This is a copyrighted excerpt from “The Autumnal Romance” chapter of My Mistress Whispers and Roars-Second Edition.
With the 10th month winding down, I had a trip with a local angler, Bill. He is a long-time angler who I’ve had the pleasure of guiding once before. This trip was a birthday present from his amazing wife, a one-on-one fish-till-you-drop day. Bill’s got plenty of game and an eagerness to get better still. We were armed with both single-hand and Spey rods for a day of probing all the money spots for trout and steelhead.
What I’ll remember most from our day together, aside from what great company Bill is and what a dynamic, multi-faceted life he lives, is that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many fish hooked but not landed in one day by one person. And this is for a guy who can fish. It was crazy how many different ways the fight ended in the fish’s favor. After a while, losing fish almost became expected. And through all of it, Bill kept his cool, stayed positive and focused, and kept fishing. Lesser men would have caved. I know because I’ve seen it. You ever play golf with someone who actually has a good swing, who you know is capable of making pars, but on that day, he has a hard time hitting it out of his shadow? Apart from hoping he hits it well because you don’t have a black enough heart to enjoy his flailing (or do you? Maybe there’s some money riding on it) you’re also not sure how he’ll react if he keeps shanking everything. Clubs might start flying. Profanities of all color could be screamed at uncaring divots, execrations towards humanity in general can sail downwind where other groups of golfers cower. Well, the same thing transpires on the river, when some poor soul feels the stars have momentarily misaligned for them, that God in all her wisdom has seen fit to torture, to test the spirit, to find out what someone is made of; if, at their very core, they possess the temerity to continue. I’m not exaggerating here. These moments actually happen. But on this day, I’m pleased and unsurprised to relate that Bill would be undeterred, would remain positive and full of appreciation for his position in the grandest scheme of things; the mettle of a man truly displayed.
And behind him a guide stands on the bank, smiling.
Oh, fish were landed. Don’t get the wrong impression. But the Redband population as a whole scored a resounding victory on the day. Right up until last light, the 10th hour of fishing, the 10th mile of our float, late in the 10th month of the year, Bill kept at it. We found a little bucket not far from the ramp where I believe we hooked ten fish. A couple of these were genuinely large trout in full ass-kicking mode. He didn’t get broken off once. I think we landed one… And yet the equable spirit of the man endured. It’s rare I’m left completely speechless, without words of either encouragement or condolence. But in this case, I found myself capable only of shrugging shoulders, and little else. Bill remained determined, serene even. I can honestly not think of one more defining situation to discover what a person is made of. And Bill is made of the very best stuff. I got the sense that all was right in his world, that our lack of words was allowing a closeness to an energy that only he felt right there and then.
And now that I think back on it, I felt something too as I stood high above the run watching. Lacking any form of conventional creed, I’m not sure if there’s a way to explain. But you know me; I’ll try anything once. In that soft, cooling evening, as Bill fished golden-hued water, my red boat bobbing nearby, a violet, hackle-soft breeze whispering through the canyon, with each green-backed trout hooked and lost, I felt the cycle of birth, life, death; samsara, as Buddhist’s refer to it. I saw forests burn and re-grow. I listened to rivers flood and abate. I felt centuries of Native American’s footfalls dancing around me, countless generations, newborns, warriors and elders. In this cyclone of silent energy there was a celebration, great ceremonious bonfires blazed, the seasons transitioning as the earth spun on axis, infinitely against an endless blanket of galaxies.
Then Bill’s bobber dove for the bottom of the river.