DIFFERENT LEVELS OF
FISHING AND …
by Randy Kadish
For the first time in three
years I dialed her number. My mother answered the phone. I tried to
speak, but my words, like a snagged fly, got stuck inside me.
"Hello," my mother repeated.
I freed my words. "It's,
"Randy! It's, it's so good
to -." My mother cried. Her tears swelled my guilt and drowned my
voice. A long silence. My mother asked if I still drove a limousine.
I remembered how she always yearned for me to become a doctor.
Knowing my answer would pain her, I admitted I still drove.
Another silence. I hoped she
asked if I still wrote. She didn't. So I told her I had published
several fishing articles.
"Fishing? I didn't know you
were that into it."
"During the last few years
"I'm glad you found
something you like," she said sincerely, so sincerely I again hoped
that she would make amends, finally.
She didn't. She asked to
meet. I told her I wasn't ready to, but promised to call again.
"I've, I've missed you so," she said. I hung up, wondering if
something was wrong with me because I couldn't forgive her and agree
to meet her. Like an opened dam, my questions let loose a rushing
river of guilt inside me. I reminded myself of her violent rages, of
how she often tried to stop me from playing what I loved, football
and stickball. My guilt ebbed. Again, I tried to understand my
mother’s rage, how she often beat me and my sister and told us we
were no good. For some reason I again tried to understand how young
men, many writers, artists and anglers, rushed off to the
trench-lined, bomb-cratered fields of World War I, and were blown
apart by modern, rapid-fire artillery, all because in 1914 a
chauffeur turned accidentally onto a street harboring an schoolboy
Again I couldn't understand,
and during the cold winter and early spring I still couldn’t.
I packed for my fishing trip
to the Beaverkill. Eleanor, my mother's employee, called. Her words
iced my feelings. I hung up, called the owner of the Roscoe Motel,
apologized and said I had to cancel my reservation. He said he
understood and would refund my deposit.
An hour later, I
trance-walked down a white, hospital hallway. Strangely, the long
hallway reminded me of a stream, but even though they shared a
similar long, narrow shape, the hallway seemed like the opposite of
a stream. It was colorless and lifeless, and made me feel boxed it.
I looked straight ahead. Instead of seeing a beautiful run or long
pool, I saw an open doorway. On the other side, my mother sat on a
bed. She wore a floppy beach hat. I walked into her room. She looked
at me and smiled. "Do you like my hat?" she asked. I told her I did,
then thought of how, even without hair, she was still beautiful. "I
never thought I could get cancer," she said. "Me, a woman who built
up her own business. Are you sure you don't want the business?"
I thought of saying yes and
making her happy, but then thought, It’s taken me so long to get
published. Do I really want to give up writing? I said, "I'm sorry,
but your business is not for me."
The doctor walked in. He was
tall, probably in his late fifties. He wore a dark, pinstripe suit
and looked more like a banker than a doctor. He motioned me to
follow him out of the room. I did. He told me cancer was
unpredictable, but in his opinion, my mother had about three months
Not believing him, I asked,
"How could this be happening?"
"I wish I had an answer.
Your mother is very proud of you. I once wished I the courage to
become a writer."
I thought it was ironic that
my mother was always impressed by doctors, and now, her doctor, was
impressed by writers.
"What do you write about?"
I expected him to laugh. He
"When I was a boy," he said,
"I loved fishing with my father. But when I got older I resented
that fishing seemed more important to him than I did, so I turned my
back on fishing, until he got cancer. We fished together several
times before he died. I'm so grateful we did."
"I wish I could fish with my
mother, but she was never the outdoor type."
"Neither am I, but lately
I've been thinking of getting into fly fishing and spending more
time with myself. Fly fishing looks so beautiful and peaceful."
Suddenly, he looked like a
fly fisher, but then, to me, so did almost everyone. I said, "In the
beginning fly fishing can be very frustrating, like golf."
"I've heard fly fishing is a
"To me, the beauty of fly
fishing is that you can do it at different levels. Some anglers
always try to match the hatch and always changing flies and leaders,
but a few anglers, well they're less scientific. They fish for the
beauty of it all. I remember I once met this old guy on the
Beaverkill who fished only what we call an attractor fly, an Adams.
