I go east to fish the home river with my father. The Contoocook, called so since the time of the Abenaki, winds its way through small New Hampshire towns whose names were imported from England. It is not a wilderness, but wildness still flits and flashes. When I was younger, I tried to take in all of the vast flow. I waded with ambition, often a step too far, often to find myself riding the current. These days, I want to be like Thoreau’s fisherman, who practices his art as a kind of sacrament. With each visit to my childhood home in rural New Hampshire, encounters with the wild are folded into a life of memories and losses, of the land, and of my youth, and of a growing awareness of my own mortality within a world that exceeds my anxieties and hopes.
I cast a few feet upriver from the last rise. The dry fly lands gently, catches the small riffle off to the side of a boulder, and picks up speed on the edges of the hole I have been watching for the last twenty minutes. A flash up to the surface! I raise the rod tip and immediately feel the primal force of the brown trout on the other end, as it dives down to the safety of rocks and logs on the river bottom. Reeling in the slack, I keep the rod high and play him into more quiet water. Then, as I reach to take hold the tired fish, a vision of my ten month old suddenly flashes to my mind, snapping the moment as quickly and reflexively as the trout had taken the fly. It is a scene where he is upset, fragile but flailing, unknowing and terrified. I am momentarily blinded by a kind of panic. Downriver, my father beams and gives a celebratory wave.
I slip the hook from the fish’s mouth and place the creature back into the cold, clear, constancy of the Contoocook running downhill.