Grown men don't say such things to each other.
But they should.
When the knock came on my door that Sunday evening,
the Sunday before Christmas, I expected it to be one
of the boys. But it wasn't. It was the brother of my
soul, who has for over a decade now lived out of
state. His current residence is on the east coast,
and when we speak by phone, he tells me of fishing
bronze-backed smallmouth bass in rivers, rivers the
likes of which I have never seen and can only scarcely
We see each other about annually. That's not enough
for brothers. But as soon as he appeared at my door,
I was instantly calculating the weather forecast for
the next couple weeks, figuring my time off for the
holidays versus other obligations, and planning when
we could get out to the water. That we would not go
to the water was never even considered. It is a given,
a singular constant in an ever-changing universe.
Throughout my days, whenever something important made
itself known to me out there on Sheti, I have almost
always been alone. The only exceptions have been when
in the company of this brother of mine. When yellow
finches swirled around the old boat in a maelstrom
of fragmentary sunbeams, marking their exodus, the
last time I would ever see them, the brother of my
soul was there. When first the panther of my forefathers
made itself known to my disbelieving psyche, my brother
was there. Indians believe such things have meaning,
import. I know no one else who is as attached to the
waters and the earth here like myself. I know no one
else who feels as deeply, as if his own roots were
somehow as far-reaching as mine.
Grown men don't say as much to each other. They
don't toy with niceties. We trade insults jokingly
and tease each other's accomplishments condescendingly.
He and I went to the water the following Friday and
caught nothing. I was disapointed, to say the least.
When he would tell me over the telephone about
fishing the Rapidan for smallies, I'd tell him
about the largemouth I took from still, black
The next Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, we
took to the water again. The wind was up, howling,
and my fly rod was uncooperative, flailing against
the gales, but we caught a dozen or so small bass.
Redemption. We returned again that Tuesday, the
Tuesday before New Year's day, a new circle. We'd
fish near each other for a time, barely within
sight at others. The Tuesday trip resulted in
several nice catches, all released. We'd stop
now and then and talk, about river smallies and
black-water bass, about Sheti instances and
Co'ktangi moments, wooden boats filled to the
rail with memories.
Grown men don't say what's in their hearts, but
they should. The words may come from a reddened
face, nearly a whisper of embarassment, in a world
turned upside down, on its head with the backwardness
of a culture gone amok. I didn't say so, but I think
the brother of my soul knows it. We sat and shared
scotch from a silver flask I keep in my tackle bag,
watching sunset. A few more bass emerged, cold but
feisty, taken on Clousers or custom streamers,
respectfully returned to the frigid waters from
which they were coaxed.
Many, many years ago, in seasons of discontent and
days of despair, the brother of my soul appeared on
my doorstep, unannounced, much the way he did the
Sunday before Christmas. He handed me tobacco and
said, "Let's go fishing." He's been appearing on my
door, announced or unannounced, and we've been fishing,
ever since. He is godfather of my son. He immerses
himself in cold, running water chasing smallmouth,
and I float along my ancestral native waters or stand
aside shallow ponds. We are eleven hundred miles apart,
but as close as the murmur of the waters, the voice
of our fathers' fathers.
Sundown has much meaning to me. It's beauty aside,
it's a circle closing inside the larger circle of
the season, of the year, of a life, of the uncertain
tenure of the future. As he and I stood, miniscule
and unimportant, under a reddening sky blasting
dragonfire across the water at our feet, I wished
to tell him that in all my life, he has been the
brother my mother never gave birth to. My tongue
seemed to turn to sand as I tried, but when I passed
him the silver flask, and the half-disc of the sun
passing under the distant edge of the earth flashed
Indian summer beams from the polished silver into
my eyes, I knew there was no need.
Grown men don't say such things, but perhaps they
don't need to. Perhaps, such things are simply known.
Perceived and understood. Each arrival on my doorstep
confirms the years we share, running like cold rivers
and deep as still lakes. While other friendships have
faltered and faded, grown distant and dim, those which
need not be vocalized have remained fast and true.
There are only a handful of these remaining, and they
are all near and cherished. I know they are at the dialing
of a phone, arrival on a doorstep unannounced, they
are always within reach. These are the most treasured
gifts of a life.
Yet of all, water flows only between this one and I.
We shook hands and I told him to be careful on those
long, sometimes treacherous highways which will take
him back to river smallmouth and mountains. As his
truck rolled down my driveway, I picked up the fishing
tackle we had used and put it back in its place in the
house. Glancing out the window, the truck was already
out of sight down that winding, concrete spine.
Water covers most of this wonderful planet. Rivers
flow across this continent in a web of connections.
Standing in a distant river casting to smallmouth
or in a wooden boat along Lake Fausse Pointe
fly-fishing for bream, the brother of my soul
and I are always tethered by water.
Grown men don't say as much. But eleven hundred
miles away, I believe my brother knows this. It's
spoken in the sound of water racing over rock,
lapping against deadfalls, winds whisting through
cypress needles and illuminated by fiery sunsets,
closing circles, until the next unannounced knock
at the door. ~ Roger