I walk through scars, charred and still tender in places although it’s been years — over a decade now — yet the land still is burnt. Wildfires have always frightened me, and now living in a mountain canyon, I’m petrified of them. This land could be my land; these wounds, my wounds. And while fire cauterizes, I know from growing up on a farm and watching myriad animal veterinary procedures: the patient screams. Over a year ago now as a wildfire raged through a canyon only 15 miles to our north, I asked an old timer when our canyon’s last fire had been. “Hasn’t been one while I’ve been livin’ here, and I moved out here in ‘68.” A pregnant pause gestated the dreaded and subconscious words, “We’re due.”
A mule deer stripping bark off a seedling pine down in the ravine to my right, to the west, snapped me out of fire-mitigation-mode, reminding of how hard healing can be sometimes. After complete decimation comes new growth, yet there are always hungry mouths of some kind, waiting — waiting to devour you yet again. But like chameleons with missing body parts, still we keep on, knowing that with time we’ll be whole once again — whole, but never the same. And yet the in-between contains lots of growth. Yes, lots of growth. Sage now has rusted to brown, and mountain muhly is crisp with doneness of a season, bent over from the pressing first snows.
Somewhere up the trail from where I’ve just come, a townsend solitaire sings like a squeaky door-hinge closing. Opening, and echoing back and around of many, reminding me that I am alone, as I reach the creek and enter, to the methodic sound of water in my ears, its noise both hushing and heightening sounds and awareness — I turn at any gurgle out of rhythm or place. What was that? But of course the phantom is gone, passed on down the current in a relay of fishermen, who unbeknownst to themselves, are racing. Upstream.
And so I go on, blindly led, hearing the solitaire again. Yet I know he is not a figment of my imagination — a blot of mustard or undigested crumb of cheese – for he shows himself from time to time as he crosses the creek on air. Still, all alone. He opens and closes doors all along the bank as if looking for someone not so much lost as not yet found.
Winter is only just beginning and the water is low and clear with crystal translucence indicative of the harder self it will be in a few months, weeks, or days should the weather change. And similar to summer matching of hatches, winter calls us to match its toughness; testing our perseverance when things aren’t hatching and the trout are holding down deep. They aren’t so hungry anymore as they are cold, and picky — and I can’t see anyone blaming them that — I can be called a great many worse things than picky, when cold.
Adjusting my woolen fingerless gloves, I’m reminded to move my feet — now numb from spending too much time on one pool which I just know is holding trout: cold, picky, not-hungry trout. Just a few more casts over this pool though, I tell myself — just a few more casts — of which there are always just a few more — like my childhood border collie who always had just enough in her for a few more throws of a frisbee. And indeed perhaps in more ways than enthusiasm are fly fishermen and border collies spirits akin – sharp eyes, somewhat paranoid, always in pursuance of the moving.
I try the pool a few more times and finally catch a small, stream-born rainbow at the end of the pool. Picking up for a back cast, it is just there — no bump, no bite, no hook-set. Just, there. As if the creek gave, instead of me taking.
And then I hear the solitaire again — a tango for two apart – my company, following me further upstream. Both of us, still looking for something.
Author - Erin Block is a librarian during the day, writer by night and a fly fisherman and fly tier on her days off. Erin and her dog Banjo roam the Colorado high country exploring alpine lakes in search of remote and beautiful trout as well as slogging through the leech-infested mudflats and warm water ponds in pursuit of carp and bass along the Front Range. She publishes her stories and poetry on her blog Mysteries Internal.