Swedish version


An Angler Of The Triangle Fire
by Randy Kadish

My mother taught me to love music and literature and to always stand on the side of hardworking garment workers.
Then in 1910 she died.

Three months later my father looked at my grades and yelled that I spent too much time fly casting and not enough time studying. Later, he sneaked into my room and snapped my fly rod. So for the next year I was furious at him and rarely looked into his eyes. Still, I studied hard, earned very good grades, and let my father believe that, down the road, I would enroll in Columbia Law School and follow his way and become a great lawyer and not a great writer. I hated living a lie, but still I lived it.

Then one night, I walked into my room. On my bed was a round, silver, metal case. I didn't have to open it to know what was inside: a fly rod. It was a three piece rod, with an extra tip. The rod was glass-smooth and orange-tinted. The varnish didn't hide the thin, long, grain lines. Dividing the lines into inches were dark-purple thread wraps. The decorating wraps were thin, but the guide wraps were about a quarter-of-an-inch wide. The guides, the joints and the short, butt cap were polished silver. Carved on the cap were fancy, script letters that read: H. L. Leonard Rod Maker. I put the rod together, and wrapped my fingers around the cigar-shaped, cork handle. The rod was much lighter than my old one. Though I knew little about fishing rods, something told me
what I held was very special.

  "I have something else for you," my father said.

He stood in the doorway, holding a silver fly reel, a pair of rubber hip boots, and a straw creel. He smiled. His smile fell, suddenly. His eyes turned red, as if he was about to cry.

  "Ian, I'm, I'm so sorry for what I did," he said. "Losing your mother, well I guess turned me into a, a monster. Please understand."

I wondered, should I run to him, and hug him and say I understand? I didn't. And so I wondered, am I really a bad son? I muttered,


  "Ian, there's still light out. Let's go to the park so you can show me how well you cast."

  "I haven't practiced for so long. Maybe we'll go in a week or two."

  "Whenever you're ready. By the way, the man in the store told me you can take the railroad up to Hawthorne and fish the Saw Mill River."

  "I don't know anything about fly fishing."

  "Well that's why there are books."

The next day I went to the big library on Fifth Avenue and took out two fly-fishing books. That night, as soon as I finished my homework, I eagerly opened one of the books and read about different kinds of flies - wets, nymphs, dries, caddises, emergers - and about how each kind was fished differently.

Fly fishing seemed terribly complicated. I closed the book and wondered if I really wanted to become an angler, especially since, even if I caught a trout, a crowd wouldn't see and cheer. Then I remembered how my mother had wanted to fly fish. I opened the book and took notes. Three hours later, long after my bedtime, I finally put the book down. The next night I again opened the book. This time I read and took notes about the different parts of rivers and streams - lips, tongues, mouths, tails, runs, pools, banks, riffles - and about how to read them. Rivers and streams, I learned, hid trout almost the same way good poems hid meaning. The job of the angler, therefore, was to read and interpret the water and to unmask it.

So as winter stepped toward spring, I stepped toward becoming an angler, but then I wondered: Can real anglers be born from books, or from only streams and rivers? If only from streams and rivers, will the real anglers on the Saw Mill River laugh at me? I told myself, no. I won't let them. Night after night, I studied my notes, and counted the days to April 1st.

Six more days to go. It was a beautiful spring Saturday. Someone working for the Triangle Waist Company tossed a cigarette into a bundle of cotton, and a spark turned into a flame, and a flame turned into a fire, and a fire turned into an inferno; and for some workers there was only one choice: to burn to death or to jump. Many chose to jump. From the ninth floor bodies fell like rain, crashed on the sidewalks, and lay like broken, twisted dolls.

Eighteen minutes after is was started, the fire and a hundred-and-forty-six young lives were put out. And so would have another hundred or so lives if the elevator operator, Joseph Zito, had not risked his life and acted so heroically.

The next day my father walked into the office of the Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and offered to file legal motions for free. I was proud of him, and knew my mother, a garment-worker sympathizer, would be too. And I wanted her to be proud of me too; so when April 1st finally arrived, I showed respect for the garment workers who had died, and left my fly-fishing equipment in my room, and waited, day after day after day.

The leaves and flowers bloomed; and I knew it was time to continue on and to find the courage to become an angler. Luckily I wouldn't need a lot. I was on Easter recess, and knew that, on a weekday, few anglers would fish the Saw Mill River.

I went to a fly shop and asked the clerk to pick out some flies for me.

  "In America most everyone fishes wets," he said.


A few days later I rode the railroad up to Hawthorne. Nervous, I walked to the stream. I didn't see another angler. I was thankful.

The Saw Mill River was straight and about twenty-feet wide. It slowly flowed and softly gurgled, as if it whispered words I couldn't understand, like the foreign words of immigrants. The stream's banks were about as tall as I. They were lined with short bushes and tall trees. The bushes seemed to grow out of the water. The trees seemed to form a dense, leafy roof and to shape the stream into a long, green tunnel, especially because the trees closest to the high banks tilted forward.

