VIORPOomowaftsiolommousariwkiivemr. , ably closer to the stream than it had been. I especially needed to pay attention to the environment now. If I didn’t, I’d find myself up among the big rocks high above the stream, but if I were on the more forested side, I might also be impossibly distant from the water. The stretch of the stream immediately before me was fordable, but because of some deep rapids, the section of the stream just beyond where I was really wasn’t. Whatever direction I took, I’d be on close terms with the changeable textures of earth. My nymph now hooked to my rod’s corked handle, I would not be fishing for a while. I’d be hiking and keeping my eyes sharp for wild strawberries. Even a lip-puckering gooseberry would have been welcome, but the area’s long dry spell made finding fruit treasures unlikely. For a moment or so I drifted into memory. Even as a child I had accepted the rare wild strawberriesconsiderably smaller than the store-bought varietiesas a pleasure that was no greater than minor, but sustaining the memory corrected my perception. I never had been much concerned, I realized, with quantifying my pleasures or pains. Of course, some seemed immediately more glorious or wretched than others, but whatever the level of the response, one’s attention was on the immediate sensation, or the possible results of the experience. There were always options aplenty. Wet or dry, one might slip on a rock and, long slide or not, get scraped raw. Then, too, memories or projections might place one in a realm of the welcomely voluptuous. The world was full of possibilities, and so was the stream I was fishing. Variety was everywhere, and last winter’s high volumes of snow seemed to have altered portions of the stream. The water rushed faster than it would in a month, and some of the busier pools would calm as the season advanced. I had fished this stream before. I had taken a fair share of trout from it, too; but now it was fishing me. Some of the pine needles had turned rust-colored from lack of rain, and I had read notices that whirling disease was killing a lot of fish. Close by, though, in a marshy area, the ground cover was deeply green, ripely healthy; and just a glance away, in an upward sweep, pine and aspen were sparsely spread. The friable, rocky ground around them looked as if, long ago, the topsoil had slid away. Were the trees holding on through the drought, or dying away? The question itself seemed foolish. Nature, most often, does both. Even a brief and relatively puny rain can make a desert burst into flower. I glanced again at where I was. One of the stream’s sloping walls tended toward the arid whereas the other wall, at least from my own vantage point, was lushly and fragrantly forested. That’s when I realized I was standing in midstream. I had removed my line from the water sometime before. My attention had drifted beyond where my feet were. A ruby-throated hummingbird looked as if it were floating just above the bank before me, then it rushed away, and a large butterflyits wings black except for a cream-colored upper bandappeared in its place. There were mallards around here, too. I’d seen a fine number of them, but they weren’t visible now. Suddenly a group of four females sped by. A couple miles back, when I was still close to town, I’d had a brief talk with a man in an RV park by the stream. He had just finished breakfast with his wife and son and apparently the family from the next van. He and his son came toward me as I came up out of the water onto the sandy bank. Without introducing himself, he started talking about flyfishing and how much he enjoyed it, how much he admired it. I mentioned what I’d said before, that it was one of the few sports whose process was good in itself. An empty creel, I said, did not mean failure. He agreed enthusiastically, but I kept quiet about the fact that I was getting receptive to considering the notion nonsense. A pair of ducks waddled out into the water, the female splashing her wings mightily. Maybe eight, maybe six, the boy was watching them, then looking up at me and, taking charge of a brief lull in his father’s conservation, he told me that he’d been fishing, too, “And I hooked a duck, too,” he said excitedly. “I bet that was scary,” I said. “It was! And I didn’t know how I was going to get the hook out.” “That’s amazing,” I said, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a deep appearance of love in the way the father was looking at his son. I was sorry my own son was no longer near the boy’s age. “I’m going fishing today,” the boy informed me. “I bet you’ll have a lot of luck, too,” I told him, remembering how much my son had enjoyed fishing when he was a boy. Sometimes he went with a friend, and a couple times we went together, but a lot of times he went by himself. The presence or absence of society when he was fishing had not seemed to make any difference to him, and I felt the same way. “I will,” the boy told me, “I’m going to catch a lot,” then as I turned to go, the boy’s mother said, “We’d invite you to have breakfast with us, but we ate it all,” and both families laughed. Smiling at them as I waved goodbye, I noticed how firmly the boy’s gaze was now locked on the swiftly moving clear stream. James Hoggard is the author of 16 books, most recently Patterns of Illusion: Stories & A Novella and Medea In Taos & Other Poems. FEBRUARY 4, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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