Friday, September 9, 2011

No right angles

After a few summer months of fishing icy streams amid the clouds, dashing here and there along the highways of the warming front slope of the Rockies, it was time to slow down a bit and try to relax and begin thinking about fall and book deadlines and gathering info and sitting down in that chair and actually writing books again. It was time for all this. The calendar said so. But an internal clock within me always sees and hears the intoxicating yellow applause of faraway aspen stands with a sense that something is dying inside of me -- the end of something I love. I'd seen a single aspen tree bursting yellow inside a cluster, and I felt a bittersweet pinprick upon the inside my heart. It was coming.

A close and generous friend invited Laura and I to stay at one of his cottages in New Mexico at the headwaters of the Brazos River. I've stayed there before with a large clan of friends and strangers who became friends, all of us bullshitting it up like champions, and I, snapping photos and all of us trying our hardest never to talk rot, and not to speak of better places in the world than where we were right then and there, and certainly never to speak of leaving, for this sort of talk is sin, and as everyone knows there can be no sin upon the river, for the water is constantly washing it away. So here, we are all clean and can be in heaven for just a little while.

This place we went, the Brazos River Ranch, it is truly a heaven of sorts, and when I'm there I feel alive and yet somehow constantly aware that a place like that cannot be real unless one stops breathing for a long period of time. So, at times, when I am not able to think of good things, it does not exist. And yet, a man should want to live there and die there all the same. The streams are quiet, moving and whispering through a silent grassland with the immeasurable sound of a beautiful lover slowly turning over in a warm bed in winter after a pleasant dream, and it's here that I know I can get my Laura casting well enough to fat fish in the wide river, and casting to brash, wild trout in the tributaries, that maybe she can cast to and land her first honest to God trout all on her own.

I helped at first. She is innocent and wise at the same time about all this, and she has caught plenty of trout on the streams we've walked in side-by-side, but has never quite completed the entire sacred cycle all on her own -- reading the water, casting line, the epic battle, a graceful landing, and finally the gentle release. There has always been an intervention on my part during at least one stage of that cycle, either for the benefit of Laura, or for the fish. But it was time. The calendar said so. And while fishing up a particularly favorite stretch, I walked away and allowed her the freedom to breathe uninhibited and cast without scrutinous eyes upon her, without the fear or shame of hanging up or casting imperfectly or not knowing where or how to stand upon the riveredge, or what to do when a fish splashes at her fly and to keep calm and just... be

Much of fly fishing is instinctive, so it was time for me to let the primate cavewoman in her out, to live in the light of that gorgeous day, just to see what might happen. 

There was a curious ferret with a black tail popping in and out of a hole near where we were. And a thick chested prong-horn antelope seemed to be witnessing humans for the first time nearby, and it didn't know whether to trust us or if we might slaughter it, whether or not to bolt away or to nuzzle at the leafy tendrils sprouting from the ground as it had been doing before we appeared, eventually deciding to trot over the hill and out of sight. And a mesmerizing plunge-fall echoed through the corridor of this canyon upstream of us, and I found myself taken from the earth and put back again by the hand of God, only then recognizing the significant beauty of a world untouched and without the fingerprints of man upon the sides of buildings and the angularness of every street corner and the loud panic rush of life on the outside, beyond of the fences of this place. 

Here, there are no right angles, except decisions, and so I wandered upstream like a lost child in a crowd, giving Laura Li space enough to live in a heaven unknown to her until that moment when she'd finally done it, pulling her bowed rod up to the cutbank where she stood, bringing to her side a fish of such magnificent color and patterns that they could only be the fingerprints of God upon its glistening back. Her smile spoke every word of the book. I was allowed to witness beauty from this distance, and again, I snapped pictures to capture this in time, to freeze heaven, so that I might reflect upon this moment someday down the long hallways of my future when I'm lying in a bed and maybe my mind isn't as clear as today and the wrinkles upon my face wear like the beat lines of an ancient map and I just want to remember what it will be like to close my eyes, and go home.      

Another Laura Li Trout!


About Mac

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I am W. Chad McPhail. I'm an outdoor/travel writer, book author, former English teacher, and Amarillo native. 

I spend my spare time traipsing around the mountains and streams of the southwest in search of wild trout with my family, friends, various freeloaders, and other flotsam and jetsan. I used to teach English & Creative Writing. These days I am a Right of Way field agent with Coates Field Service, representing Sharyland Utilities during the construction of a 345 megawatt transmission line from Hereford to Panhandle, Texas. I love exploring the outdoors, fly fishing, backpacking, camping, hiking, kayaking, and yes, writing outdoor and travel books and pieces. I am a field writer of flyfishing, backpacking, camping, and kayaking articles for I have written many articles for magazines such as Southwest Fly Fishing, Texas Fish & Game, Rocky Mountain Game & Fish,, and more. I have co-penned three books with fishing buddy Mark D. Williams; Colorado Flyfishing: Where to Eat Sleep Fish, 49 Trout Streams of Southern Colorado, and An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout.