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River Diary

August 10th 2023

Thursday. 72° Sunny,

9:30-11:30 AM

Colfax Stream

I am walking along a mountain stream, fly rod in hand. It’s early August and everything’s lush as hell. Frogs jump out ahead of my footfalls and chanterelles dot the hillside like punctuation from a sunset. Tired light filters down from the canopy in stray beams. It spotlights wildly-hairy, moss-covered stones and the ferns rioting around them. I grin from the crease in the corner of my eye. It feels like I’m being stalked by muppets.

This is my new routine. Every morning, after coffee and farm chores, I grab my rod and walk down my winding road to fish the creek. As I hike I think about the abandoned mine on this mountain; how men used to search here for gold and gems. I’ve never seen so much as a fleck of gold, but I have found shards of garnet in rocks along the stream. Never anything large enough to cut or sell, but enough to believe that men could be tricked into looking. Thinking about treasure starts the low hum of anxiety behind my ribs and I shake off any thoughts of money.

I fish to forget. I’m not ashamed of it. Sometimes a woman needs to forget about all the things in life that speed up her heart rate. I need that slot-machine lever, the one no one tells you about when you’re picking out your first rod. That dopamine rush of hope everytime I cast… because even if I place that fly exactly where I want it, it doesn’t mean that a fish will see it or care. That’s the addiction and the distraction, the magical combination of skill and chance. If I hook a wild brookie it feels like I’ve pulled one over on god. It’s hard to worry about the mortgage when you’re tricking deities.

I’m recovering from an injury. It's been a painful and slow recovery but I am now mended enough to hike the stream. For months I couldn’t even walk the dogs without pain, but now I can step off the road and slink into the forest like a coyote, or a bird’s shadow. I can feel the cushion of the dark soil and rotting leaves, how kind it feels compared to the pavement. I walk past wild roses and daisies, past red newts and chattering chipmunks. I catch the flash of a red coat above me on the ridge, a doe so auburn you’d mistake her for an Irish Setter. Sunlight dapples the water like flecks off a paintbrush, sometimes reaching the pools I fish. I catch my breath every time. I used to take these reliquaries of water, stone, and light for granted. I’d just drive by them on the way to the gas station. I am such a fool.

But I’m a fool with a fly rod so there’s hope.

I find a pool so perfect it feels like a storybook. Like there should be a small altar with a candle and an offering bowl next to it out of basic decency for the observance of perfection. I know there are brookies there. I do not care if they are 3” or 10” — size is never the point. Measurements are for people with more skill and less gratitude.

I drop my dry fly in the pool, letting it slide off the stone waterfall right above it like it’s been riding the stream forever. It’s a small yellow stimulator, and it works! I watch a trout rise, no bigger than the palm of my hand, but I gasp. Like watching lightning, this! It only lasts a fraction of a second but you can trace the arc of their perfect bodies in the air like where you saw a bolt touch down. You can remember the tarnished yellow of their bellies and how the red spots are so vibrant that they look like they have a pulse.

It hits me then, that these trout are the stream’s secrets you can harvest if you’re clever enough. I grin like the mountain chose only me to know this. I don’t hook the fish. Hell, it didn’t even take the fly but I’ve seen proof positive. There really is gold and garnet on this mountain. It’s enough to fill the whole day.

A raven passes overhead, GRUK GRUK! and I am reminded to look up. The trees are still green. The sun is golden and warm. In a few months things will be very cold and life on the farm gets hard, but time out here reminds me to be present and grateful. Grateful for ravens that break spells and fish that tease hope and I realize—in a way that feels more like a relief than any fish in my net—that I am not out here to forget.

I am here to remember.


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