He said that if he caught a few less fish, what did it matter in the
"What kind of fly fisher are
I thought a moment. "I’m
relatively new to fly fishing, so I'm still not really sure. I
guess, right now, I'm a little of everything."
He smiled. "I like what you
said about fishing on different levels. Sometimes I wish I could be
a doctor on different levels, but if I did, well - you know I just
can't. How much would I have to spend for a good fly rod?"
"The technology has advanced
so much that you can get something good for around three-hundred
dollars, maybe even less."
We shook hands. I walked
back into the room and looked out the window. The setting sun
colored the East River orange and the sky pink. The orange reminded
me of blood, the pink of flesh, and in my mind, the river became a
big vein. I looked downstream, saw a fishing boat and realized that
big, straight rivers could be as beautiful winding, trout streams.
Suddenly, smoke streamed out of the huge chimneys of the Con Edison
plant and dirtied the sky. Still I said, "What a view you have."
"It's not so great," my
Not arguing back, I stared
at the river and wondered if, in the fall, I should buy a saltwater
fly rod and fish the river for stripers. After all, big rivers were
a lot closer in shape and form to trout streams than to hospital
hallways. Are streams, I wondered, estranged children of big rivers?
If so are they also searching for a way of making peace? But with my
mother so sick, this isn't a time to think about fishing or to
reflect on rivers. Am I a bad son after all?
I walked to my mother. For
the first time since I was fourteen, I touched her. She grabbed my
I fought back tears and
said, "I’m so, so sorry for detaching from you. Maybe if I hadn’t
you wouldn’t be here."
"Who know why people get
cancer. I want you to promise me that you won’t blame yourself."
"I wish I could."
"You have to. Besides, being
sick is worth having you in my life again."
I lied and said, "You're
going to be all right."
"We'll see. Your sister
would love to hear from you."
I thought of how my sister
often lied and how my family always rewarded her by giving her more
money – money she spent on drugs. I thought of how my family often
told me how wonderful my sister was, and how I should be a better
brother to her. I said, "I’m just not ready to call her.
"Well maybe soon. In the
meantime, I want to read your articles."
"I don't think you'll like
them. Most are about fly casting. One is about fly fishing the Bronx
and Saw Mill Rivers."
"I still want to see you
what you wrote," she insisted.
The next day I showed her
the articles. She looked at one of the photos. "Is that you?"
"Yes. I'm fishing a pool in
the Saw Mill River."
"What a beautiful picture."
"I used a tripod and took it
"I love your fly fishing
hat. Can you get me one?"
"Sure." I left the hospital,
went to Orvis and bought my mother a hat. When she tried it on I
held up a mirror. She looked at her reflection and smiled.
"I love it," she said. "Too
bad we can't fish together."
"Maybe soon we can."
"I'm a klutz. Besides, don't
wait for me. If the weather's nice take a break from visiting and go
I didn't feel like it, in
spite of her words, but hoping to get my mind off her illness and
the thought that my detachment may have caused it, I rode the train
up to Hawthorne, climbed down a steep bank, and waded into the Saw
Mill River, a stream I once described as having stretches as
beautiful as any Montana stream. But as I fished my streamer
straight downstream, toward the big, fallen tree, I didn't see the
Saw Mill's beauty, didn't see, for example, its high, mosaic-like
roof formed by long branches and sun-brightened leaves. I saw only
my mother laying in a hospital bed. Was it because as an overly
eager writer I had unintentionally exaggerated the stream's beauty?
Or was it because a part of me, a big part, felt I didn't deserve to
see beauty or to feel close to it? Abruptly, I waded out of the
stream, climbed up the steep bank, nearly fell, and walked to the
A week or so later, I
accidentally saw a medical ad for a new cancer treatment. And so
soon afterwards, my mother underwent radiosurgery. Her tumors
shrunk. My lies about her getting better became the truth. Grateful,
I often visited my mother – my way of making amends - and became
what she always wanted: a loving son, but still I couldn’t bring
myself to call my sister, after I ran into her and the hospital and
assumed she was stoned again.
My mother's tumors erupted,
and day after day I held her hand and told her a new truth, "I love
you, and I'm grateful for all the good things you tried to do for
me, grateful you're my mother." She squeezed my hand. I squeezed
My mother grew thinner and
soon turned into a flesh-covered skeleton. But she never blamed me
for her cancer. One day she said, "You should write a book."
