March 20th, 2006

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Opening Day
By Randy Kadish

My computer screen went black. Not expected. The end result: I shelled out a thousand bucks for a new laptop, then spent endless hours talking on the phone with tech support.

My dentist told me I need oral surgery. Not expected. The end result: I shelled out another thousand dollars, then woke the next morning up with a jaw so swollen it looked like I ran into a Lennox Lewis right.

Why me? Didn't I always say please and thank you? Was I falling into a black hole of unexpected disasters? Would I come out of it? Where? When?

The opening day of trout season? Thank God, or at least my lucky stars, not all things are unexpected. So what if my favorite river, the beautiful Croton, is a hike from the train station. So what if the river will be high and fast from all the recent rain. In the scope of things, what right did I have to complain after the unexpected outbreak of World War I or the attacks on 9/11?

None. And so on the eve of opening day, I went through the ritual of piling all my fly-fishing gear on the floor. The next morning I put on my heaviest long johns, wool pants, and fleece jacket, and headed to Grand Central Station where I performed another part of my fly-fishing ritual: buying a slice of Junior's cheesecake.

On the train, I ate my cake and wondered if I would see Hal, Gil and Pat this season, and if they read and liked my memoir about them and the Croton.

Over an hour later I got off the train and was slapped by wind. Would the wind turn out to be another unexpected disaster? Hoping it wouldn't, I walked through the long parking lot, and heard the gurgling of the lower East Branch. Because the East Branch was close to the train station, I wondered why I had never climbed down the hill and checked it out. Was it because few anglers fished it? Was I still afraid of being alone?

I walked about a quarter mile to Butlerville Road. Only one car was parked near the small, white bridge. Surprised, I walked a hundred more yards, then into the deserted clearing on the bank of Garcia Pool, the so called "Clubhouse."

Where were its members? Discouraged by the cold? The high water? Why hadn't they discouraged me? Was something wrong with me? After all, I wasn't the only person who lived in a world where computers break, gums recede and other bad things happen.

The sky-high, bare trees on both sides of the bank clashed with the autumn vision I had saved in the internal drive of my mind: Trees decorated with beautiful gold, red and orange leaves. The bare trees, on the other hand, looked like something out of a photograph I had put away. I told myself not to worry if the river in the photograph wore winter's mask. Soon the trees will bloom; and the river, like an actor, will change parts and wear spring's mask.

Is that, I wondered, what Nietzsche means by the circular, Eternal Recurrence? Is opening day also a part of his theory? Not sure, I performed the part of my fly-fishing ritual I didn't like: putting on my waders and boots, setting up my fly rod. Suddenly the sun came out. Was the world of the Croton telling me I deserved to be rewarded for showing up?

Dividing Garcia Pool was a dense band of shimmering stars. Though the stars were a reflection of our sun, in my mind I saw a thousand tiny suns, a thousand faraway stars shining on a river of dark sky. Wanting to save the image, I took out my small pad and wrote it down; but then I wondered if I was reaching to find beauty in a world full of unexpected disappointments?

I didn't see a hatch. What fly will work today? A brown Woolly bugger? If only catching fish was predictable? But if it was, what challenge would beckon me back?

I walked upstream, along the path on the bank, waded into a shallow run, and was reminded how rocky the Croton was. I heard something on the bank. Walking on the path was an old guy wearing a floppy hat and carrying a cane rod.

I said, "I remember you. Last year you were sitting on that fallen tree and fishing."

"I stopped trying to hide that I'm a little lazy. You're the writer."

"Guilty. You're Mel."

"Good memory."

"Except when it comes to rummy."

"I read your memoir. We talked about it at the winter meeting. Some guys said the last thing we need up here are more anglers."

"What about you?"

"I loved your piece, even though you left me out, but I'm not surprised. I never win anything."

"Maybe I'll get you in the next one, if there is a next one."

"If?"

"I never know when or if new ideas will come."

"I once wanted to be a photographer. They too try to see the world differently, but I guess I couldn't, so instead I became an interpreter--of the law. I'm an attorney."

"Interesting take."

"Thanks. How'd you become a writer?"

