i pulled up to our shitty little rental one day to find my daughter crouched by the curly willow tree in the front yard. she was kneeling by a baby bird that was barely covered with downy feathers. i could see the nest, high in the tree, too high for any of us to reach.
it had been on the ground all day so we picked it up and it spent the night on the kitchen counter sleeping against a warm water bottle and eating crushed up and moistened dog food. since i'm not a bird and don't have bird instincts to guide me, we googled things and followed directions. later the following day it died. we buried it in the nest my daughter had made for it.
the next morning there was another one on the ground and the following day, another. they all died in the end.
a few days later i pulled up to the shitty little rental after fishing and walked to the mail box. i heard a screech owl in the pines on the side of the house. years ago i learned to call them in. i sounded off and in seconds the tree above me had six small screech owls on staggered perches all purring and looking at me with confusion and interest. screech owls are better parents then the grackles.
it's high summer and the humidity had me thinking it was time to check on my shotguns and reapply a protective coat of oil. as i worked i looked out the window and saw my neighbor standing in his driveway, motionless and staring at the ground but also off into the distance somehow. he stood there a long time and then turned and went inside. maybe he was watching ants or maybe he has a lot on his mind. either way i can relate.
the water is low and clear. i took my son fishing for crappie and he stood in the shadow of a bridge and caught a pile, all just slightly too small to keep. i wanted to fry them in bacon grease for him. i spent the following day catching browns and sweating behind scratched up polarized lenses. when i was done i cut a few roadside tiger lilies to bring home for my girls.
this time last year i was recovering from cutting off most of my finger tip while making kindling for a fire. this time last year everything was up in the air. over three hundred days later and my finger has healed, but other than that, not much has changed.
sometimes i don't have anything to say about fly fishing and about life. here's a video instead.
when i first saw you, you were tucked up tight against the bank, directly under an overhanging branch.
the day started slow. the water was high and off color. a few of your buddies ate a crayfish pattern. impulse. that's what i was counting on. the river itself wanted to pull me into it's brownish flow, the rocks were slick and angled all wrong. my shins took the worst of it.
i finally came to slow section, probably frog water at normal flows, but your pals took advantage, sipping mayflies from the weeks' rainfall in weak flows. i took advantage and used heavy tippet and picked my way up through them.
already a day well spent and i was about to climb out of your home when i saw you bulge subtly. i stood there, with water swirling and grouse drumming in the background, i stood there thinking...
...thinking that i'm glad to be in this place. glad to be surrounded by water, some familiar some new, all of it to be learned again. i almost lose focus thinking but then i catch you being more showey then you should have been. the slight splash made me think "maybe it's not such a big fish" and so i had the upper hand. with lowered consequence i back hand a cast that nips the branch and falls perfectly, unreasonably close.
the rest is in the past. you made a mistake and this time i did not.
our winter started back in october, back in nebraska and it seemed to follow us as we headed east across the country. the otherwise mild winter here turned cold and the snow began to fall as soon as the last box was pulled from the moving truck. winter seemed to have barbs and wouldn't shake free. it can make you forget what shorts feel like, or flip-flops or driving with your windows down.
on these early spring mornings the birds are up before the sun, sending their chorus echoing through the halls of another temporary home. the cool nights provide a cool room and we lay awake, warm under cheap covers, silently listening to the songs of horny robins busy weaving nests from lawn scraps and road side garbage.
eventually there are bugs. bugs caked on my windshield and bumper and out-of-state license plate. bugs in the air and bugs on the water. so many people sick with cabin fever, eager for vitamin D, appear from everywhere. you can end up feeling bitter and and looking at a fellow angler as the enemy. like winter, the crowds will eventually pass.
so i make the effort not to care. i'll skip ahead to another pool and give you a wide berth. i like walking in the woods. if that doesn't work i'll find my car and look for another spot. i'll put my windows down and roll slowly, grateful for another winter on the books and the warm breeze on my face.
just like chapters in a book there is no set length to the chapters of life. some are long and some are short. you turn a page and things end or things continue. i have some regrets about decisions i've made in the last couple of years but once you start down a path... what's the point in looking back? face forward, progress. i read somewhere that you are only old when your regrets replace your dreams. coming out on the other side of those decisions, i have a few more grey hairs but we are otherwise unscathed.
in the early fall it seemed like our future might be in a beautiful valley west of the rockies but with the turn of a page it looked like it was across the country, closer to our roots as individuals and as a family.
what followed were weeks of packing tape and cardboard and the cleansing that comes with throwing out all of the shit you collect unnecessarily. we stuffed our life into a an overpriced van, i shut off the water, lowered the heat and waved goodbye to the anchor of a house that is still standing tall in the high plains.
east. i drove a bloated Uhaul into the sunrise, following the pull of our origins.
it feels like home here. all of it. the sun, the snow, the hills. i can literally feel the pulse of these streams in my bones. call bullshit if you want, but it won't make it any less real. i drive along a spring creek each morning, flowing east without a hint of ice on it's edge. it's bordered by decaying snow and single digits temperatures, yet it pushes on indifferent to the logic of it's surroundings. sleek brown trout feed in it's flows and just the thought of them is enough to fuel another day.
my dog and i crammed in as much hunting as we could before we left. i will miss those birds. our last few hours spent in a nebraska field offered us two sharptails. natives to the region, just as it should be.
people say grouse numbers are down, that we are at a low point in the cycle, but the other night i had to swerve to avoid hitting one on my drive home. then i remembered i don't listen to what other people say about these things. i find out on my own, as we all should. writing the chapters of our own stories.
we spread out, maybe 40 yards apart most of the time. two dogs for four of us. the birds did everything wild birds do. they ran, held tight, and flushed well out of range. i was fortunate and there was still ground to cover when my vest was heavy with my limit. i walked along with my gun over my shoulder and my tired dog working for those with shells still in their chambers.
back inside we warmed ourselves with elk chili and porter and talked about the next time we'd take a walk together.