“I got to thinkin’ how there was the moon an’ the stars an’ the hills an' there was me lookin’ at em, an’ we wasn't separate no more. We was one thing. An' that thing was holy."
It’s November 16. I’m just out of the shower after wet-wade fishing for the sixth “last time” this year. Many leaves are still green. We’ve had one light frost, a frost so delicate that blooms on the tomato plants still burn with a June’s yellow promise. Though, there are a couple of whitetail does in my freezer, the urge to hunt hasn’t pulsed with ferocity this autumn. It seems that summer 2016 has decided to stay for a while longer both in reality and in spirit. Looking toward the extended forecast, and time permitting, I might be able to squeeze in another wade this week. In autumns past, the mid-80 degree afternoons and humid mornings would have put me in a funk. I crave those afternoons this year.
As I splashed through the tannin-stained shallows of Hackers Creek this afternoon, toward the briar-covered creek bank and eventually my truck, the longing for even more time in the water welled upward into some awkward emotions for a middle-aged man. I’m thankful I was alone. Though I’d enjoyed more than a fair share of creek fishing, and though the enduring heat was an ominous sign for the future, I didn’t want to let go of this summer.
Amber rays filtered through sycamores as I turned toward the channel once more for a parting glance at the creek. A brace of spotted bass cruised through dappled shadows amid the tangled roots of a partially submerged honey locust tree, and powerful urges of a strength I’ve not felt for more than three decades pulled at me with near irresistible force to come back and join them in the water. The creek beckoned with a saccharine scent of nostalgia and the sound of gentle waters and the swirling of fallen leaves in riffles. And then of course the bass themselves were persuasion aplenty.
Defining that persuasion, that need to connect with these aquatic beings while half immersed in their world, is a puzzling thing. It’s not possession or domination, no utilitarian needs — though, this was precisely the draw for my prehistoric angling ancestors — but it is a hunger. A hunger for what? I’ve pondered on this question off and on for most of my life, but this year, for many reasons, has brought a renewed and more fervent seeking of answers.
I’ve thought that it could be the thin separation between life and death at the core as my yesterdays have grown to likely outnumber my tomorrows now. There is a strong analogy here, as I’m tethered to a blurring primal life force by only a thin strand. Youth was a blurred primal force as well, and it slipped through my thin and tenuous hold with a mere flick of its tail as the currents of time swept it downstream and out of reach. But the layers of darkness in this metaphor don’t accurately convey my feelings about the creek or the fish. No, there is something lighter, too. It traces back beyond early adulthood and the teen years, back to a time of simplicity.
One of the quickest ways to start an argument and possibly end a friendship (or even family relationship) is to bring up the topic of religion. Hell, everybody has an opinion on religion and many are all too happy to arrogantly shove those opinions down your throat — in the name of love, of course — while you gasp and choke on the bitter cutting edges of their “truth.” They speak of a paradise beyond this world, something to die for. But let me, instead, offer something to live for, a humble vision of Nirvana attainable now.
My heaven is me at 10 years of age — big and strong enough to venture on my own yet naive and innocent enough to accept the magic and wonder that every wiggle of life elicits in my still malleable mind — and the creek. I bask in that place, the tickle of tiny bubbles as water tumbles over rock and onto bare feet, the embrace of mud and detritus as it sucks at my toes seeking oneness with its creation. My brothers and sisters of the creek, the bass and the crayfish, the green heron and the muskrat, are part of this heaven as well because there is no heaven without kindred souls. This is a place where time transforms from today’s linear model back to the circle of sunrises and seasons in predictable and perfect rhythm for an unpredictable yet perfect world. Within the circle, who I was and who I am become one. Within the circle, the edges between creek and me begin to blur.
Seeking the circle is why I turned back to the creek. It’s why I don’t want this summer to end. That hum of continuity softens roaring winds of uncertainty raging in my brain. The whispered lullaby of perpetual flow hushes me to sleep on nights of anxious worry about my children’s and grandchildren’s future. The murmur of something larger than me, yet, that is me, brings me back to the water and its promise of heaven.