"By accident. I didn't like the way I was casting a spinning rod, so I began experimenting with different techniques, then I started taking notes so I wouldn't forget what I had learned. And then I got the idea to turn my notes into an article. When I published it, I never, ever thought it would lead to anything. Where is everyone, or at least the diehards?"

"It's still too cold. In my case, how many opening days do I have left?"

And how many do I have? I wondered. Twenty? Thirty? How many opening days do men and women have? Thousands? Did the ancient Greeks have one? Did Jesus' disciples? After all, they were fisherman. If there was an opening day, I'm sure they observed it, the way they observed the Sabbath.

I said, "You weren't fishing with a cane rod last year."

"Why wait to buy myself a gift? It's a shame, though, I have no one to leave it to. None of my kids fish. They'll probably put my rods and reels on eBay."

So they weren't part of the Eternal Recurrence. I asked, "How do you like cane?"

"I'll tell you after I land a fish. Some anglers say a good cane rod is better than a graphite one. With all the latest technology, does that make any sense?"

"I never fished cane, so I don't know. Where are you heading, below the bridge?"

"Home. The cold got to me. I'll see you again, I'm sure."

Can he be? I thought. Wasn't I once sure I had more time with my parents? With old friends? So how can I be sure Sarah's cancer stays in remission? Didn't doctors once tell me the only thing predictable about cancer is its unpredictabilty? Perhaps if cancer had an opening day. Is life like cancer? Did I ever think I'd be where I am in the river of life: a childless, journeyman writer?

I watched Mel walk down the bank, and thought of how something I couldn't see or touch connected anglers like gravity, and helped me feel less alone.

I roll cast across stream, mended and retrieved my fly, then again. No take. Time for streamer technique number two: I roll cast, then, using the jerk-strip retrieve I had learned in Kelly Gallop's and Bob Linsenman's book, I worked my fly downstream and back to me.

Don't rush, I reminded myself. Stay in the moment. Cover as much water as possible, and sooner or later the takes will come. Great streamer fishermen don't use one technique. They use several, one right after another. Was the repetition of streamer fishing, therefore, a reflection of seconds? Of time itself? Again I cast and jerk-strip retrieved. No take. Time for technique number three: I back cast--right into a branch. I forgot to look behind. A spring-training error. I pulled my fly free, luckily, cast three-quarters downstream, and let the river do much of the work. Dead-drifting, my streamer swung slowly below me. Moving my fly rod side to side, I fed line through the guides, then pointed my rod tip up and waited. No take. I retrieved, then cast my fly closer to the bank. I listened to the gurgling river and to the chirping birds.

Were rivers the music halls of the universe? Or was the Croton playing only for me, again rewarding me for traveling two hours to experience its beauty? Maybe even rivers didn't want to be alone. But could the universe or rivers have feelings and then transform them into passionate music?

I waded downstream and jump-started my fishing cycle.

Close to the bank the water was foamy. Some of the foam was illuminated by sunlight and looked like floating flower petals or silver dollars. Racing past them were eddies. Some eddies were so small and fast they looked like spinning tops, or miniature black holes. If they were black holes, would they suck up the rest of the water? Would they, like black holes in the universe, stop time, at least on the Croton? After all, hadn't I lost track of time? Of the wide world? Of myself? Was that why I suddenly didn't need to sell my book or to be in love to be happy?

If only a river could flow in my apartment and insulate me from the seesaw of life. Were rivers--their sounds, their images, their beauty--reflections of earthly harmony or of some sort of divine, constant plan that scientists like Kepler, Newton and Einstein spent their lives trying to uncover? Where any of those men fly fisherman?

I waded downstream, close to the pool's mouth. The water was higher and faster; and for a second I felt I was back playing high school football and a blocker was trying to take out my legs.

Planting my wading stick behind me, I turned and, one careful step at a time, waded to the bank. I walked downstream and climbed down into Garcia Pool. I waded six steps and the water was already above my waist.

The river, I noticed, had whittled away more of the bank since last season, leaving more naked roots, and more trees closer to their inevitable fall.

"Any luck!" someone yelled. Standing on the bank was a stocky, middle-aged man I had never seen before.

"No?"

"It's still too early. What you got on?" His voice was a loud as a horn, and as smooth as thorns.

I told him.

"I didn't see another car. How'd you get here?"

"By train."

