March 12th, 2007

Dream Time
By Neil M. Travis, Montana

The spring sun shown warmly through the leafless trees causing sap to course within the branches to nourish the developing leaves. A broken branch was like a dripping faucet as the sweet elixir steadily dropped to the ground, and honeybees, fresh from a long winter's torpor, eagerly sipped the fresh supply of nectar.

In the shaded places small dirty piles of a late winter's snow were melting into muddy puddles. The tentative sound of the first spring peepers emanated from the low spots along the river, and skunk cabbage leaves pushed their bright yellow candles upward toward the warm sun. Pussy willows were decked out with coats of fuzzy white and gray catkins, and in the dappled shade of the woods, trillium flowers nodded in the breeze.

A robin, recently returned from a winter sojourn in the bayous of Louisiana, hopped jauntily across the lawn turning over dead leaves, and stopping occasionally to cock its head as if listening for the sound of the first worms of spring. A quick lunge and he pulls back with a large juicy meal firmly grasped in his beak.

Down a barely discernable path, an old man, clutching a cane, and bundled in a heavy coat with a wool stocking cap pulled down over his ears, makes his way toward the river. His tread is slow but steady for he has walked this path many times. He had lived his four score and ten within a stones throw of this river; he had floated on its breast, waded its depths, and feasted upon its bounty. Except for a short period of time when he tramped the countryside of France and Germany during the Great War he had rarely strayed far from this place.

Like so many other springs, too numerous now to bring to memory, he had tramped this path to the river, but today it seemed the path was longer than he remembered. He paused, listening to the sounds of the awakening woodland, his nose taking in the smells of earth and water blending together with the aroma of life, his eyes still sharp enough to catch the nervous shuffle of a cock ruff grouse walking across the path and slipping quickly into the underbrush.

At the streams edge he sat down on a bench. Made from cedar planks that he had ripped himself from an ancient cedar that had once stood on this exact spot the seat was worn smooth from years of wader clad bottoms that had slid across its surface. The bench was positioned to give the seated angler an unobstructed view of the beckoning pool just upstream and the broad flat just below. Here, in the cool of the evening or at the dawn of a new day, one could see the entire sweep of the grand pool and flat in a single glance.

For 70 years he had ridden this bench, watching the sweep of stream hurry passed, his eyes keen for the most subtle rise that would signal the presence of a rising trout. Clad in waders, wearing a vest festooned with pockets bulging with boxes of carefully hand-tied flies, and a rod of the finest Tonkin cane lovingly cradled across his lap he had sat on this bench. Today he wore no waders, no fly vest hung from his shoulders, and he carried a walking cane and not a cane rod. He settled back against the aging boards of the bench, the spring sun warm on his shoulders, and the sound of the stream a soothing balm washing away the dreariness of winter.

The old man dozed in the sun nodding, his chin falling down on his chest. Unnoticed, a small olive mayfly, freshly hatched, settled on the old man's trouser leg, and a mottled caddis came to rest on his wool cap. A trout rose, its nose breaking the surface just a few feet from where the old man sat dozing. The robin flew up and perched on the back of the bench just inches from where the old man sat. He cocked his head, and hopping closer, he plucked the caddis fly from his cap. The stream flowed on as the old man dreamed in the spring sun of days now only memories and faded photographs.

The sun had slipped to the horizon when the robin returned to perch on the bench next to the old man. The robin cocked his head and clucked softly, but the old man did not move. His chin rested on his chest, his hands folded peacefully in his lap, and a slight smile creased his lips, but he did not stir.

Somewhere on a stream where the sun never sets and the evening rise lasts forever the old man stepped into the eternal stream and slowly waded across to the other side. Looking back he could see an old man sitting on a bench his head resting on his chin. Dream time he thought, just dream time. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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