Thursday, September 29, 2011
Counting Mississippis - February 2010
Huddled under the dense streamside rhododendrons in an attempt to escape the downpour, we tried to recall how many Mississippis there are in a mile. You know. Flash, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, and so on, until, Boom. Divide the number of Mississippis by five (or is it ten?) and you have an approximation of how many miles away the lightning had struck. Five or ten, it didn’t really matter, as our flashes and our booms were now just a startled heartbeat apart, indicating a distance more appropriately measured in feet than in miles. It was no time to be near the water.
I was to meet Loki, a relocated Montana trout fisherman, on the Elk River, a four-hour drive from home, to fly fish for brown trout. I arrived at the stream early and, while waiting for my friend, fished the upper hundred yards, near the trailhead, casting a tiny #20 Madam-X, imitating a small bug falling into the water from overhanging branches. The run was tight, rocky, and steep in places, but with plenty of small pools and promising looking riffles in which to prospect for mountain trout. During an hour or so of solitary fishing I had a few rises and, along a deep swift run, netted a scrappy little 10-inch rainbow, surprising as Loki had indicated that brown trout owned this stretch.
Loki finally arrived, with an ominous storm front tethered to his back bumper. With an eye to the sky, he rigged up and we began to fish anew. Within moments, the rain began. Rolling thunder had me edging to the banks, but Loki fished on, Mississippis shrinking into single digits. He patiently worked a pool, tempting a nice brown trout with a mayfly nymph, both fish and fisherman seemingly oblivious to the danger. Once the brown was caught, then safely released, Loki reluctantly surrendered the pool and, on cue, the clouds opened.
We waited through the storm, tucked under the rhododendrons, knowing that our fishing day was done before it had really gotten started. Hesitant to brave the waterway while the sky crackled and unwilling to surrender the shelter of the leaves to slog overland to our cars, we sat together for an hour, silently, as good friends can do, and watched as the stream rose to meet the falling rain.
It would have been easy to consider it a wasted trip, driving hours to catch a single small trout, but fishing is seldom about catching fish. Fishing, that day, was about feeling the rain drum on my hooded shell, smelling the lightning-generated ozone permeate the air, and experiencing nature, up close, in a raw, unshackled moment.
And as my own Mississippis approach the inevitable boom, it will be by the friends with whom I’ve shared a stream and by the raw moments I’ve endured that I will measure my life, not the number of fish I’ve caught.
Despite the storm, it had been a good day. Despite the storm, it had been Mississippis well spent.
Note: If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably recognize this as an experience from this past September. I rewrote that post for my creative non-fiction class, attempting to craft a short fishing essay that a non-fisherperson might appreciate. In doing so, the ending took a different direction and, liking it, I thought I would reshare it here. Thanks for your indulgence.
Rerun Note: I've had fun with this little work over the past couple of years, tweaking it many ways and for many purposes. That's the joy of writing, and the peculiarity of the works that come from it. They are never truly complete.