By Randy Kadish
My computer screen
went black. Not expected. The end result: I shelled out a thousand
bucks for a new laptop, then spent endless hours talking on the phone
with tech support.
My dentist told me I
need oral surgery. Not expected. The end result: I shelled out another
thousand dollars, then woke the next morning up with a jaw so swollen
it looked like I ran into a Lennox Lewis right.
Why me? Didn't I
always say please and thank you? Was I falling into a black hole
unexpected disasters? Would I come out of it? Where? When?
The opening day of
trout season? Thank God, or at least my lucky stars, not all things
are unexpected. So what if my favorite river, the beautiful Croton, is
a hike from the train station. So what if the river will be high and
fast from all the recent rain. In the scope of things, what right did
I have to complain after the unexpected outbreak of World War I or the
attacks on 9/11?
None. And so on the
eve of opening day, I went through the ritual of piling all my
fly-fishing gear on the floor. The next morning I put on my heaviest
long johns, wool pants, and fleece jacket, and headed to Grand Central
Station where I performed another part of my fly-fishing ritual:
buying a slice of Junior's cheesecake.
On the train, I ate
my cake and wondered if I would see Hal, Gil and Pat this season, and
if they read and liked my memoir about them and the Croton.
Over an hour later I
got off the train and was slapped by wind. Would the wind turn out to
be another unexpected disaster? Hoping it wouldn't, I walked through
the long parking lot, and heard the gurgling of the lower East Branch.
Because the East Branch was close to the train station, I wondered why
I had never climbed down the hill and checked it out. Was it because
few anglers fished it? Was I still afraid of being alone?
I walked about a
quarter mile to Butlerville Road. Only one car was parked near the
small, white bridge. Surprised, I walked a hundred more yards, then
into the deserted clearing on the bank of Garcia Pool, the so called
Where were its
members? Discouraged by the cold? The high water? Why hadn't they
discouraged me? Was something wrong with me? After all, I wasn't the
only person who lived in a world where computers break, gums recede
and other bad things happen.
The sky-high, bare
trees on both sides of the bank clashed with the autumn vision I had
saved in the internal drive of my mind: Trees decorated with beautiful
gold, red and orange leaves. The bare trees, on the other hand, looked
like something out of a photograph I had put away. I told myself not
to worry if the river in the photograph wore winter's mask. Soon the
trees will bloom; and the river, like an actor, will change parts and
wear spring's mask.
Is that, I wondered,
what Nietzsche means by the circular, Eternal Recurrence? Is opening
day also a part of his theory?
Not sure, I performed
the part of my fly-fishing ritual I didn't like: putting on my waders
and boots, setting up my fly rod. Suddenly the sun came out. Was the
world of the Croton telling me I deserved to be rewarded for showing
Dividing Garcia Pool
was a dense band of shimmering stars. Though the stars were a
reflection of our sun, in my mind I saw a thousand tiny suns, a
thousand faraway stars shining on a river of dark sky. Wanting to save
the image, I took out my small pad and wrote it down; but then I
wondered if I was reaching to find beauty in a world full of
I didn't see a hatch.
What fly will work today? A brown Woolly bugger? If only catching fish
was predictable? But if it was, what challenge would beckon me back?
I walked upstream,
along the path on the bank, waded into a shallow run, and was reminded
how rocky the Croton was. I heard something on the bank. Walking on
the path was an old guy wearing a floppy hat and carrying a cane rod.
I said, "I
remember you. Last year you were sitting on that fallen tree and
trying to hide that I'm a little lazy. You're the writer."
"Except when it
comes to rummy."
"I read your
memoir. We talked about it at the winter meeting. Some guys said the
last thing we need up here are more anglers."
"I loved your
piece, even though you left me out, but I'm not surprised. I never win
"Maybe I'll get
you in the next one, if there is a next one."
"I never know
when or if new ideas will come."
"I once wanted
to be a photographer. They too try to see the world differently, but I
guess I couldn't, so instead I became an interpreter--of the law. I'm
you become a writer?"
"By accident. I
didn't like the way I was casting a spinning rod, so I began
experimenting with different techniques, then I started taking notes
so I wouldn't forget what I had learned. And then I got the idea to
turn my notes into an article. When I published it, I never, ever
thought it would lead to anything. Where is everyone, or at least the
"It's still too
cold. In my case, how many opening days do I have left?"