"I’ve already tried, many
times but no one wanted them."
"You can’t let the past
write the future."
Surprised at my mother’s
insightful comment, I said, "Well for now I’m happy enough writing
fishing articles and getting published."
"I want you to be happy. Can
I ask you something?"
"After I’m gone can you
promise me you’ll call your sister once a week?"
"You’re not dying."
"We all are. Will you
"Yes, I promise."
My mother smiled and
squeezed my hand.
A week later she died. I
expected to fall into a quicksand of grief, but the strange thing
was I didn’t, so I told myself that maybe it was because I had had a
lot of time to come to terms with my mother’s passing, then I
wondered if I was just too terrified to face the horrible truth: my
detachment was the cause of my mother’s death.
So I guess I was looking for
an escape. I found it by writing a story about an innocent angler
who grows up fly fishing and cherishing the beauty of the Beaverkill
River. World War Two erupts like a cancer, and the angler feels he
wants to fight evil, so he enlists. After the war he returns a
I put the story away, but
during the next few months the story grew in my mind and turned into
an historical, fly-fishing novel about the angler's father, a man
who can't make peace with the world, and who retreats into fishing
and into teaching literature. Afraid of conflict, he wonders if he's
a coward. And so does his son. To prove he’s not a coward, the son
enlists. The father blames himself and a war-filled world he can’t
understand. Years later the father learns to accept a world he can’t
understand, and to see to see beauty in nature and in man's
discoveries, often by accident, of life-improving technologies, like
I finished a first draft of
the book. Proud, feeling like I was doing what my mother wanted, I
decided to reward myself and take a short trip to the Beaverkill.
The next day I drove to my
favorite pool: Barnhart's. I looked upstream at the fast, riffled
mouth, then downstream at the slow, smooth tail. In the pool I saw a
reflection of my mother, of how, she once raged, of how, because of
the cancer, she calmed. Suddenly I was grateful that rivers couldn't
get tumors and wither and die, grateful that, thanks to nature's
way, rivers were stronger than men and women.
I wondered, is it the
strength, the eternity of this river now bringing me back to
fishing? Am I hoping to, in some way, borrow traits from the river?
I walked along the bank to
the tail, thinking how the pool played a small, but important part,
in my book, then I wondered if rivers, like people, could really
play parts other than the ones nature assigned them. Wading into the
river, I thought of how beautiful Barnhart's looked, in spite of the
highway on the top of its high bank, and of how the river’s other
pools, Ferdon's, Covered Bridge, Junction, were probably equally
beautiful. I thought of how the Westchester streams I fished were,
in their way, as beautiful as the Beaverkill.
Yes, it doesn't seem as if
rivers can be beautiful on very different levels, but if they can,
does it mean those on the lower levels don't have any beauty and a
reason to be?
No, I answered.
I didn't see a hatch. I
opened one of my fly boxes and stared about thirty different nymphs.
Suddenly I remembered what I had told the doctor about how fishing
can be done on different levels. I opened another fly box, picked
out an Adams and tied it on. I pulled line off my reel and cast to
the far bank. My line and fly splashed on the water, simultaneously.
I had forgotten to aim my cast slightly downward. Though my cast was
less than perfect, I thought I could still get a good drift. I
mended, watched my Adams float downstream and wondered if boys and
men could be sons and brothers on different levels and, no matter
what level they chose, be equally okay. Something, maybe my mother's
recent passing, told me no.
My line bowed downstream. It
was too late to mend. I retrieved line and again cast.
My Adams turned over. My
line landed on the water, then my fly, gently. George M. L. La
Branche, a real character with a part in my book, would have been
Again I watched my Adams.
Yes, I have made mistakes I wish I could erase or fix like a bad
cast, but at least I was with my mother all through her long
illness. At least, I have come to see that she, like the protagonist
in my novel, did the best she could, and so did I. And thankfully, I
have also come to see that making amends is like fishing. We can
choose, unlike rivers, to do it on different levels.
Text and photos by Randy Kadish 2008 ©
Randy's historical novel,
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make
Peace With The World, is available on