The flowing water, I realized, was whittling away the banks like a knife. The leaves on the top of the trees shined like the pieces of stained glass in my father's church. But unlike the glass, the leaves caught most of the light, so lower down the trees, close to the stream, the leaves looked like small, hanging shadows. Yet enough light filtered through the leaves and reached the stream to turn the riffling water into a shattered mirror. The mirror distorted and twisted, but didn't completely break the images of the trees and the bushes.

I put on my hip boots, set up my rod, and tied on a Hare's Ear wet fly. Again I asked myself if I really wanted to become an angler. Yes, I answered. Read the water, I told myself.

Since it's shallow and slow moving I should look for a downstream target, the way the books say. Parallel to the bank, slow and fast moving water met and formed a long seam. I decided to fish the seam.

Stepping sideways, grabbing branches, I climbed down the steep bank, and stepped into the water. I looked straight down. Almost as if by magic, the reflected images disappeared. The shattered mirror had seemed to turn into a glass cabinet top. At the bottom of the cabinet, instead of valuable jewelry or trinkets, there were worthless gravel and rocks.

The water was almost up to my knees. I waded toward the middle of the stream. The water pushed hard against my legs, as if it tried to knock me over. I didn't let it. Looking down, making sure I had good footing, I slowly waded on. Suddenly, my foot seemed to go through the stream's bottom. I was falling. My arm crashed into the water. The water was cold. It stung. My foot landed, finally.

I didn't fall. Thankful, I stood up straight. The water was almost up to my waist. I looked down. The water didn't look deep, but its depth, I realized, was hidden by water that acted like a big magnifying glass. I wondered, why hadn't the fly-fishing books warned me about deep holes hiding in streams like trout? What if I fall and break my ankle and won't be able to make it out of the stream? Will I have to sleep on the banks until someone finds me? Won't that be a lot scarier than sleeping in Central Park? And what if no one finds me? Will I die here and never see my father and sister again? Or am I again acting like a coward - the way I acted when I didn't stand up to Brett?

Haven't I just learned a valuable lesson in wading? So what's there to be scared of? Nothing. Downstream, a big, fat tree lay across the stream. The tree still had leaves, so I knew it had just fallen. I noticed parts of dead trees littered the banks. Suddenly the stream looked spooky, like a haunted house where, instead of ghosts, the Saw Mill River chopped down and killed big trees. I wondered, is shapeless water more powerful than solid wood? It didn't seem possible, and yet my eyes told me it was. I waded to the middle of the stream.

I stood on gravel and felt safe. I pulled off about forty feet of silk line from my silver, Meek reel. The water grabbed the line and snaked it downstream. Suddenly the long tunnel brightened. Slanted columns of sunlight, looking like hanging sheets of fog or smoke, poured through the trees, crashed onto the water and broke into clumps of small, bobbing flames. But unlike the flames of the Triangle Fire, these flames, I knew, were frozen in size and wouldn't turn the Saw Mill into a long, horrible inferno. I remembered my mother telling me nature, not Rembrandt or Michaelangelo, was the world's greatest painter. I wondered if my mother's spirit, along with the sunlight, also poured through the trees.

The gurgling water suddenly sounded like a gentle piano melody. Was my mother somehow playing the melody? I closed my eyes and listened. For some reason I saw the image of broken, garment-worker bodies strewn on the sidewalk like dead, Civil War soldiers strewn on a battlefield. I tried to fit the image of the beautiful stream with the image of the bodies.

But unlike pieces of a puzzle, the images didn't fit. I wondered, is it because streams are made by nature while sweat shops are made by man? But isn't man part of nature? I didn't have an answer. Again I closed my eyes and listened to the gurgling water, and heard the same notes over and over. No. My mother wasn't playing them. I was alone. I cried, but only for a few seconds. I retrieved about six inches of my line and paused. My line straightened and pulled against the rod tip. I cast the rod back. But the water, unlike a lawn, didn't want to let go of the line. Feeling I was in a tug of war, I pulled the rod back harder, and harder. The rod bent into a half circle. Suddenly the water let go. The line and the fly flew off the water and streaked passed me. The line unrolled quickly. Off guard, I wasn't ready to cast. The line landed behind me.

I had too much line out, I realized. So as the current swept the line downstream, I reeled in about five feet and again cast. This time the water didn't pull back so hard. The line unrolled behind me. I cast the rod forward, then abruptly stopped it and let the line slide through my thumb and finger. The Hare's Ear turned over and floated down like a falling leaf. The fly landed just outside the seam.

