Mark points out a big flash of silver among the rippled waters. “He’s a big one,” I hear him shout over the roar of the river.
I’m in the canyon, downstream from Fred’s Bluff, just me against the fish.
Adrenaline pulses through my body as I pull line from my reel and rhythmically cast to the behemoth. A rainbow trout as long and fat as a loaf of bread. First casts need to be perfect; if I goof I lose my chance. “One, two,” I silently count as my line lays out behind me, “three, four,” as the line gently shoots out in front of me and glides onto the water. Drift. Mend. Drift. Mend. Flash.
The waters of the canyon, the red-granite walls and the craggy mountains around me hold the history of our earth, early settlers, and my family – my legacy. I’m deep in the wilds of Southwestern Colorado where my family has been vacationing since the 1920s. It’s hard to believe that the cars of those decades could ever make it into such rugged territory, and then get out.
The river runs through me.
I have long legs like my mom. I walk rhythmically. I walk fast. I can’t help it. I had to force myself to slow down so dad and I could walk along the water side by side or at least with me just a foot or so ahead.
In my mind, as I cast to the large feeding rainbow trout, I flashed back to 1991 and I was fishing alone with my dad. We had fished together year after year since I celebrated my first birthday in this very Southwestern Colorado locale. Yes, the river, this river, my father … their legacy runs through me.
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. ~ A River Runs Through It
We talk about the fish, the water, the flies we’re going to tie on next. And we talk about the past and how the generation before him had been in these very same waters. Your uncle and I hooked up with a big-un right over there. It’s not a sad conversation, but a one of storytelling and connecting and being grateful for our love of the outdoors and for the people who taught us to love it. I came face to face with a bear one evening right under that peak. As we talked, I saw a tiny flash of a little brookie, cast, and pulled him in as my dad watched over my shoulder.
I still don’t know what happened, but the little fish died before I could get him back in the water. I cried. My dad chuckled. Chuckled at me for crying. But it wasn’t the fish. I realized at that moment that the cycle of life was ending, changing forever. This would be my last fishing trip with Dad and we both knew it. Cancer had woven a wicked path through his body without any thought or care that he wasn’t through passing his knowledge of life and the outdoors. Then we both crossed that fine line between tears and laughter. Dad went on to catch a big one just below the bluff my family has named after him. The fish was strong, but not stronger than my dad at that moment. Landing this lunker was his last big fight before he crossed over the River Jordan to that far-off sweet forever. We smiled without saying more than a few words as the fish was released back into the waters, the waters of history and time. We connected and all was good in our world.
And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last. ~ A River Runs Through It
Mark yelled at me, “Fish on!” and I returned to the moment. I was already feeling sentimental fishing at Fred’s Bluff anyway, but I instantly imagine the fish I’m tempting with my fly is the same fish my dad released on our last fishing trip together in the canyon. The fish is feisty and strong, bending my rod, taking my line. I’m nervous, giddy, and following the fish’s lead through the river, over boulders, and up in rushing water past my knees. My dad would have been chuckling just watching me parlay his knowledge onto the stream. I’m playing the fish, keeping my rod tip up, and having the time of my life. I nearly take a plunge as I hop over a fallen log to make my way downstream. I cannot lose this fish, besides I’m feeling cool and stealthy like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It.
My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy. ~ A River Runs Through It
Not landing that fish was probably more meaningful to me than landing it (at least that’s the way I make myself believe it). Yes, I lost this big one. Dad would have chuckled and would have reminded me not to get too cocky and think I’m stronger than nature. Let nature take its course, go with the flow, the rhythm. Ride it and play. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.
Even if what you’re working on doesn’t go anywhere, it will help you with the next thing you’re doing. Make yourself available for something to happen. Give it a shot. ~ Cormac McCarthy
The gift of a legacy has kept my family connected in ways we would have otherwise never experienced. Get out and build a legacy, a legacy with family and the outdoors, I can’t imagine you’d ever regret it. I still chuckle when I think of the big one that got away and I’m pretty sure that dad is doing the same.
The river runs through us.