Rays of sunlight streamed through the outstretched arms of the trees, casting a golden glow on the hour. The star of our solar system was running for the horizon, ready to punch the clock on yet another day.
This magical hour before sunset brought a resurgence of life. Mother Nature’s minions roused again after a mid-day respite.
It had always been so. He had grown up a boy on a farm, where the chores of the day were started early, while city folks were still snug in their beds. He accomplished more by noon than they would all day. Thus mid- day often found him resting after dinner; which as everyone from the farm knows is the noon day meal. Supper comes in the evening.
He used these afternoon breaks as time to read about far flung adventurers and dream of the day he could shake the dust from this old plot of land from his feet. Sometimes he would lie on his back in the fields, watching the clouds and listening to the hum of insects; and he would let his mind go.
However as evening drew near, and nature resumed her cadence before the night, his mind became more alert and focused on the pulses of life around him. Late summer afternoons days he would often make a hike to the river to dab grasshoppers in quiet eddies. More often than not, he would be rewarded with a fresh fish supper.
He learned long ago that the filtered light of the evening was better for fishing. One could flog the water all afternoon with little to show. But in that magic hour before dark, the fish began to feed with abandon, shedding their inhibitions like the grownups would in a few hours at the local honky-tonk.
A few years back he saved up some extra spending money and bought a cane fly rod from the local department store. The rod had languished in the dust in the back of the store for years…pragmatic farmers didn’t see the need to spend money on a pole when there was plenty of good bamboo for the cutting at the river’s edge. He had read some Hemmingway borrowed from the school’s library, and decided that he needed to learn to fly fish in order to be a proper man of the world..
He taught himself to cast from instructional articles in the outdoor magazines, and even began to tie some flies. The henhouse provided a lot of free feathers, and the unpressured fish took them greedily. They usually tore up quickly, without the benefit of modern threads and glues. What they lacked in durability they made up for in effectiveness and frugality.
Here he was again on the river, rod in hand, and flies at the ready. He had been here before, and he was not hurried. He was not angry at the fish, and only needed a couple for supper. He looked out over the water and waited.
Soon dimples began to appear on the surface of the waters as fish began their dining. Still he waited. Night birds and bats began to whir above the water, and then he began to cast. Line slipped through his fingers as the rod bent to ancient rhythms that had rocked the cane when it had been alive and rooted in the earth. The rod remembered the wind, and the sun and the water as it bent, then straightened, shooting silken line across the water; the fly landing softly on fairy wings.
On the first drift, no fish took his offering. His mind began to drift on the edge of consciousness as the fly drifted on the edges of currents…twisting, turning, fettered to the rod but oddly disconnected. He let his mind go. His thoughts began to wander, with old memories coming back to life after a long mid day of repose.
He recalled the confusion of military basic training, and the orders given that had no logic, other than to be obeyed. He remembered the faces of those who became brothers in arms; those he grew to love in his unit, and those that never came home.
He seemed to recall a face of a beautiful woman; had she been his wife? He hoped so, but wasn’t sure.
The rod bent again as he recast the fly upstream toward a different current seam, and began a new drift. A fish rose, sipped the fly, and he set the hook.
The beautiful woman reappeared in his mind as he battled the fish, whispering his name. The volume of the words seemed to increase, and his grasp on the rod slipped; and he let it go.
“Papa, how did you get out of bed by yourself, and why are you sitting in front of the picture window? “
“We find him like that most evenings ma’am, just sitting in his wheelchair, staring at the creek. I don’t know what he sees since the stroke took his voice. Maybe he just likes the view, because it seems to be the only time he smiles”, replied the nurse.
As the last of the sun’s glow was replaced by violet, his granddaughter wheeled him back to his room. Surrounded by pictures faded by time, but memories undimmed, he lay down to sleep; and let his mind go.