Ode to Small Places
By Reid Bryant
First published Anglers Journal, Spring 2017
In a halo of light and broken shadow lives a piece of falling water. Years ago, brazen and young, we laid our clothes on a log and swam there naked. Flights of modesty compelled us through the shallows, and together we dunked in the chest-deep water below the plunge. The cold caught our breathing and dimpled our skin. We popped up, threw our heads back, and found our footing, and our arms just touched as we stood there in the mist of the pool. We were too numb to feel anything other than a remote presence, but the intimacy of it sparkled nonetheless. She covered her breasts with crossed arms and shivered, and shy-smiled. Not wanting to embarrass her, I dove again, and held my breath. I pulled myself down on the ledge and held myself where the water churned white, tumbling over my back. I opened my eyes. In the seams of quieter water beneath the bubbles, I saw trout. They hung there like me, hard-pressed but unafraid, the push-pull of the moment they inhabited seemingly begging their full attention. I could not see them well. Her bare feet were obscurely white and half-sunk in the gravel. The trout heaved and flitted all around them. I reached out, and touched her ankle, and held on tight for a moment.
In the years before, I’d fished that pool, walking up from the Creek Road on the trail beneath the cedars. It was true that there was good water below, in the logjam bends and pockets, and in the deeper bridge pool, but I left those places alone. July beneath the cedars was cool and still, despite the falling water and the ‘thwunk’ of Calderwood’s baler in the neighboring field. There would be, in the weeks to come, chanterelle mushrooms in the bankside soil, partridge thundering from the cedar-tops, whitetail bucks heading ridge-ward to rub the deep-woods saplings white and oozing. But then, being young, I did not think too hard about the seasons that would follow, and instead walked on past what was and would be, and came to that piece of falling water, that churning pool rimmed in slate. It was no bigger than a victory garden, and no less bountiful. I stood in the gravel of the tail-out, and flicked a dry fly up into the turmoil. And oh, how the trout attacked it, engulfing a fly as outsized for their tiny mouths as their home was outsized by its beauty. They were singular and perfect, and economies of scale offered up the odd trophy 9-incher, a hook-jawed leviathan painted bright as a carousel pony. A squiggle of mossy greens and browns gave way to gold and ruby bellies, and a splattering of blood-red spots rimmed blue. They were as perfect and precise in miniature as the bankside forget-me-nots, and I both appreciated and shared their conviction: despite my youth, I knew that nothing would again be quite so lovely.
Only later, in the first blush of my middle age, did I begin to see that place as something equally fleeting and eternal, a space to which I could return, to throw a bit of feather and fluff upon water that had already gone. I now return to see a piece of falling water, which tumbles over memories and trout which, like those first brushes of bare skin, linger on in sparkling clarity, despite their age. What I see now, in a halo of light and broken shadows, is a continuum, time and space both moving and immovable, a confluence of summer and river-song and square hay on Calderwood’s meadow. That confluence etches an ever-deepening groove into a Vermont hillside, into landscape which is mine, if only for a lifetime. Days and seasons and winter’s teeth try to crunch the bone of its passage, spring rains and age try to wash it clear away, but somehow it persists. What I know now is that a little piece of falling water will outlast me, and the trout will return, and I hope young lovers will too.
A halo of light beneath the cedars, punctuated by tiny trout and memories almost as magnificent: oh, what better endorsement for the smallest places, where we fish, and fill our hearts to bursting.