My mother taught me to always be observant of my surroundings. Especially once my sister and I started driving up to the big city Omaha by ourselves, she reminded us before every trip up the dirt driveway to lock our doors when driving and walk to the car with keys in hand -- one between index and middle finger -- “a good weapon” she’d say. And walk with authority -- walk as someone who knows where they are and where they are going. Even, if you don’t, she told us, because by convincing someone else, often times you convince yourself in the process.
suppose that’s actually gotten my sister and I through a lot in life --
walking with authority. Through a lot and somewhere, too -- just
walking on. And looking off to the sides, into our periphery -- which
can start making you feel all googly-eyed and somewhat dizzy until you get used to it. But then
once you do, you can’t stop. Perhaps that’s why we all eventually
when I’m out on a trail all alone, which I often am, I still walk that
way out of a matter of respect for my mom, because I know she worries
about me still (although more about lions and bears now than men).
Briskly and looking ahead. With authority. Like I know where I’m going -- and these days I’d like to think that’s a lot closer to being true than it once was. But in all honesty, probably not much.
Come to think of it that might be why I’m always asked for directions.
Even in the backcountry...“Excuse me, is this the such-and-such trail?”...“Wouldn’t happen to have a map on hand....would you?” I always
do know and always do “happen to have” a map -- and always do fear for
the safety of these people who probably shouldn’t be out in the
backcountry, especially all grouped together. But that whole birds-of-a-feather thing, you know. Works kind of like buttered toast.
mother also taught us that walks and hikes are not just for the moving
of legs. They are to observe. Bird-watching, flower-identifying,
scat-tracking. Sometimes who ate whom and when. The why is usually quite
obvious. I believe her educational precept to be “inquiring minds want to
know” -- and ours were made to. Where the waterways are and
the draws -- where will the deer come down to drink at dusk. Where are the
deadwoods for woodpeckers; berries for birds and fox, and good treetops for rookeries. And where the great horned owl lived that she’d call overhead as we stood, wondering where she learned all these things.
If she was trying to impress us, it worked.
long before I came to be a fly fisherman I made an observance of
things, if only out of habit -- of creeks and streams, rivers and lakes.
And so I’ve known more about where good waters and trout lie than I
thought I did, if only through periphery. They’ve always been waiting
there. Just waiting, for me to take up a rod.
I knew exactly where to go this past week when Jay and his father John were
looking for a small stream. For a smaller group that day -- only the three of us
(plus Banjo, of course). A thin, wiry bit, with lots of pockets, too. A
place hard to get to and even harder to leave. A place to wet-wade and
where -- like alcohol to memories -- the water would numb your feet into
forgetting about the horsefly bites you’d gotten at a bass pond two
days before. A place where the fishing would more than make up for a
lost pair of sunglasses and where hummingbirds looked normal-sized
hovering over the stream. A place where there would be brook trout rising to
dries in pockets under willows, with an open meadow
nearby where we could eat cheese and salami.
That’s all that was asked.
Yes, I said, I knew a place that would have all of these things.
And I’d like to think that if I was trying to impress them, it worked.