THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

Finally

Two casts from the bank and I’ve got something: a seventy-foot pine tree. – Nick Lyons, Bright Rivers.

Nearly a month ago I wondered if it was nearly spring. After a brutal winter (by Louisiana standards) it did warm up a bit, but the rain defiantly came late in the workweek, every week, ruining plans for weekend forays into the wilds.

Then came the first spat of nice weekend weather, but that was the Bayou Teche Wooden Boat Show, and I was stuck. I crossed my fingers and hoped for as good or better the following Saturday. I got my wish.

I was on the road by six and arrived at a favorite flow by nine. There were lots of people out; people who were as wrung-out by cabin fever as me, so I really couldn’t disdain them.

My fishing bud and I strung up rods and waders. Yes, waders. A quick jaunt to the clear and sparkling creek and a hand in the abundant flow proved it to be toe-bluing cold. This was nearly our undoing.

We headed downstream away from the others, but a family of three had gotten ahead of us. We usually walk until we don’t see any more foot prints before we throw a line, but we were kinda surrounded. Not only that but they were also loud. Really loud. After a few fruitless casts we continued down the creek and passed them as they were heading back upstream; we kept going a bit further and tried again.

It had been since October; it was autumn when I last visited there. Then, the trees were turning auburn and gold and red. The creek was a bit low but flowing happily. Gray sandstone jutted from its backbone like misaligned vertebrae, jumbled gall stones and hard callouses. Nearly six months later the old girl filled her margins sultrily, nearly gin-clear in most places, singing and telling tales of time untold. I had missed most of the dogwood and wild azalea bloom but there were a few stragglers in white and white-pink, red honeysuckles and a couple others I forget the name of.

When I was a denizen of backwater swamps and mirror-smooth lakes I thought of the rise and fall of water much like a bathtub. The lake rose like someone turned on a faucet in a kitchen sink; likewise it fell when the stopper was pulled. I had come to think of rise and fall as a sort of vertical ascension of the same plane.

But when I discovered rivers and creeks my perceptions changed. Fed by rainfall, a river does have a vertical rise and a horizontal rise, but it also possesses a kinetic rise; it moves faster, urgent, leaping over footstool-sized boulders it had only swept around before. It obscured plunges from ledges that had been a foot or two high, foaming rabid where it tumbles and cartwheels as it hurtles itself over yet another stone terrace. Roderick L. Haig-Brown titled one of his works A River Never Sleeps and I didn’t understand what that meant until a few years ago. Rarely does Bayou Teche flow at more than a slow meander. The Atchafalaya can tumble toward the bay with folds and wrinkles in its surface, but it seldom races. The Mississippi is a river of slow, tedious brute strength. But these creeks and rivers I have come to know—those in the upland regions of Louisiana, other such as the Buffalo, the Toccoa, the Jacks Fork—they are animated and awake, excitable and nervous, agitated. Sometimes in summer they drowse when the rains are few, when the springs are diminished, but still they move, ceaselessly.

That’s what has captured my heart, I think. That’s what I so love about creeks and streams and rivers: they are seldom passive, rarely immobile. They leap and twirl and foam and eddy, they ripple and they plunge, they course and they pool; they are all things wild and wonderful, potent.

She had changed her face again. In the eight years I have been going to these places, they have changed their faces again and again. Sand bars move and leave behind deep, impassable pools. Deep, impassable pools fill in and we trod across them in ankle-deep gin-clear, cold water. Above our heads, a dozen feet or more, debris snagged in tree limbs is witness to the mechanisms of that change, the torrential, chaotic and irresistible force of a river swollen and engorged by fresh, cool rain.

There are no minnows in the shallow runs; no tadpoles, no insects. Not even the little pumpkinseed perch that usually annoy us to high-heaven by tugging at the rubber legs on our poppers or swiping their tails at the knots in our leaders. When I reach water deeper than the top of my wading boots the cold permeates the material of my waders. Usually we start fishing creeks early in March, sometimes in February. But this winter was too much; they need time to warm from sunlight between the pines.

Nearly six hours in we pick up two bass; Jim’s is a fine, respectable specimen, mine a bit more average. Both are imbued with utter wildness and their blood is the blood of the river. I’ve never taken one to the pan; they always go back into the creek. I don’t go there for fillets or to fill an ice-chest. They aren’t really big enough, for one thing, but mostly they give me something far, far better.

I come from a family and a culture of fishing for the table, and there are certainly occasions when I still do. But what those little creek bass give me isn’t battered in corn meal and a touch of milk or beer; they are few and rare, a fragile population in a fragile environment. A dozen committed anglers could wipe them out in a summer or two. I consider two a good day, more than that a very fine day.

But what they give me when they take my fly amid a swirl and the ring of their rise, when my rod tip bends and my line goes taut…is the ultimate expression of why I get up early and drive hours and hours to get there. I’ve left behind a dying ecosystem and journeyed into one that persists on the margin of civilization, stubbornly hanging on despite clear-cutting and gravel mining and dams and pollution. All of it sustains me: the dogwoods, the azaleas, the nearly square block of gray sandstone sitting on the bank of a creek, just about chair-height, like the spot God might come and sit and watch his handiwork in motion. Sure, the Philistines have charged the gate and their refuse defiles the sand bars…but the river keeps going, relentless and determined.

When a little bass I’d throw back on the lakes of home takes my fly on the creek, its essence resonates through my leader, through the line and into the rod, trembles in the cork grip in my hand and it speaks of wildness incarnate. There is no sediment-filling river basin here; no tattered marsh, no subsiding coastline. There are no stands of cypress killed by saltwater intrusion, no flooded cemeteries, no thick cover of willows on dirty sand bars where once there was only open water.

In the even more northern regions I hope to one day hang my hat, many anglers demean stocked rainbow trout, insist those hatchery-raised fish hold no wildness. They journey into the high country, bush-whack their way to where the fish are wild and the rivers shaped only by the forces of the ages.

That’s what these little denizens of these small streams of cold, clear water provide me. A new hope. A dream. To recapture what the boy once knew: a fertile land and watery world of wonder rather than vanishings.

3 comments to Finally

  • Great work as always take care,u know I think u should come to ga . and see our dogwood tees and our fair little town. I wish u could see the flowers. I’ll. take some pictures when I go for my walk the next time. Take care. Wanda Perry

  • blufloyd

    Creeks here are calling me but back and chemo say, no way. Some day I’ll just do it.
    My new fiberglass custom halo rod will drag me there. Not kicking not screaming, giggling at death and cancer and diabetes and those who give up the fight. No better use for laughter than prayer….

  • Roger Stouff

    Glad to hear from you, blu…your spirit is strong! Keep at it!

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