And how many do I
have? I wondered. Twenty? Thirty? How many opening days do men and
women have? Thousands? Did the ancient Greeks have one? Did Jesus'
disciples? After all, they were fisherman. If there was an opening
day, I'm sure they observed it, the way they observed the Sabbath.
I said, "You
weren't fishing with a cane rod last year."
"Why wait to buy
myself a gift? It's a shame, though, I have no one to leave it to.
None of my kids fish. They'll probably put my rods and reels on
So they weren't part
of the Eternal Recurrence. I asked, "How do you like cane?"
"I'll tell you
after I land a fish. Some anglers say a good cane rod is better than a
graphite one. With all the latest technology, does that make any
"I never fished
cane, so I don't know. Where are you heading, below the bridge?"
"Home. The cold
got to me. I'll see you again, I'm sure."
Can he be? I thought.
Wasn't I once sure I had more time with my parents? With old friends?
So how can I be sure Sarah's cancer stays in remission? Didn't doctors
once tell me the only thing predictable about cancer is its
unpredictabilty? Perhaps if cancer had an opening day. Is life like
cancer? Did I ever think I'd be where I am in the river of life: a
childless, journeyman writer?
I watched Mel walk
down the bank, and thought of how something I couldn't see or touch
connected anglers like gravity, and helped me feel less alone.
I roll cast across
stream, mended and retrieved my fly, then again. No take. Time for
streamer technique number two: I roll cast, then, using the jerk-strip
retrieve I had learned in Kelly Gallop's and Bob Linesman's book, I
worked my fly downstream and back to me.
Don't rush, I
reminded myself. Stay in the moment. Cover as much water as possible,
and sooner or later the takes will come. Great streamer fishermen
don't use one technique. They use several, one right after another.
Was the repetition of streamer fishing, therefore, a reflection of
seconds? Of time itself?
Again I cast and
jerk-strip retrieved. No take. Time for technique number three: I back
cast--right into a branch. I forgot to look behind. A spring-training
error. I pulled my fly free, luckily, cast three-quarters downstream,
and let the river do much of the work. Dead-drifting, my streamer
swung slowly below me. Moving my fly rod side to side, I fed line
through the guides, then pointed my rod tip up and waited. No take. I
retrieved, then cast my fly closer to the bank. I listened to the
gurgling river and to the chirping birds.
Were rivers the music
halls of the universe? Or was the Croton playing only for me, again
rewarding me for traveling two hours to experience its beauty? Maybe
even rivers didn't want to be alone. But could the universe or rivers
have feelings and then transform them into passionate music?
I waded downstream
and jump-started my fishing cycle.
Close to the bank the
water was foamy. Some of the foam was illuminated by sunlight and
looked like floating flower petals or silver dollars. Racing past them
were eddies. Some eddies were so small and fast they looked like
spinning tops, or miniature black holes. If they were black holes,
would they suck up the rest of the water? Would they, like black holes
in the universe, stop time, at least on the Croton? After all, hadn't
I lost track of time? Of the wide world? Of myself? Was that why I
suddenly didn't need to sell my book or to be in love to be happy?
If only a river could
flow in my apartment and insulate me from the seesaw of life. Were
rivers--their sounds, their images, their beauty--reflections of
earthly harmony or of some sort of divine, constant plan that
scientists like Kepler, Newton and Einstein spent their lives trying
to uncover? Where any of those men fly fisherman?
I waded downstream,
close to the pool's mouth. The water was higher and faster; and for a
second I felt I was back playing high school football and a blocker
was trying to take out my legs.
Planting my wading
stick behind me, I turned and, one careful step at a time, waded to
the bank. I walked downstream and climbed down into Garcia Pool. I
waded six steps and the water was already above my waist.
The river, I noticed,
had whittled away more of the bank since last season, leaving more
naked roots, and more trees closer to their inevitable fall.
someone yelled. Standing on the bank was a stocky, middle-aged man I
had never seen before.
"It's still too
early. What you got on?" His voice was a loud as a horn, and as
smooth as thorns.
I told him.
"I didn't see
another car. How'd you get here?"
"You came from Manhattan?" he accused.
