A tale of two Tims

There's no feud like a family feud
michigan brook trout stream
Photo: Tim Schulz

Having appropriated the title from Charles Dickens, it’s only natural to poach the story’s moral from Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, and George Costanza: A Tim divided cannot stand. This story, you see, is a tale of internal conflict, for which Confucius is said to have said, “He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior”—precisely the nifty sort of circular logic that made the old bearded hypothesizer a household name.

The protagonists in this story are February Tim and August Tim—opposite sides of a two-headed human coin. Whereas their feud has never been as bitter and bloody as Ole Ran’l McCoy’s and Devil Anse Hatfield’s, the five months between them divide the two Tims as cleanly as the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River separates Kentucky from West Virginia.

Except for an extra inch around his waist and the rough-hewn salt-and-pepper stubble on his cheek, you might mistake February Tim as a dead ringer for August Tim. But upon closer inspection, you’ll see some distinct differences. February Tim’s eyes betray the distant yearning of a ship’s captain scanning the blurry horizon from Point Nemo. August Tim’s eyes are wide and clear with the devil-may-care twinkle of Captain Jack Sparrow filling his cup from the fountain of youth. August Tim is the trust-fund kid draining his daddy’s PayPal account. February Tim is the $400-an-hour accountant watching the zeros melt from the balance sheet like ice cubes on the Fourth of July. February Tim understands the finiteness of time. August Tim does not.

February Tim has no beef with April Tim, May Tim, June Tim, or even July Tim. Those Tims understand how the fishing season in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is as precious and fleeting as a brown drake’s dance at dusk. But August Tim’s complacency fills February Tim with the frustration a mother feels when her teenage son sleeps past noon on their Bahama vacation. As February Tim likes to say, sloth is the sin of folks who navigate the world with speed-limit I.Q.s, and though he’s not sure how a person’s intelligence recedes like the tide over just a few months, he’s thinking of August Tim when he says it.

You see, February Tim knows no one is twice as old as him anymore, and he resents how August Tim seems to forget that. August Tim bounces through fields of black-eyed Susans, St. John’s worts, grasshoppers, spotted knapweed, wild carrots, and tansy as though time isn’t ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, seemingly unaware—through some childlike innocence that February Tim can’t fathom—that he is older, shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.

According to legend and lore (the ancient predecessors of science), the rising of the Dog Star Sirius shepherds forward a period of mad dogs, heat, drought, misery, fatigue, misfortune, and calamity, even for people like August Tim who prowl more than forty-seven degrees above the equator. For many, this chapter of summer marks the dog days—a time to kick back in an Adirondack chair and listen to the aspens whisper while you sip Sasparilly in the moonlight and reread your weathered edition of The Longest Silence. But February Tim sees this as the last chance for August Tim to embrace the final days of moonshines and exaltations before deadlines and obligations take their place.

August Tim has been on a sixteen-day hiatus from fishing—something February Tim anticipated with the uncanny accuracy that Nostradamus demonstrated by predicting London’s great fire. Knowing August Tim’s penchant for sipping Sasparilly and reading a chapter of McGuane’s book each night, February Tim scribbled a brief note on a yellow Post-it sticker and stuck it to the one-hundred-thirty-fifth page of The Longest Silence, which is the beginning of the book’s sixteenth chapter, “Close to the Bone.”

To fully understand February Tim’s cunning move, you’ll need a little background: From January 10, 1974, until October 30, 1979, Jimmy Connors beat his tennis rival Vitas Gerulaitis in sixteen straight matches. But on January 12, 1980, Gerulaitis eliminated Connors in the semifinals of the Masters championship, responding afterward with one of history’s most brilliant quotes: “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis seventeen times in a row!” Counting on August Tim’s dog days predictability and his fondness for this quote, February Tim’s note is brief and to the point:

Nobody beats February Tim seventeen days in a row. Read this story tonight, then get off your ass and go fishing on a cool backwoods stream tomorrow! Trust me. I am you.

With pastrami, tomato, and Swiss cheese on pumpernickel rye, a Honeycrisp apple the size of a small grapefruit, two Dove dark chocolate cubes, and one Miller Lite packed tightly in his soft-sided cooler, August Tim bounces down a two-track road toward a remote stream for a day of crick fishing—something the trendy folks like to call blue-lining.

He parks at a gated road the forest service uses when they need to manage or maintain their land, then walks two miles to a cascaded waterfall on a crick neither he nor February Tim would ever name, even under the threat of jalapeño juice in their eyes or being forced to endure a week-long accordion solo. A maple leaf the color of wild strawberries rests on the trail, waiting for the carotene and xanthophyll to retreat like the chlorophyll, leaving behind a lifeless, ash-colored husk to feed the worms. A white-tail deer bounces across the rustic road, flipping and flashing its tail to signal August Tim’s presence the way a sailor might raise the “November-Charlie” flags to declare distress. The white dapples on the deer’s coat that once camouflaged its tiny, coiled body on the forest floor in the spring have nearly faded to a uniform, brownish shade of gray.

A few more crimson leaves rest on the bottom of the crick, each quivering in the current, holding tightly to this place that will serve as its grave. The trout won’t be picky about the fly. They never are, and here, in this crick that doesn’t flow within sight of a home, a cabin, or a road until it gives up its water to the river with a famous name, August Tim ties on a colorful but nondescript dry fly. That’s all he has in his box. The first brook trout rises from the dark, turbid water of a modest plunge pool, grabbing the fly from the surface, then darting back toward the safety of the pool’s bottom. What the fish lacks in size, it makes up with color. Its sides display the same shades of red and green that paint the skin of a mango, and its belly shines like the bright orange of the tropical fruit’s flesh.

The crick flows through forests of pines and cedars and some hardwoods, too. August Tim knows this place too well to get lost in the woods, but that same familiarity allows him to get lost in his mind, and that’s exactly what February Tim wanted him to do when he secured that note onto the one-hundred-thirty-fifth page of The Longest Silence. Soon, September Tim will be back in a routine of lecturing and grading, passing the baton to October Tim, who’ll run his lap before handing it to November Tim. Eventually, on a day that lasts only nine and a half hours, January Tim will place the stick in February Tim’s hand. And then—on a night when the forecast calls for twenty inches of snow and whiteout conditions—February Tim will draw up a new scheme. There’s no feud like a family feud.