield and bumper and out-of-state license plate. bugs in the air and bugs on the water. so many people sick with cabin fever, eager for vitamin D, appear from everywhere. you can end up feeling bitter and and looking at a fellow angler as the enemy. like winter, the crowds will eventually pass.

so i make the effort not to care. i'll skip ahead to another pool and give you a wide berth. i like walking in the woods. if that doesn't work i'll find my car and look for another spot. i'll put my windows down and roll slowly, grateful for another winter on the books and the warm breeze on my face.

legs

in case you didn't know, sharptails are absolutely covered in stonefly legs.