His clothes were dry. He felt clean. He felt cool. Humidity was low. So even at eighty degrees, wearing waders, vest, and a flannel shirt was comfortable, especially standing waist deep in the Aspen. Mostly, he felt clean.
He got back to the task of fishing. Just downstream from his bathing site, he crossed to the west side of the river and ascended the river to first pool. In another hour, the river would be in the shade, except for a few of the sections were it flowed in a directly east-west direction. Ephemerella and Baetis rose off the water and took wing. He had fish biting in half the pools and small pockets as he moved up stream, and caught a fish from one-third of the bites. He took time, fished slowly, not like when he was younger and would see how much of the river he could cover in an afternoon. When he had to re-tie a hook, there was no urgency. It wasn’t a contest. He could rest the water while he unhurriedly re-tied the hook.
At a shady bend, with a breeze just enough to keep bugs off, he sat on a sandy bank. Resting his rod in the grass, he removed his vest to get at the back pocket to retrieve the lunch he had prepared. Crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, banana, and an apple. The dense sandwich needed washing down with water. He almost wished for a cold beer, except that for the evening fishing he wanted complete alertness. The banana had mysteriously avoided getting bruised and mashed. He must have luckily avoided crushing it the times he leaned against a tree re-tying a hook. And a MacIntosh apple as dessert.
He saved a few sips of water for sundown. He could look forward to some cold beer after fishing. On his way from his camp after lunch to downstream from the beaver dam, he stopped along the bubbling spring two hundred yards downstream from Spruce Creek, near a big cedar, ten feet in from the river’s edge. Water bubbled up from the sandy bottom of a tub-sized pool, four feet in diameter and three feet to the bubbling sand. The spring water was a consistent fifty-two degrees, ideal for keeping beer cool. Sometimes he’d use the spring to cool a bottle of Spumante. From that spring a six-inch wide knife-thick stream flowed, rather oozed, into the Aspen. The consistently cool water of the Aspen was due to hundreds of similar springs in and near the river.
Patiently fishing, at sundown he reached the big pool downstream from Spruce Creek, not far from the bubbling spring. He’d fish that pool until after dark, retrieve his cold pops, hike the narrow trail along the side of the river, and up the more visible trail to his campsite. On the fourth cast he caught his best brown trout of the trip, big enough for a meal for one person. But he wasn’t keeping and killing. He kept trout in the morning for a noon cooked lunch. In the afternoon and evening, he released any he caught. With the clear sky and low humidity, the air cooled quickly in the river valley. There was enough breeze to keep mosquitoes away, from the west, gentle into his face on the east side of the river. There had been less rain than usual the past three weeks, which helped keep the mosquito numbers down.
He stood quietly in the river, water between his knees and crotch flowing left to right. He’d cast to the upstream end of the pool, seeing the plop of his bait. Having gotten his bait tangled on the bottom twice already in the pool in the past fifteen minutes, he learned where to cast to get his bait on the bottom and to avoid the snags. When it was near the time that he could no longer see his bait plop, but would have to judge by sound where it landed and by feel when it came off the bottom and the end of the drift, he saw a dark object in the river ten feet in front of him, just past his rod tip, swimming from his right to left, upstream. It was a yard long, and thick. Since hydro-electric dams were built in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the big fish from the big lake couldn’t make it to the Aspen. So it couldn’t be a large carp or northern pike or sturgeon or salmon. Fifteen feet upstream it surfaced, a beaver. It almost immediately noticed him, and dove, making a large splash smacking its tail on the surface as it disappeared into the depths of the pool. It had appeared, silent. It was gone.
He continued to drift his bait through the hole. With the ambient light left, he could see the slack in his line as his bait ticked along the bottom, then straighten out as it came off the bottom at the end of the drift. A raccoon across the river appeared out of the tall grass, waddling the three feet from the edge of grass to the water’s edge. It reached into the water with its front paws, feeling among the rocks for crayfish, looking as if it were washing its paws. It moved a foot to its right, upstream, feeling more, moved again, felt, grasped something and put it to its mouth. It continued to move upstream, seemly oblivious to Kevin’s presence twenty-five feet across the river on the opposite bank. With the river bending to the east forty feet upstream, Kevin watched it hunt, gather, and feed for a minute before it too was out of sight.
How did Kevin deserve this glimpse through a crack of reality to a world for which he was chief predator and enemy? No. He didn’t deserve it. Nothing was owed him. It was a gift to him. At least it felt like a gift to him. He thought, this is what it must be like to be all together, for all things to be together one. For a moment he felt that. If he cut and splice together his standing in the water, the beaver swimming and the raccoon feeding in such a way that even if they were aware of each others’ proximity, they were not afraid, he could recover that sense of being one. He exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. The world was a silent one.
It was now too late to fish. He glanced at his watch, 11:35. Even if he could continue with a few more casts, catch another fish, what would be the point? He turned, headed up the river bank to the left to make the short downstream hike to the bubbling spring to retrieve the cold liquid he was so looking forward to popping open. The silver tops of the cans shown brightly reflecting stars overhead, the Big Dipper high in the late June sky, unlike mid-November where it is just above the northern horizon. He slipped the cans into his vest back pocket, about faced to follow the riverside trail to where it meets the more visible trail just before Spruce Creek to head up the hill. At the top of the hill, across an open area compared to most of the woods, he connected to the two-track to take him, quarter mile later, to his campsite.
He leaned his rod against the tree he always did, where he’d be able to find it in the morning. Removing his vest, he collected one of the cans, opened it, and after a first long draught, began to sip. His vest went into the back seat of his car to keep from getting soaked from night dew. He got the knee boots out from the floor of the back seat, removed his waders and put on the knee boots. With night dew, they’d keep his feet dry. His waders were hung feet up from a branch. The damp insides wouldn’t dry overnight, and neither would they get more damp. He got his matches and the newspaper. He retrieved kindling he had stored under the car to keep dry. He crumpled the newspaper and put it into the two-foot diameter fire ring made from a collection of softball-sized rocks. He added some kindling, some finger-diameter branches, then a few arm-sized diameter ones. He struck the match, and put it to the newspaper. After an initial flash of brilliant light in the dark to which his eyes had become accustomed, the fire settled down to consume the branches he fed it. He pulled up the five gallon bucket with a top on it, in which he carried matches, newspaper, and some kindling, for a seat.
He slowly fed the fire, not wanting it to be too bright. He has seen good things in dim light. He listened. Barely a breeze, just enough to shush the spruce tree on the south edge of his campsite. A crackle from a piece of pine in the fire. The oak and maple was quiet. He stared and sipped. He felt like he belonged.