Last Sunday night I had to do one of those things that make you lose your appetite. Something that you have to do over and over, even though once seems practically emotionally unbearable. Right on schedule, my old companion, the lump in my throat joined me. The one that we have been trained to have, not so much as a prelude of crying, but rather as the obstacle around which the sob cannot find a path. It is a strawberry piece that gets stuck in the straw of your strawberry milkshake. No matter how much better it would be to get the lump out and just let the milkshake come, there is no forcing it. I wonder if I taught myself to have that at about the time I learned to not cry anymore when my feelings were hurt. At any rate, that is where I was.
In the summer I would take this opportunity to try out a fishing spot. I like to look for a new stream, somewhere that I had to be intellectually engaged in the fishing and thus distracted enough to wait out the sting. I liked to look for new or challenging water, usually moving water. That way the repetitiveness of cast and strip that I find attractive at times on lakes and ponds was not there. It is those times when my mind leaves the fishing and I find it pondering relationships, or work, or other non-fishing topics. It was this mind wandering that I looked to avoid. So I found flowing water with fish that could see me. More difficult, or at least engaged, fishing that demands my attention. That is what I do in the summer. It is early Decemeber.
I decided to get a bight to eat – at this point I am avoiding my quiet apartment at all costs – and head in the general direction of the eateries in my home town. Somehow, I discover that I am on a hiway and have passed all the food joints. Did I mention the loss of appetite? I was driving out into the country without even making the decision. I had apparently decided, unbeknown to myself, to head to the river. I wish I had a better explanation than “it just happened” but I honestly don’t remember deciding to go to the river. It was just happening and I didn’t have the energy to stop it.
There is no good explanation for going out there. At 7:30 at night in South Dakota in December it has been dark for over two hours. I did have my gear in the trunk and my license in my pocket, but the bank sign of the way out of town read 19 degrees so fishing was not a realistic possibility although I think that at the times I was still convinced that I would at least try a cast or two. It was as though there wasn’t a question. This was what needed to happen and I wasn’t going to have a say in it.
The place I was headed could safely be called my home water. It is a 30 minute drive from my place and I have spent by far the lion’s share of my fishing hours working this stretch of water. I am still learning about it, but it is the water that I know best. There is nothing inherently attractive about this place. It is not the greatest fishing spot around, in fact some people view it as an inferior spot that inexplicably works sometimes and can be defaulted to when the better places aren’t. Nor is it a secret, I have fished with many different types and met some real characters on this stretch of water. It is known to produce, although not necessarily in the size or type of fish that people around here are looking for. Nor is it the most romantic water int he world, being in a cow pasture and near a road and all. There is no magic here. Well, at least the magic here is not accessible to everyone.
What this place does have is sound. There is a very nice riffle over large basketball size rocks, leading to a narrowing of the channel. That, obviously, speeds up the water as it slides in a deep run under a Works Projects Association era bridge immediately into a nice little fall over some Volkswagen size boulders, splashing into a picturesque pool immediately adjacent and connected to a large still pond. The current shoots straight through the side of the pond and exits in a beautiful riffle as it spreads across a gravel bed. The cacophony created by this varied water-scape means that a turning of the head is all that is required to change the sound completely.
Alighting from the car, I realize that no fishing will occur on this night. First of all, I am wearing my Puma tennis shoes with soles so grippless that bar floors can become skating rinks. Secondly, I have on my leather coat that causes me to ponder why cows don’t freeze to death every winter. Lastly, the sandpaper sensation on my face caused from walking in the 19 degree air does what it does ever winter. It tells me “Screw this up, be unprepared or less than vigilant on a stone and you will be lucky if your ears are all it will cost you.” I love that realization. I force it upon myself at times. The thought that I am in a situation that plausibly could kill me. I require something like that, something to contrast daily life against, to remind me just where I am and what I am. I think people say it makes them feel alive. I would say it reminds me that that is all I am.
So, there I am, lump, pumas and all. I put my hands in my pockets and walk out on the bridge. I am here for some reason, lets see what it is. Peering over each side of the bridge I get excellent views of the water, black and oozing it appears. I can hear all the different instruments being played by this stretch of water. Winter cold in SoDak means that the air can’t hold any moisture so the stars are close and obvious. There happens to be a full moon on this night and it shines so brightly that as I meander back of forth across the bridge I continually jump thinking headlights are coming down the road. I can hear a deer crash through the 6 foot high grass. There is no wind at all, so if I stand stock still a sort of body heat bubble forms around me and I don’t feel cold at all.
I walked around for something like 45 minutes before I decided to get back in the car and drive home. By then the lump was gone. In fact I felt pretty good. No major life realizations to impart, no new wisdom gained. Just not as bad as before. like maybe I should go write something.