As I waded into the river and the current cut into my calves and the rich earthy smell of the water wafted up to my nose, I remembered why I strung my fly rod and pulled on my waders and caulk boots and tied on a wooley bugger fly and headed out into the middle of the Little Schuylkill to fish. It’ s all about the river.
It has been awhile- 2005, the license numbers flashed through my plastic pin-on case on my baseball cap. I needed a babysitter to bring me back up to snuff and my friend, John Herman obliged.
John was patient. We went out to the lawn and just practiced casting for awhile. With a few tips, after half an hour, I could pretty much lay the line down flat where I wanted it.
John and I go way back. Over 40 years actually. I used to have a mad crush on him as a young woman. He was practicing law at the time and used to challenge my brother at pool at Antietam’s Rec Center. His law office was close to my parents’ home and I frequently walked that way and used to stop in to chat. I remember one time, he asked to borrow my backpacking cook kit so I happily obliged. But when I brought it up to his office and unpacked it to give him operating instructions, it had never been cleaned when it was put away and was covered in blue mold. I was so embarrassed and knew I didn’t rack up any points. For whatever reason, I was not his type. That was OK.
The years passed and I met Todd. John helped us out when we were still single by letting me house sit his rustic cabin and his dogs which gave Todd and I a place to have sex when I still lived at my parents’ home. Then John got married. Over the decades, we stayed friends. And he took me duck and goose hunting down in Delaware where he has a camp and we slept in bunk beds and chatted like old high school friends and that felt like such a gift to me.
On the river the other day, it was so easy. John did not lose his patience, nor make fun of me, and when he grew tired of fishing, he walked the bridge above me and pointed out fish that he could see from his vantage point like a good guide should so I could aim; or, he just sat on the bank and happily waited for me to get my fill, just enjoying the peaceful river, never hurrying me.
John and I have not spent a ton of time together in these 40 years, but he knows my siblings, knows my history, knows my parents even, my neighborhood where I grew up, many of the same people from our past. On the river the other day, it felt so comfortable being with him, like I was with my brother.
I think it is very interesting to look back in your history and see how some people reappear after many years, to play different roles, serve different purposes in your life. I sometimes wonder about the future, who might resurface to make new memories. If I knew, it would be over, my life, and I certainly don’t want that . It is fun to just wait and see who orbits back in. who comes, like a caddis fly down the river to a hungry trout. I hold people like John higher than others. There is a lot to be said for accumulated years, for history.
My husband Todd teases me, “If you added up all the lessons you took you could probably fill a freezer full of fish.” I never did pay for a single fly-fishing lesson although I’ve had plenty. (multiple fly fishing stories on multiple rivers with multiple guides). For it very challenging to write a fly fishing story with a guide and take notes on a pad, photograph the experience, (and not fall in while you are doing these jobs, nor drop anything) listen, absorb, then try to actually fly fish . What part falls through the cracks is the remembering part.
But I don’t need to be reminded of is how much I love rivers and their constant movement, bringing new things down, hope. It was enough for me to just stand in the river all afternoon.
When it is all said and done, the important part is being IN THE RIVER and who you are IN THE RIVER WITH. It doesn’t matter if not a single fish ever makes it into the freezer.