"I hate definiteness. I leave home to escape it. What’s the use of going into the woods if you’ve got to take civilization with you? Can you imagine anything worse than knowing what’s going to happen?"– Havilah Babcock
The clock went off at 4 a.m. Some radio program or another, the music offensive enough to make me turn it off just for relief from the noisy torture. I dragged myself up and made coffee, took a shower and finished packing.
Clothes. Check. Wading sandals. Check. Camera. Check. Gear. Check. Beef jerky, sandwich making materials and water, check. Bug spray. Check. So on, and so forth.
I was in the truck and on the road by 5 a.m. A little later than I hoped. Didn’t matter, I had been waiting almost a year for this. Dawn was nearly two hours away, and the headlights of the truck guided me off the Rez to U.S. 90, through Lafayette and then northward. I was, at last, creek bound.
I made good time until a cane truck wrecked somewhere outside of New Iberia and delayed me by half an hour. Still by a little after 8 a.m. I was in the forest, and met up with my compadre for the day, my since-high-school like-a-brother, Scott. He followed me the long ride to the stream.
IMy heart sank as soon as we got into the forest proper: Cars and trucks lined the road, many with trailers full of four-wheelers. Tents were set up everywhere. I had checked before we left, deer season wasn’t starting. I hadn’t thought of squirrel season. Ah, woe is me.
We pulled up at the creek. Gunfire upstream was rampant.
"It’s illegal to shoot near a recreation area or across a trail or waterway," I told Scott. He looked dubious.
"Besides," I said. "All the gunfire’s upstream. Let’s go check out the water."
My heart sank yet again. The stream was lower than the last time I was there, and it was low then. The rapids were mere trickles, and the lower flows were slow, meandering. We decided to make the best of it, though. The little stream is good for spotted bass and bream, and I even caught a nice sac-au-lait there last November.
I loaded my fly fishing shoulder bag and strung up a little six-foot bamboo rod I thought would be perfect for stream fishing. I looked at my cell phone:
I exhaled, from deep down inside my chest, where heavier air has accumulated with the stench of civilization for too long.
Dressed in shorts and wading sandals, I put my feet into the stream again at last, touched on hard sandstone terraces. In that instant, for a few instants, the gunfire upstream was gone; a horn-o-plenty crammed with financial quandaries, logistical demands, late-night government meetings, deadlines, ringing phones and, oh, so many steps on concrete and pained eyes under fluorescent lights…all were gone. I could feel them wash away down the slower current of the stream, and I shivered only once from the cold, then settled into the resonance and whispering of a stream that had cut into these pine-studded hills for thousands of years, leaving sheer bluffs, exposed stone terraces, near-boulders and murmuring, laughing, chortling movement of water.
Only half an hour later, Scott and I grew wary and nervous of BBs falling in the low water all around us, the constant barrage of gunfire. Apparently forest law meant little to the hunters that day.
We went back to the trucks and headed for the lower end of the stream, a long ride to the southern end of the forest. I found the Forest Service road I wanted and we followed it to an old bridge that is being dismantled for future replacements. It might have been an old WPA bridge, for all I know, but it was steel and rusty, with most of its wooden planks gone. The stream was still low, even so far downstream. We cat-walked the girders and their criss-crossed braces to the other side and climbed down the ravine to start fishing again.
Downstream of the bridge is a beautiful little waterfall on a big slab of sandstone where locals and visitors have been carving their names, apparently for generations. I was saddened to see two old mattresses lying nearby on the edge of the stream, and beer bottles gathering sand in the current. Seems like no matter where you go in Louisiana, even its most scenic and sacred rivers, we’re as tacky and trashy as everywhere else.
I hooked and landed two small perch, a small bass and two stranger little fish I didn’t know the species of. Scott did better, caught two nice spotted bass out of one little area, but the bite remained elusive for the rest of the day for both of us.
Twice I took a spill, which was pretty good for a clumsy oaf like me. Once the sand slid out from beneath my feet as I walked the edge of a bar, and luckily I fell to the white sand instead of the water. The second time, I was wading back from a particularly deep run of calm water to fish a promising hole and I stepped on a slick submerged log. Down I went, sideways, wet almost to my chest, but I leaped out immediately with nothing more hurt than my pride. Scott was kind enough to not show his bemusement.
Yet we waded and fished downstream a long ways and upstream a long ways, and it was only noon, so we waded both again before giving up. We sat on a log at the edge of the stream, the bluffs behind and before us steep and high, and had a couple of cigars and a few nips from a flask. Made sandwiches when we got back to the trucks and spent a bit of time catching up, like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time do, sharing news and events and turmoils and successes. Best of all, hunched over maps, tracing streams and rivers with fingers.
Then I was back on the road, heading home, arriving just before dark. I was tired, sore and certainly disappointed in the catching, but the fishing and the being there were second to none.
I settled down on the sofa to relax, rest weary muscles that for too long had not climbed the walls of ravines, waded against current or taken tumbles down sandy precipices or into cold stream water. And I thought of Robert Traver, pen name of Judge John Voelker, a Michigan Supreme Court justice who probably was doing the same thing at the end of a long day of fishing when he wrote this:
"I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun."
I slept soundly and deeply that night, and in my dreams, the sound of a little waterfall sang soothing sonnets to the sleeper.