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
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
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
"Guilty. You're Mel."
"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
"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
"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."
"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
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
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.
"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?"
"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
"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