Wolf Avni September 15, 2004
The air was brittle and smelled faintly of ozone. Overhead, a stack of grey-brown cloud pressed aggressively in against the mountain and swirled down the valley, choking every familiar feature and buttress, blurring the contours between air, water and land. The cloud had been building since before dawn and by daybreak it was heavy enough that it shut out the sky, dimming the light as if in fallen dusk. It was the kind of weather where raging fires in hearths and a flagon of hot spiced-wine before breakfast seem not only entirely reasonable, but almost inevitable. One look at the sky was enough to convince me that up-front, flat-out repudiation was the only way to progress through the day’s work schedule. Within an hour or two all the roads would be covered with a slurry of snow-melt slush. By nightfall they would all be impassable. Telephone and power supply would go down, the lines snapping like over-twanged guitar strings. By morning we would be utterly isolated, cut off from the world outside the valley, but already I was not going anywhere where a man could neither swim nor row. This was a good thing.
Out on the lake in a float-tube when the first flakes began to fall - with my thin bones swathed in enough layers of thermal gear that I might be mistook for Shwartzeneger - in a stillness as deep as dreaming, I finned lightly, twitching a small marabou nymph, deep, at the end of a fly-line. I looked into water that gave up nothing. It seemed as dark as gunmetal, as impenetrable as stone. Between the float tube and the crescent of weed marking the ridge which runs out into the lake, a lone otter fossicked in the half-light, diving again and again, resting periodically at the surface, rolling onto his back to consume whatever treasures he was finding below. On the northern shore, a lone grey Ribuck, moving like a shy wraith, picked its way cautiously along the bank, stopping often to test the air. A brace of spur-wing geese, flying low and fast on heavy wing-beats passed over, headed urgently down-valley into the gloom, as all around, fragments of powdery snow began floating gently down, slowly at first, but then with quickening tempo, melting as they landed on and around me. It was as if we three were the only creatures left in existence, an otter, a buck and a fisherman. Looking back at the farmhouse through a laced curtain of falling snow, and beyond the wetland reeds to the pines over towards Duck-Bay Lodge, I could just make out a faint, warm glow coming from behind drawn blinds. In the breathless air, wisps of smoke hung at the chimneys. Well still, we were the only living creatures about on the lake.
The fish were full of raw power and more than willing, taking freely, running hard and often. The snow began to fall really heavily but my focus was transfixed upon the bucking fly rod in my hands. Sometimes when it snows, it comes mixed in with sleet and rain, but this was pure enchantment made of dry powder-snow, ferocious fish and a silence as deep as death. Time flew past with me lost in a bubble of surging adrenalin, where fish after fish ravaged my fly, till, looking up as if out of a trance, I found myself in a blizzard so intense that the shore line and everything beyond were lost to view. Over at the lodges; Duck Bay, Lakeside and the Fisherman’s Cottage - all stuffed to overflowing with parties of shit-hot fly-fishers - the shiny, smart 4x4 wimp-wagons had long since disappeared beneath flurries of snow driven by wind into deep drifts. Though I knew they were they, I could see nothing beyond a couple of rod lengths. I think it is what arctic travellers refer to as a ‘whiteout’. Eventually, the tingling in my fingers began first to itch and then to smart until it had become a throbbing gnawing burn, which even I could barely endure. I bit at the chilblains forming on my fingers to numb the sting, and fished on triumphantly while all around the snow swirled, driven before a brutal west wind which had sprung up from nowhere. The snow drifted and danced and whirled on eddies of icy wind, while fish surged all around the lake.
With shy trout feeding as confidently as I have ever known them to, and with my line in constant thrum, I must have lost track of time. There I was, into yet another solid slab of cavorting trophy-sized trout - and though it shames me to admit to it - taking delight in feeling more than a little smug, if not distinctly superior to all pud-wacking, wimpish, city-sod-suckers who sit out blizzards in front of Jetmaster fireplaces in our lodges, indulging themselves over generously on hot spiced-wine, regaling each other with fanciful tales of supreme outdoorsmanship, while we, REAL fisher folk, are out on the rock-face, mano-a-mano (#1) with the existential purity of real fishing. Hell! The kids these days just don’t got it. They just don’t make them like they used to. Soft! That’s what they are. No metal in their cojones! I mean, when WE were young, not only did we walk barefoot ten miles to school in worse weather, but when we got there, if we wanted a lunch we had to steal it from the kids who could afford to bring sandwiches. Ya, nee! When I was young, we would strip down buck-naked and take ourselves swimming in weather worse than this. No doubt about it, today’s anglers are physically soft and their spirit is flaccid, I mused to myself while coaxing a muscular fish up towards the float-tube. She splashed at the surface, desperate to put distance between herself and my outreached hand. As I was about to grab her, an urgent voice, as if calling from another world, came crashing in on me. “Wake up”, it said. “The fire is about to die out, and you’ll die of exposure on that couch”. I blinked. The fire grate was filled with ash and just a faint ember or two. I was sprawled on the couch in the TV room, and at my right hand stood an empty flagon, smelling faintly of red wine, cinnamon and cloves. Damn that woman! Has she no sense of appropriate timing?
#1. Hand-to-hand (Spanish)
#2. Testes (Spanish)