Friday, November 11, 2011

Born Too Late

                A few times in an angler’s life, one stumbles upon a gem—seemingly unspoiled and genuine—and when an unforgettable day’s fishing is coupled with this discovery, a deeper, personal relationship is formed with the water.  Its mystical qualities enable one to deflect life’s bullets instead of dodging them, ready to turn to the earth for sustenance, and leave behind what is unnecessary, in order to do what you feel you were born to do.  You’re left feeling empowered, peaceful and humbled.  This is who you are—you are a different person standing within Creation.  This rush soon runs out, when the river carries you back through the portal to your modern life full of violence and political correctness, and can be easily written off as adrenaline.  The feeling that ensues is one of longing and remorse; longing for a simpler time that wasn't complicated by modern culture, when the people made their living from the earth and went back to it when they were done.

                One such setting that holds this meaning to me is a dynamic river in Vermont’s north country.  This historic river called “The Clyde,” flows out of a pond in the northeast corner of the state, and flows lazily, meandering through the forests and ponds of the Northeast Kingdom, exploring the land in the broad river valley as if it likes what it sees and wants to stay.  After running through five ponds, and over two dams, the water finally makes its way to a vast lake with a name meaning “big water.”
                It is from this large, glacial lake that the largest salmon run on the east coast once began.  In the early nineteenth century, three times a year, Landlocked Salmon reaching twenty pounds or more would make runs upstream to feed on the eggs of suckers, who also ran the river, and to begin a new life cycle.  Walleye would also accompany the salmon on their runs in equal or greater numbers.  Dams constructed later, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, soon blocked the annual movement of spawning fish.  Before long, sport fishing and salmon tournaments stripped the river of its greatest quality.
                In the days when the salmon still ran, after traveling fifteen miles against the mild current of their home river, the river’s resistance would ease; finding depth in a broad valley, and the scenery would change from that of a north woods salmon river, to that of a riverine bog.  It is this stretch that I too have a personal connection to.
Today, it is on this stretch that the passerby loses sight of roads, houses, plowed fields, and all other hints of human existence except for the ancient riverside cabins that can be found in the shadows of the birch trees on the banks of the river.  Completely in place, they are part of the river, one with the river as part of the long-standing equation that was the salmon run; but without the salmon they are vacant, only because of the very humans that once occupied them.  That passerby is me.

It was our last day in the place I call my home, and the last day for my father, my brother, and I to fish together.  We had several options, but after weighing them, we finally discounted a few local ponds and made the safe decision to paddle the beautiful Clyde—where we knew we could catch fish.  Full of energy and excitement, we poured out the front door on a mission.  After loading the aluminum canoe full of paddles, fishing rods and gear, and food, I assisted my father in sliding it into the covered bed of my grandfather’s Dodge pickup.  My father and brother would occupy the canoe.  So as they piled into the front seats of the truck, I stuffed my yellow kayak and paddle into the bed, and slid into the front seat as the ignition started and the green truck carried the three of us down the driveway.
Rolling down the mountain, I began thinking of my own personal quest and the challenges that awaited me on the river.  Naturally, I’d utilize this outing for both fishing and photography, and being alone in a kayak on a flowing river presents some issues.  These issues will need to be resolved if I want to protect my fish-catching reputation and keep up with my father and brother in the canoe—but I digress.
The red-orange fields backed by dark conifers and bold mountains reaching through the low-laying clouds remind me that my real objective for the afternoon is to have fun and enjoy my surroundings before setting off for home in the morning.  My first glimpse of flowing water reminds me of the sizable Brookie I landed on my last trip to the Clyde.
Something about the three of us being in the car together tosses weighty topics out the open window.  My father either begins singing, “making Neil Young look good,” or cracking cheesy jokes to entertain himself and I, like he’s been doing since he started taking me along squirrel hunting or trout fishing in the mountains of western Virginia when I was just old enough to walk.  My brother, relatively new to the events that take place in the truck, tries to make sense of it all, and tries to introduce more “sophisticated” topics.  One of these days, he will learn.
After arriving at our put-in the boats were launched with no hesitation.  The sky was cloudy, and the midday sun’s intensity was beginning to ease with the slightest breeze.  I was now on my own, and the fish would surely be feeding.

When the river finds width, I beach the stern of my craft on the pickerel weed covered, southern bank.  Sitting, straddling the kayak in shallow water, with no sign of human life in sight, ankle deep in water, and boating fish after strong fish, it’s hard to envision a time when this bounty of Yellow Perch would have meant so little.  Visions instilled in me by sporting stories written a hundred years back and further come to mind.  Rivers thick with fish; birds so plentiful, with their songs so diverse as to give you a headache; but no humans—these visions taunt me from the safety of my imagination.
I realize that settings such as these now offer a simulation of the world that exists in my imagination.  When light is shone on modern culture, the shallow shadow falls on the natural world, veiled and cheated by society.
With river water cooling my ankles, I myself feel cheated.  Staring out across the water and marsh grass, to the foot of the river’s mountain, I can’t help thinking about our precarious position.  The term “untouched wilderness” now comes with a side of disappointment, with the knowledge that these words are indeed just an empty promise.  Perhaps a more accurate term is “less touched wilderness.”

Off again, exploring the rich river.  As predicted I’m feeling empowered, yet humble.  The sun is setting, and I’m a mile from my put-in, but my mind is at ease.  The water of the Clyde River, now swirling below me, makes clear to me my mission.  The need to keep what is, to bring the world back where it came from, now fills me like the river water that saturates my pores.  

1 comment :

C.C. McCotter said...

So tell us how do you feel about iPhones, Matt. Nice work. Very personal.