"You came from Manhattan?" he accused.

"Are you holding it against me?"

"No, I mean--guys from all over fish here." He sat on the big, fallen tree and sucked on a cigarette.

I asked, "Has there been any more talk of renaming Garcia Pool?"

"Since some stupid writer published a story about the Croton, why the hell would there be?"

I was glad. Maybe fishing pools, like planets, should keep their names. I thought of asking the man on the bank if he knew Gil, Hal and Pat. Bad idea, I quickly decided. Listening to the river was a lot better than listening to him. I roll cast and tried to pretend he wasn't there, but every time I glanced up I faced reality: him sitting there.

Was he waiting for me to do the hard work? If I got a take, would he go back to his car and put on his waders? Haven't I seen anglers play that game before? Haven't I always resented it? The band of shimmering stars, I noticed, was thinner and weaker. The sun was sliding behind the high, steep bank. I zippered up my fleece jacket.

"Hey! I had a feelin' I'd see you guys here!"

Two guys I didn't know walked into the clubhouse.

"What are you takin' the day off?" one asked.

"No. I finished the job."

"Don't bull&%$# me!"

And so sprang a long, loud conversation, mostly about fishing, but littered with expletives that should have been deleted. Unlike most fly fishers, these still had one foot in the gutter. For the first time in my life I felt I was fly fishing in a three-dollar-a-shot bar. I couldn't hear the river, or even the thoughts in my head.

Again and again, I glared at them, but my eyes didn't complete the connection. My message telling them to shut up bounced back to me.

Wade out of the river, I told myself. Fish way upstream. I turned and stepped behind me. A hole. Falling, I desperately clutched my wading stick and tried to balance myself. The water felt like ice. My jacket and shirt were soaked. I jumped up. My expletive wasn't deleted.

"You gotta be careful!" one of the guys on the bank yelled.

"Thanks for the advice!" I waded out of the river, thinking of how I had never taken a spill before. I reminded myself of the danger of being wet and cold. I had to head to the train station.

Furious my long-awaited opening day was cut short, I ringed water out of my jacket. Again I glared at loudmouths. This message they received. They looked away from me, and lowered their voices. I marched past them, then down Butlerville Road. When I reached the parking lot I felt warmer. The sun wasn't blocked by a high bank. I looked at my watch. The next train was a half hour away. Why not climb down the hill and finally check out the lower East Branch?

I saw what looked like a path. I followed it. It ran diagonally to the river, and brought me to the mouth of a long, slow pool. On top of the river was another path: one marked by shimmering stars. Did the stars, like me, leave the West Branch and found a more welcoming hangout? The river bottom, I saw, was gravel and easy to wade. I looked at the sun. Spewing rays like a geyser, it would keep me warm for another few hours. My opening day wasn't over, maybe.

I waded into the middle of the river, and started another fishing cycle. Soon I again lost track of time and of myself. My line slid to the side. Fish on! I swung my rod tip up. The trout bolted downstream. I let him run. He slowed, finally. Wading after him, I reeled in line. Thanks to the slow water, the trout couldn't mount much of a fight. A few minutes later I landed a twelve-inch rainbow.

Now I was ready to head home.

A half hour later, as I rode on the train, I thought of how strange it was that two unexpected but connected events--the anglers yelling and cursing, my taking a spill--led to my discovering a small-scale fishing paradise. I looked through the window, and saw my reflection.

Yes, I told myself. Even though I'm lucky to have all my hair, I'm not the same person I was years ago. Accidentally, unexpectedly I discovered a better way--a permanent form, perhaps--to throw a baseball. Then I looked for better ways to write, to fish, to forgive. Unlike a planet, I'm not moving in a endless circle, in an eternal recurrence. Unlike time, I'm not moving in a straight, unchanging line. And unlike a river, I'm not rising and falling because of rain. But if it wasn't for unexpected events, would I have changed?

Probably not. Can unpredictability, therefore, be part of harmony, part of a great working order of things?

I wasn't sure, but a few hours later I walked into my apartment, sat down at my desk, and felt grateful for my fast computer that burned CDs, and for the advanced oral surgery that saved my teeth. ~ Randy Kadish

Randy's historical novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World is available at: www.keokeebooks.com ~ DLB


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