In The Current
ESSAY – OCTOBER 2008
By Joshua Bodwell
“My sorrow, when she’s here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane” —Robert Frost
In the autumn, I take stock.
The other day, I sat out in the morning chill under the decrepit pergola at Portland’s Standard Baking Company. At the end of the long parking lot between two sleek, modern buildings, I sat in the shade, happy for the fresh air and quiet morning.
Bits of cranberry scone fell from the cafe table, and a handful of tiny sparrows gathered at my feet. They bounced about like little tin wind-up birds, inspecting every crumb. The sparrows worked silently but with frantic energy.
When the leaves begin to fall, I grow more wistful and reflective than any other time of year—even during the snowy surge toward the New Year. As I slurped my coffee, content, I jotted down notes about the long weekend in August when I managed to escape the buzz of everyday life to a place beyond the reach of television and radio waves.
Up at the northern gate of Baxter State Park, things feel a bit wilder and the world of responsibilities melts away. As we do every year, Abbott and I struck the little rivers that wend through the park with our fly rods in hand. We took our meals around a campfire or on a pebble beach beside the clear running water. We talked or we sat together in silence. Everything felt that it was just as it should be.
As we moved from pool to pool, our feet scared up butterflies along the river’s dry pebble beaches. All the big trout, or so we convinced ourselves, lay in the dark depths against the farther shores, in the places where it was nearly impossible to cast, where half-submerged logs bobbed in the current or dense, low-hanging trees on the embankment drooped over an inviting pool. This, we thought, our eyes widening, this is where the fish are just lolling in the current waiting for our hooks.
Each afternoon, our boots heavy with river water, we staggered down the stream like pleasantly drunken barflies, buzzing about this ripple in the current, that dark pool, or all the places we had not yet fished.
But fly-fishing has always torn me, for when the fish bite, the fish die. I tell myself that I honor their sleek bodies when I slide them through the egg wash, dredge them in flour, and lay them into the cast-iron skillet already bubbling with hot olive oil.
As I sat the other day with my coffee and scone, I watched the sparrows and wondered if I could accept fishing without the fish, if I could file the barbs from all my bright flies and be satisfied merely casting and reeling with no hope of a catch. I thought of everything that river has given me over the years. Did I need the fish?
At the other end of the parking lot, cars whooshed along Commercial Street. The ferries departing for the islands of Casco Bay blew their horns and gulls screeched. The season felt like it was turning inward: the sprinklers have ceased their slow, ticking arches across thirsty yards; the backyard grills have been rolled into the garage; the folded lawn chairs are now a lifeless pile in the basement.
Beneath me, the sparrows worked silently.
The little birds moved back and forth under my chair. As I crumbled bits of scone and let it fall to the ground, one sparrow paused and looked up at me. For a moment, it made me sad. I thought again of the river and how it is forever in flux. The places Abbott and I once fished—such as the beaver dam where you could land fish just as fast as you could get your fly in the water—are gone; that pool was a rocky beach this year. New pools form, new trees fall from their perches along the banks, and we rediscover what we have discovered so many times before: everything changes.
Each year the river changes, and so do we—though in ways less obvious.
During our second day on the river, sun showers blew through all morning and cooled us as we cast into the current. When one shower lingered and the raindrops pelted us, Abbott and I sought shelter. We pushed our backs against an embankment on a bend in the river. Beneath a dense evergreen shrub, shoulder-to-shoulder, we waited for the storm to pass.
I felt my wet shirt against my chest. I felt the earth against my back. I wished that every moment of my life were as pure as this one.
We went down to the water
today, the ocean.
The harbor was full up,
moving like a field of
blue-green wheat in the wind.
I watched seagulls scrape
the waves and pitched the
tennis ball for the dog
to swim after.
The weather has snapped
The sky is pale.
Out on the islands,
the trees are going golden.
We went down to the water
today, and I let it flow into me:
in and through and out,
back to its brimming beauty.