Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I'm Here. I'm Back.

A trip back to the late 90's...

The birds wake me.  Shrilling crows flying up and about and over the river.  The dust suspends in the soft beam of light that enters the cracked window at the foot of the bed.  "Jeez..", I think as I flop my bare feet onto the cool wooden floor, "It must be nine o'clock.  I missed the morning."  I sit up slowly.  The headache comes from the base of my skull, just under and behind the ears, and rattles like a gorilla at his cage.  A groan slips out into the empty cabin. "Damn cheap scotch", I think.  Not that good scotch would have made a difference.  This was a matter of quantity not quality.  I shuffle toward the kitchen and lean heavily against the linoleum counter.  If there is anything that can outlive the cockroaches, I think, it must be linoleum.  A few Advil with a swig from a warm open can of Coke, a remnant of the wee hours, will surely get the day going.  I light a cigarette.

Hansel and Gretel Cabins has been closed for years.  It looks somewhat like it had on my last visit with Dad in the same way that age and too much heartbreak look on people.  I stopped by on a lark while moving furniture up to Binghamton a couple years back and the caretaker said he'd let me stay here on the sly and here's his number.  Took me a while to call but he's good at his word and here I am.  The caretaker's son is a tall and somewhat husky blonde kid named Steve, somewhere about my age.  The kind of guy that once you meet him you feel you know him but you keep guessing if your first impression was wrong.  There was something sullen in his big smile and I could not put my finger on it until he and I did the damage that preceded this headache. 

Upon arrival last evening I suited up quick and accidentally hooked and landed a 16" brown.  I hadn't fly fished in years and my reaction must have showed it as I hooted and hollered once the fish hit the web of the net.

"Nice fish", he yells from the banks behind me.  

I gain my composure as I realize I have an audience and wade out into the fading light.  "Thanks...this catch and release?"

"Hell no. This is private water now."

I decide to keep the fish, a tribute to Dad of some sort, and I ask the friendly stranger how to prepare it.

"Come on, I'll show you.  Getting dark anyway, the bats'll be all around you".

We retire to my cabin, cook and eat the trout, and laugh like old friends as we drink all of the beer I've stocked.  Genessee Cream Ale as I recall.  Steve tells me about how the cabins shut down and how what seemed a good future for him and his dad soured slowly and turned out to be a place that he'd tried to escape more than once but couldn't shake.  Along with the failing of the cabins, his sullen smile due to a girlfriend and baby who left him. He stares at the floor when he mentions it and just kind of clicks his thumbnail at the pop top of the beer can.  Ping.  Ping.  Ping.  He stares.  I don't know what to say so I do what any guy in my position would do and introduce the aforementioned cheap scotch.  We laugh some more.  This is a good guy.  I feel for him.  Seemed to me that we were a couple of young guys searching for something that neither of us knew and we found some comfort in that together that evening.  Either that or we both just liked to get drunk.

Whatever the reason, it's all good now because I realize happily that it isn't nine o'clock but 6:45 and I haven't missed the morning at all.  I attribute the early rise to a thin and springy cot and the headache, which this cigarette isn't exactly helping.  I crush it into an old black plastic ashtray, the kind that you find in a rundown casino in Jersey, guarded deeply by a wrinkled up old lady as she shakes her coins into the slots, puffing away.  I step outside on the porch and notice the sun is still resting in the cracks behind the shroud of grey sky.  Won't be long until it burns off as they say.  Better get down to the water.  I gear up.  My movements slow but purposeful.  The thought of another accidental trout has me in it's grasp.

I sidestep down, one arm back for balance, as the rocks tumble down onto the banks just as they had years ago.  The trickling and plunking and melodic gurgling of the water washes over me.  It's all very familiar, as if I'd just been there.  As if he were there with me too.  I wade in slowly.  The river runs cool through my fingers as I splash some water on my face.  Some more at the back of my neck.  I put my cap back on and begin to chuck the streamer up and across.  On the third or fourth swing, a violent but happy strike.  The rod bends and bounces as the moment takes over.  I'm here.  I'm back.  Are you?