All my fly-casting practice had paid off. Proud, I watched the fly drift down the slower current. The faster water pulled the line, looped it downstream, then pulled the fly. Trout, the books said, won't take a fly drifting faster than the current. Therefore, I had to mend the line. Scared I wouldn't do it right, I pointed the rod up, as if flipping a pancake, I threw the line upstream. The fly drifted downstream at the same speed as the slower water. I didn't get a take. When the fly was directly below me, I lifted the rod tip and waited, like the books said I should. Still no take.

Three more times I cast to the front of the seam. Three more times still no take. I remembered the books said an angler fishing a small stream should cast to different targets.

Slowly I waded downstream, looking for a new target. I found one: the mouth of a long, smooth pool. The mouth caught the water like a funnel, then spit it out faster and foamier. The pool caught the water and slowed and smoothed it. I cast straight downstream. The fly and the line moved at the same speed. I didn't have to mend. I shook the rod back and forth, pulling line off my reel and feeding the line to the hungry current. The fly drifted over the mouth of the pool, then into the tongue. I stopped pulling off line and raised my rod. Again no take. Disappointed, I lowered my rod, retrieved about ten feet line, and again cast to the mouth. As I watched the fly drift downstream, I wondered, if I don't catch a fish today will it mean that I'm still not a real angler? I wasn't sure of the answer.

I waded close to the mouth, and decided to try to cast the fly near the bank, just below an overhanging branch. I cast the line back. It pulled against the rod tip, but then stopped suddenly. I looked behind me. A branch caught the fly. I tried to pull the fly free, but broke if off. I cursed, then tied on another Hare's Ear. To give myself more casting room, I waded into the pool, making small waves. The water was up to my waist. I waited for the waves to weaken and to merge into the smooth surface.

The reflections of trees and bushes were put back together. For some reason I thought of Humpty Dumpty and wished a stream could've put him back together again. Then I realized characters in fairy tales existed only in imaginations and, therefore, couldn't be fixed by real streams.

I cast to the middle of the pool and retrieved line, six inches at a time. The leaves at the top of the trees, I noticed, now also looked like hanging shadows. Nature's long painting had turned darker, gloomier and didn't look so beautiful. Feeling lonely, I waded downstream and cast to the tail of the pool. The line straightened and slid towards the bank. I thought, that's strange - fish on! Set the hook! I lifted the rod. It seemed to have a pulse, then felt real heavy. It throbbed. The throbs surged down the rod and jolted my arm. I almost dropped the rod. I squeezed the handle. The rainbow jumped out of the water, shook its head and followed the shape of a looping fly line, and dived into the water. The rod went dead. The line hung limply. The fish was off. I yelled, "Damn!" I felt as if I struck out with the bases loaded. I wondered what I had done wrong, then realized I should've followed the books and lowered the rod and not give the jumping trout slack line.

Though my rod no longer throbbed, something inside me did: a shapeless feeling I didn't quite recognize. I wondered, what is it, a primitive, predatory, obsession to erase my failure and to catch a fish? Am I nothing more than an animal right now? Then let me go with it! Quickly, I pulled slack out of the line and again cast to the pool's tail. I retrieved the line, faster and faster. No take. I told myself to slow down. Again and again I cast and retrieved. Still no takes. I cursed the stream for hiding the trout.

Angry, I stopped fishing and deeply breathed. The tunnel, I noticed, was a darker green. The sun was sinking and leaving me in what would soon become a pitch-black tunnel. The realization scared the daylights, and perhaps my obsession, out of me. The throbbing inside me weakened. I caught my breath, looked downstream and wondered what the Saw Mill looked like past the fallen tree. I reeled in all the line, then waded downstream and ducked under the tree.

The stream curved sharply to the right. I couldn't see beyond the bend. I wondered, should I wade farther? But supposing I can't find a way out of the stream? And supposing it gets too dark for me to wade back?

A sharp, breeze chilled me. I wondered, is the breeze the river's way of telling me it's time to go? I turned and waded upstream, against the pushing current. I reached the opening where I had entered the stream. I climbed up the steep bank, knowing, feeling I had changed in some way, though I wasn't quite sure how.

Was it by becoming a predator? Was it by becoming close to nature? I walked to the train station and waited. The sun still didn't set; so as I rode home on the train I became angry at myself for not wading around the bend and into the unknown. I wondered, did I again act like a coward? What would have happened if I had been the elevator operator at the Triangle Fire? Would more girls have died? Maybe. So I swear I'll go back to the Saw Mill and wade around the bend, the way a real predator would. But are cowards and predators parts of different puzzles? Or are they really parts of the same puzzle, and do they therefore, mysteriously fit? If so, am I going to become like the bosses who locked the doors of the Triangle Waist Company?

The train pulled into Grand Central Station. I stood up, grabbed my rod and my waders. Then I reached for my creel. I pulled my hand back, stood still and thought, I'd rather be a coward than a predator. Abruptly, I turned and walked off the train.

By Randy Kadish, USA, © 2004

Randy’s historical novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World, is available on Amazon.




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