February 25th, 2017

Reading the creek, hearing the water

There's a creek about a five-minute walk from my house that the state stocks with trout. I've fished in it just twice, longer ago than I can remember, so I decided to revisit it last week to see how much it has changed and whether it's worth fishing in again.

Change: That's all streams do. Moving water cuts new channels, and old channels dry up. Trees, bushes and weeds fill the vacancies; often, it's hard to tell where the stream bed was. Once-deep pools fill with gravel and silt. And beaver dams can utterly change a stream's character.

This is not, though, a post about fishing. It's a post about trying to purge the never-ending din of living out of my head, if but briefly.

Walking along a woodland trout stream is hard work. Really. Growing trees line the banks; fallen trees need to be stepped over, making walking in a straight line impossible.

I have to pick my way through, under and around low-hanging branches. Vines catch hold of boots, arresting steps, causing stumbles and falls. Many of those vines have thorns that will draw blood even before I can say "ouch!"

When I don't wear a cap, branches scrape my bald head. Short-sleeved arms are left scratched and gashed. Fallen trees require a lot of stepping over. There are banks to climb, some of them steep. A tumble down them and a serious injury are a mere slip away.

There's always the possibility of stepping unawares into a woodchuck hole and breaking an ankle or leg. Cell phone reception to call for help is spotty at best.

In short, walking along a trout stream requires attention, caution and effort. The other day, my hundred-channels-of-noise brain quieted down to two channels. One was The Voice—the writer's voice. It's the voice that transcribes what I'm doing at the moment. It's almost always on. The second channel kept repeating a riff before the outro to the song "San Ber'dino" by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

That's about as quiet as my heads gets.

The temperature was in the mid-60s, and I caught a couple of whiffs of the land waking up after winter. Just hints, though. The land is still sleeping off the cold.

The first hundred yards of the creek revealed promise for holding fish after I read the water for a while. It's one thing to look at water flowing by; it's another thing to read it. To read a stream is to look at it, to look beneath the surface and figure out where fish are hiding by watching how and where the water moves.

Once I worked my way upstream from that stretch, though, the water slowed down. It went silent. A silent stream holds no trout. Where the fish lurk, the water is always talking. The runs, the riffles, the splashes, the current sloshing against rocks—it's always there, speaking a language that says nothing and everything.

Once the stream quit talking, I noticed the noise of passing cars and trucks on the well-traveled, nearby county road. I realized how much I was sweating, how many gashes the thorns had torn in my arm, how tired my legs were, how thirsty I was.

The din of life's voices began to fill my head again. How I wish the water had kept talking.