The night had been unusually frigid. Along the canyon overhangs where springs normally seep, icicles had grown to resemble crystalline stalactites. The sun shone brightly and the temperature grudgingly inched upward. Occasionally a large chunk of ice detached from the canyon wall and crashed to the riverbank below. Each time it did my heart lurched.
I stood in the edge of the current, eyes intensely watching for telltale signs of nearly invisible trout; a movement of a tail or the white flash of a mouth as they fed. Icy water pushed against my waders, creating whirlpools and eddies around me. The cold kept many from the river that morning, allowing me respite from conversation. I was thankful that I didn’t have to muster the energy to be friendly. I was finally able to have some peace: to segregate myself from a world that is a cacophony of sound and high tech leashes.
I fell into a rhythm of casting, drifting my flies along a current seam, and recasting. I was covering the water, my body taking over the task at hand without the aid of conscious thought. From time to time my strike indicator would twitch and with a lift of the rod, I felt the electricity of life at the end of my line. It brought some satisfaction, that I had unlocked the puzzle of where the fish were and what they wanted, but it did not bring joy.
The last time I was here was with a friend. It had been some months ago, and busy-ness had kept me from meeting him again until today. Much had changed since that day. We had a parting of ways
I had learned much about this river from him.Though we used to live in the same town decades ago in another state, it was here hundreds of miles away that our paths finally converged and we became friends. Every trip I took to the river would begin or end at his house. It was our routine.
I moved to the stretch of water where we had last spoken. It was the same as it had been before, yet somehow different. Colors were flat and two dimensional. Sounds were tinny, like an old AM radio station. The richness that once was here seemed muted. Perhaps it was the cold. More likely it was because we had not spoken for some time. Yet I knew he was here. I had avoided this area because it meant I would have to face him – and talk to him.
Instead, I just sat there with him. I spoke no words. We no longer needed to speak to communicate. I watched the river that flowed by me and over him, in the place where his sons spread his ashes while we who were left behind looked on with tight throats. He had truly become part of this river that had provided him his living, his joy, and where we both had been baptized in more ways than one.
Our ways had been parted by the curse of sickness and disease – but he is on the same path as I. He has for now just taken a higher road. My path will again converge with his someday. But for today, I wrestle anew with the emptiness created by his absence.
In memory of Bill Higdon