When I was newly divorced and my kids were off to college I used to go to a place with a band every Friday evening with my single female friends. Heads up and stomachs sucked in, we pretended to be aloof. Neon beer signs, the tiny red dots on the sound equipment, and a street light through a grimy window provided the bar’s main illumination. But dragged down by disappointment and gravity, we welcomed the dim lighting. We always chose a table close to the small stage thinking that proximity to the band increased our chances of being asked to dance. We deemed some of the males unsuitable and rejected them. And since there is justice everywhere, even in a place that served draft beer and cheap wine, the men that we saw as desirable rejected us.
I would sip coffee in my living room the next morning hoping it would take away my feelings of defeat. The things I had worn the night before were crumpled like discarded love letters in piles across the floor. The once clean and carefully chosen clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and stale beer.
Sharon, the librarian at my school who was also divorced, asked me if I would like to go fly fishing with her in The Adirondacks. She knew I loved the outdoors and camping. But I stubbornly clung to the hope that the bar with the loud music would bring me love and romance if I just kept trying.
One day Sharon asked me to pick up my second graders outside after her library class. When I did Sharon was decked out in a green vest and a hat with several tiny feathery things attached to it and one of my boys was waving a fishing rod in the air.
“Good cast”, she told the 8 year old as she took the rod from him. “Remember, you don’t need a lot of force. Let the line do the work”
Gentle as a tree in the breeze, she moved the rod forward and then positioned it upright and back. The line, an elongated twenty foot inverted “c” sailed behind her forming a string of translucent light against the sky. Reversing the direction of the loop, Sharon placed the tip of the line thirty feet away. She did it once again. A perfect beginning, middle, and end.
“Don’t you think your teacher should try?” she asked my class.
“Yes’, they all shouted.
I always told my students that new things were always hard and to never give up. I didn’t want to cast but I knew, as a teacher and a constant role model, I had to.
Sharon handed me the rod. I took a breathe, hesitated and then flung the line backwards and then whipped it ahead with a smack. My students laughed.
“Okay, kids,” Sharon said, ” Let’s help your teacher. What does she need to know?”
Ten o’clock, Two o’clock,” they said in unison and they all demonstrated with their arms
“Okay, relax,” added Sharon.
I focused on my arm. I let the line stretch out behind me like wings, and then as I shifted I felt the power of momentum as the line raced over my head. It landed not as far as Sharon’s had but just as gently.
“I did it,” I yelled and my students clapped. Sharon gave me thumbs up and we all went back into the school, smiling.
At the end of the day, Sharon stopped by my room. ” Have I convinced you yet? Do you want to go fishing?”
“Okay,” I replied.
On the next Friday at the end of the school day, we drove east to the Adirondacks. As we traveled, the villages became smaller and smaller and some buildings stood as shabby monuments to battles against The North Country winters.
Vistas revealed miles of tree going up and over large hills and small mountains. The forest squeezed the highway. Small bushes and thick brush discouraged entrance into the interior. As we went higher, stacks of mountains receded from dark green to the palest of blue. Hardy collection of daisies, buttercups, and purple lupines played among rust colored rocks.
Like the pop of a Jack-in-the -Box, the village of Lake Placid exploded out of the trees, a collection shops and restaurants, an open air mall between mountains. We kept driving. The sidewalks ended and a golf course took the place of the concrete and brick. The high peaks reveal themselves above the chemically treated turf. The road continued up and down, over and though, as if frantically trying to escape the man made insanity. The green intensified and soon we saw the Ausable River shyly peeking through the leaves.
Further on, two grey cliffs appeared on each side of the road. A small man made wall protected us from the river that jumped over rocks and boulders.
We arrived at Wilmington Notch Campgrounds. I had been there many times. My family and I camped there when I was a little girl. Not far away, The North Pole still exists and after all these years Santa still makes his summer home there.
A thick canopy of leaves above the cleared sites offered a sense of order. All the white birch trees I remembered from my childhood were gone. Sharon and I set up our tents, arranged air mattresses and sleeping bags and ate a one pot stew warmed over a fire. She went through her stuff and pulled out a bottle of wine. As our woodland retreat lost its vivid colors and faded into the black of the evening, the light of the campfire enclosed us in a sphere of orange light. Beyond our source of illumination, the world disappeared as we drank sweet wine out of paper cups.
Sharon told me about artificial flies and knots for tying line, leads, and hooks. She talked about pocket water, pools, and fish spit which she insisted was the foam that sometimes appeared in the water. I learned about the three types of insects that trout feed on. Stoneflies, caddis, and mayflies. I marveled at the fact that the caddis make a tiny cocoon shelter out of small stones. And that mayflies live as ugly nymphs under the water until one day just before they die they become creatures with lovely shiny wings.
Sharon and I talk and talked and she told me stories about fishing The Ausable with her daughter and about Fran Betters, the writer and legendary trout fisherman of the Adirondacks.
It was getting late. We threw water on the fire. The stars leaped into the sky and the gray steam from the embers kissed their faces goodnight.
We got up very, very early the next morning. With no makeup or coffee or breakfast, we drove out of camp in the sweatshirts and sweatpants we had worn to bed. Sharon had extra waders for me and a rod. We fished for hours and didn’t catch anything. But it was wonderful being a part of it all, the greens, the sound of the flowing water, and the peace.
I loved fly fishing with Sharon because we developed our own female version of the sport. After morning fishing, we stopped at a quick stop for cappuccinos and a pastry. Back at our site we showered. There was time for a little reading and then a trip into Lake Placid to do some shopping! We went back to Wilmington to fulfill one of Sharon’s fishing traditions, a visit to The Wildwood Inn for clams casino and a glass of chardonnay. Who was I to argue? Then more fishing until sunset and back to the evening campfire. I enjoyed it all.
The next day we drove to a spot where the Ausable dropped over a dam. The falls filled its lungs with air as it exhaled a curtain of creamy foam. I listened to the rushing sound of gravity, feeling its pull as I struggled to navigate the steep, stony path to the base of the dam.
The lower elevation allowed shadows to stretch across the river as the sun moved further down in the sky. At first a few flashes of reflected light appeared in air. And then hundreds of bits of motion fluttered everywhere. Focusing on one, I saw an insect with a long graceful body and beautiful translucent wings. Its companions danced and swirled above the river as the fish came to the surface and jumped to get a better look. Abruptly it all stopped. The winged creatures disappeared and the fish swan below. Sharon explained it was a mayfly hatch and I will never forget how so alive and beautiful it was.
I fished with Sharon a lot in the next few years. I remembered the moment I caught my first trout. I looked over the water and cast my line. A fluttering movement came up through the rod and I felt a life. The trout pulled and jumped in the air, gleaming green, pink, and white. I reeled it and took the hook from its mouth. And following Sharon’s example, held the rainbow like a precious jewel, lowered it into the water and set it free.
Sharon passed away several years ago. She was a great storyteller, teacher, fly fishing woman, and a fantastic friend. I will see her again because I am sure there are trout streams in heaven.
Sharon taught me the lesson of the mayfly, a little bug who struggled and struggled most of its life to leave the dark bottom of the river. And just when it thought its life was over, it got a second chance. It became lovely and magical and free. I have had many hard times and disappointments in my life but things don’t seem as bad anymore. I finally have my wings. Thank you, Sharon.
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