Chapter 30 - "the fish whisperer"
With the role-playing going on in my head, I could just about feel my heart beating in my throat. Seriously. There were times when I felt transported into the mid-1800’s with the weight of the world resting on my boney shoulders. I heard the famished screams of my children dying for sustenance, relying on my rod and reel to fill their now, bloating bellies.
It must have been my third or fourth cast before I felt my first nibble—its was more like a tiny tug. Because of my jaded perspective toward fishing, I wrote it off as a typical snag on a river rock. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that fish were really in this river quite yet. I would believe it when I saw it.
I’m not sure how many casts it took until I felt my line tighten and my pole bend over like a palm tree in a hurricane, but it couldn’t have been more than ten. I still was fighting off a knee-jerk expectation of pulling in an old man’s leather boot. It was simply impossible for my psyche to believe that I had a fish on the other end of my line. But it wasn’t long before my denial was eclipsed with delight as I fought this wild wiggler to shore. I was panicked that I would lose it just as I was landing it. The guys kept telling me to keep tension on the line, something about fish knowing how to free themselves from the hook given a second to do so. So I obsessed with making sure I didn’t let that fish have a smidgen of slack to work his mercurial magic.
I was spastic/ecstatic as I reeled this water dweller to the river’s edge. My nostrils were flaring, I was giggling like a schoolgirl, my buddies were hooting in the background, I was hyperventilating with a joy on steroids. It was epic. The fish flopped around for a while trying to get used to something other than liquid oxygen. I waited patiently for him/her to settle down before I grabbed him/her (I don’t know how to tell fish apart from each other due to their confusing sexual similarities) by the mouth and held him/her high in the air as a timeless trophy of triumph. I squealed and wheezed and sniggered with a shotgun giggle that is actually quite embarrassing to look back upon. Many moments of my life are laced with a less-than-masculine responses uncharacteristic to my normal patterns of behavior. I would almost argue that unless you are taken to the borders of emotional emasculation, you aren’t living close enough to the edge and are woefully taking up too much space on this planet. But maybe this is just to justify my girly responses to certain situations.
Guss gave me a pat on the back, we took and picture and he proceeded to take a branch and craft a makeshift stringer to keep the fish fresh and perky. I let him whittle and pare this wild branch while I baited my hook and eagerly resumed my posture on the shoreline as a master angler. There’s something about getting that first catch under your belt that unleashes the relaxed confidence of a horse whisperer. I felt like I became a fish whisperer in the last 5 minutes and I think the fish could feel this sort of repose. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs And I thought I was a fisherman now, so I was…and the fish knew it. They gave themselves over to my power and prowess willingly from that time forward.
I caught two more brown trout in the next 14 minutes bringing the count up to 3, plenty enough for my mock family back at the cabin (in my head) and for the real, live gentlemen who actually were fishing with me that day. What made this fishing expedition all the more satisfying was that Guss didn’t catch one fish the whole 30 minutes we were out, I did all the catching. I don’t know if he was purposely letting me feel like I was the breadwinner--like a dad letting his son beat him at checkers--but I’m not letting my mind go there. That would completely change how this whole event would go down in the annals of our family antiquity.
We put the fish on the rough, but ready stringer forged by the hands of the Montana Mountain-man himself, Guss, carried them like luggage to the truck, hauled them across the wild prairie to the secluded cabin, stoked a blazing fire in the wood stove, melted butter as batter in the frying pans and proudly fried those fish for dinner that evening. I can’t begin to describe the celestial taste of fresh caught trout cooked in the wild country, but accept my wordlessness as testament in itself. Sometimes words only get in the way of moments like these.
As we smacked our lips and licked the butter off our plates, we starting picking up the cabin and packing Doug’s possessions into the truck. Eating fish around the wood stove would be the last shared moment on Doug’s soon-to-be-sold property. Somehow, it seemed like the perfect last communion with the cabin. A holy hush started settling upon us as we grabbed the last of our luggage and locked the door behind us.
It was a solemn moment for Doug. I gave him his space as he walked around and had his last moments with the land that he had come to love so dearly. I climbed in the truck and left him to himself. I was tearing up as I watched his heart being torn apart from this cabin that he worked so hard to build.
The moments that followed were as holy as any I’ve experienced in my whole life.