"Are you holding
it against me?"
mean--guys from all over fish here." He sat on the big, fallen
tree and sucked on a cigarette.
I asked, "Has
there been any more talk of renaming Garcia Pool?"
stupid writer published a story about the Croton, why the hell would
I was glad. Maybe
fishing pools, like planets, should keep their names. I thought of
asking the man on the bank if he knew Gil, Hal and Pat. Bad idea, I
quickly decided. Listening to the river was a lot better than
listening to him. I roll cast and tried to pretend he wasn't there,
but every time I glanced up I faced reality: him sitting there.
Was he waiting for me
to do the hard work? If I got a take, would he go back to his car and
put on his waders? Haven't I seen anglers play that game before?
Haven't I always resented it?
The band of
shimmering stars, I noticed, was thinner and weaker. The sun was
sliding behind the high, steep bank. I zippered up my fleece jacket.
"Hey! I had a
feelin' I'd see you guys here!"
Two guys I didn't
know walked into the clubhouse.
"What are you
takin' the day off?" one asked.
"No. I finished
And so sprang a long,
loud conversation, mostly about fishing, but littered with expletives
that should have been deleted. Unlike most fly fishers, these still
had one foot in the gutter. For the first time in my life I felt I was
fly fishing in a three-dollar-a-shot bar. I couldn't hear the river,
or even the thoughts in my head.
Again and again, I
glared at them, but my eyes didn't complete the connection. My message
telling them to shut up bounced back to me.
Wade out of the
river, I told myself. Fish way upstream.
I turned and stepped
behind me. A hole! Falling, I desperately clutched my wading stick and
tried to balance myself. The water felt like ice. My jacket and shirt
were soaked. I jumped up. My expletive wasn't deleted.
"You gotta be
careful!" one of the guys on the bank yelled.
"Thanks for the
advice!" I waded out of the river, thinking of how I had never
taken a spill before. I reminded myself of the danger of being wet and
cold. I had to head to the train station.
long-awaited opening day was cut short, I ringed water out of my
jacket. Again I glared at loudmouths. This message they received. They
looked away from me, and lowered their voices. I marched past them,
then down Butlerville Road.
When I reached the
parking lot I felt warmer. The sun wasn't blocked by a high bank. I
looked at my watch. The next train was a half hour away. Why not climb
down the hill and finally check out the lower East Branch?
I saw what looked
like a path. I followed it. It ran diagonally to the river, and
brought me to the mouth of a long, slow pool. On top of the river was
another path: one marked by shimmering stars. Did the stars, like me,
leave the West Branch and found a more welcoming hangout? The river
bottom, I saw, was gravel and easy to wade. I looked at the sun.
Spewing rays like a geyser, it would keep me warm for another few
hours. My opening day wasn't over, maybe.
I waded into the
middle of the river, and started another fishing cycle. Soon I again
lost track of time and of myself.
My line slid to the
side. Fish on! I swung my rod tip up. The trout bolted downstream. I
let him run. He slowed, finally. Wading after him, I reeled in line.
Thanks to the slow water, the trout couldn't mount much of a fight. A
few minutes later I landed a twelve-inch rainbow.
Now I was ready to
A half hour later, as
I rode on the train, I thought of how strange it was that two
unexpected but connected events--the anglers yelling and cursing, my
taking a spill--led to my discovering a small-scale fishing paradise.
I looked through the window, and saw my reflection.
Yes, I told myself.
Even though I'm lucky to have all my hair, I'm not the same person I
was years ago. Accidentally, unexpectedly I discovered a better way--a
permanent form, perhaps--to throw a baseball. Then I looked for better
ways to write, to fish, to forgive. Unlike a planet, I'm not moving in
a endless circle, in an eternal recurrence. Unlike time, I'm not
moving in a straight, unchanging line. And unlike a river, I'm not
rising and falling because of rain. But if it wasn't for unexpected
events, would I have changed?
Probably not. Can
unpredictability, therefore, be part of harmony, part of a great
working order of things?
I wasn't sure, but a
few hours later I walked into my apartment, sat down at my desk, and
felt grateful for my fast computer that burned CDs, and for the
advanced oral surgery that saved my teeth.
By Randy Kadish ©
"The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World"
is available at www.keokeebooks.com