Coming Back

Monday, back from vacation.

Stopped off at the big blue box for some necessities. Stood behind a woman for 10 minutes in the checkout lane. She was paying for her stuff – which included 20 individual rice treats instead of one or two boxes – with a combination of three different payment methods.

I could have picked up my stuff and gone to another aisle, but I had a lot. I chose to stand there, sigh loudly, and glower.

By the time I got out, slung my stuff in the truck, it was nearly five o’clock. It took me another 10 minutes to turn left toward the Rez. I probably gunned it a little too hard when I got my chance. Good thing there wasn’t a cop around.

Hurtling down the highway, sun in my face, I kept thinking, over and over:

What am I doing here?


We arrived to our cabin nestled in the piney woods some four hours from here on Monday of last week.

The cabin sits on a small lake, and as we unpacked, a duo of white geese rushed up to us, honking loudly for a handout. We decided if we gave them anything, they’d never give us any peace so we withheld our charity.

The cabin was small but cozy and very nice. The balcony overlooked the lake. Over the course of the four days that followed, we saw a bald eagle, tons of wild geese flying over, ducks, deer and carp feeding in the shallows, raising their tails out of the water just like redfish do.

The area we were staying includes a vast garden built by a wealthy oilman over decades. Water is pumped from the lake and through a huge system of manmade streams up and down the hills, creating waterfalls, pools and cascades everywhere. There are immense plots of gardens, with plants and flowers both native and exotic. The lotuses were in bloom, in magenta, blue-white and yellow. We spent almost all of Wednesday exploring the lookout tower; paths shrouded by camellia canopies, butterfly sanctuaries, herb plots and rose gardens.

But the fishing was outstanding on Monday. My favorite creek was only an hour away. Would have been a quicker trip, except that it appears the roads hadn’t been repaired since Huey Long had them constructed. A torturous ride, to be sure.

That storm that came through Monday night was impressive. The wind bent over the pines near the cabin; the little lake got up on its hind legs and roared, and lightning turned night into day repeatedly. By the time it passed and we headed to the creek Tuesday, the fish had applied padlocks to their mouths. Even the pumpkinseed perch, which normally pester me to madness by pulling on the rubber legs of my popper flies, weren’t biting. From Tuesday until the time we left, my best friend and I caught two bass each. But they were remarkable ones!

The crick was low. It was dry up there. When we got to the cabins they told us we couldn’t use the barbecue grills because of fire hazard. My buddy was camping at the creek, and though no ban was expressed to him, he took extra care to keep his fires controlled.

Low or not, the creek was beautiful. Fishless, dull as a stump so far as action goes, but striking and lovely. We worked our way upstream and down, and I realized I was having more time to enjoy the scenery, rather than staring at a fishing fly. I caught my first spotted bass an hour or so into our trip Tuesday, and that was it.

That night, my buddy cooked hot dogs, sausage and baked beans and we feasted under darkness. I wished I could hear the creek running, but it was too low. I missed it sorely, but the pines were singing in the remaining wind to console me.

Wednesday after touring the gardens for hours, we hiked a few trails through the piney woods. We saw lots of animal tracks and nice scenery.

No, I didn’t camp out. The cabin was just too tempting! And very inexpensive. Thursday morning we had to get back. I headed out to the creek early, but when I got there, my fishing pal had apparently gotten fed up with the lack of bites and broke camp, was already gone.

I caught my last bass there an hour later. The forest was eerie. I had it to myself. I loved it, unsettling though it was. As I glanced over my shoulder for the umpteenth time, I chided myself for being so damn nervous. I had never been there alone before. I didn’t even see another car when I came in. Had I become so accustomed to human contact I could not find solace anymore? No, I decided, it wasn’t that. The chill that scampered up and down my spine was more than unease: It was elation. It was warning, dire and urgent, of my detachment from the natural order.

Fact and parenthesis. “Out here, I am fact rather than parenthesis,” Roth Tewksbury told Harry Middleton. Week before I took vacation, I chewed those words here and, like thick gristle, the more I chewed it the bigger it seemed to swell in my mouth. I could not digest it.

In the haunting silence of the creek bed, no other human beings around for miles and miles, I finally understood. I can’t translate it for you. I have no Rosetta Stone to leap from the frenetic, wild magic that I understood then and there, to English. If understanding it means anything to you at all, you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself. Here’s a hint, though: It can’t be solved surrounded by concrete, steel, noise and people.

Two hours later, no further fish to hand, I loaded up the truck and headed out. Four hours after that, I was home. Suzie had fed the geese the remaining bread we had and they were beside themselves with joy. We unpacked, then spent a long, gratifying time mourning that we ever had to leave.


Monday, back from vacation..

I made it to the house, unpacked my stuff and threw it on the kitchen table, disgusted. Suzie wasn’t feeling well, I did what I could to help then collapsed on the sofa and slept an hour.

One day. That’s all it took. One day to undo, unravel and unmake all the peace and contentment garnered over nine days. I could get up before dawn, fish the creek all day, hike miles there and back again, and finish at dusk, making it to bed late…and still not be nearly so tired.

What am I doing here?

It’s quite simple, actually. I don’t have the ability to be anywhere else. Romantic and appealing as the life I lived for four days last week may be, I can neither afford it nor accommodate it into my life as it is currently playing out.

If only I can figure out what I am doing here.

When the last red man has become a myth among the white men, when your children’s children think them selves alone in the field, upon the highway or in the silent paths of the woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities are silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. – Chief Seatl, Dwamish

3 comments to Coming Back

  • Tom Anderson

    When all the trees have been cut down,
    when all the animals have been hunted,
    when all the waters are polluted,
    when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
    only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
    ~ Cree Prophecy ~

  • Walt Thompson

    Well, Roger, when my cousin down there(Pam Heffner) calls me and leaves a 5 minute message on my answering machine about a column Roger has written, I know it must be a good one. Actually, they all are.

    Excellent article and beautiful photos! Someday will maybe make it down to Franklin again, and drop by with Pam to say ‘Hello’. That is, if I don’t run into you either on Little Mo or up in Kisatchie first.

    Keep up the thought provoking writing! (No matter what Pam says. Ha!) Someone has to make people THINK!

    Walt Thompson

  • Roger Stouff

    Maybe run into me on Big Creek one day. 🙂 I been meaning to go check it out.

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