The Fishing Line: Reflections on a Montana Summer Creek

kathleen-millertnaMy financial portfolio vanished last year, the entire country is bickering with the president over the future of health care—if there is one, and everywhere I turn there seems to be more bad news. My oldest daughter is up for her first job review—the panicky preparation phone calls interrupt. My youngest has just ushered in her first classroom of first-graders; it’s not the children who are driving her mad—it’s the parents. The country climate is one of fear and that has trickled down so that I, too, feel anxious. I don’t want to travel, pay for gasoline, or spend a penny.

During the first drift boat excursion without a guide and on our own, peril is the only word I can use to describe what we encountered. Two weeks before, Stacy Jennings, our award-winning guide, had brilliantly boated us down the Blackfoot through the most stunning scenery imaginable. Fish were jumping, the sun warmed, the day something right out of the last best kept Montana secret log I’m thinking I should write. But then everyone would know and the very best part was that we saw no one on the river, not even while shamefully lingering in the sun to partake of the poached salmon and pasta salad picnic she’d provided. This was the life, all right, even if it might have been the very last best thing we could ever afford.

Undertaking the float ourselves with our visiting son from Texas went haywire since we forgot to check the water level and mysteriously, the same stretch of river had completely altered from Stacy’s surefire guidelines. Unfamiliar and unfriendly rapids tossed us about like a bobbing buoy, not to mention we became stranded twice—beached on rocks so that the only escape was for one or two of us to abandon ship and wade through rough current to shore, then walk downriver to reunite with whomever had done the honor on the oars. We noted well that our experience with Stacy had been a better way to go as we flew past all the best fishing holes, absolutely unable to row back to them like she had. When we want to hook, it’s Stacy we’ll book!

The news reports that the infamous wolf is once again threatened. If hunting is not permitted, my favorite predator will destroy everything ranchers work for. If it is, the packs will be murdered by the numbers. There is prediction of future wildfires running rampant across the West due to global warming. I helped judge the film festival CINE (Culture and Issues in Nature and the Environment) and the worthy film makers addressed such pressing issues in our world that I went home depressed, determined never to unnecessarily flip a light switch lest I contribute to mountain-top coal mining destruction in West Virginia.

In the midst of such seemingly hopeless havoc, I found myself stranded on a Fish Creek beach, since—the straw that broke the camel’s back—my fly-fishing vest with all its accoutrements and license had gone missing. To add insult to injury, mine was the only operable fishing rod at the Miller household; all three of Brad’s 5-weight rods had snapped within three days’ time, so I told him to take mine, go with our son, and I would just observe their success and enjoy the day.

It took me an hour to stop fretting about this problem or that—global or personal. Then, at last, the Indian Summer sun eased my joints, I slid down and rested my head against the back of the beach chair, and drank it all in like someone crossing the desert. What summer leaves lingering and lends to autumn for a few precious days is, in my view, the best combination Mother Nature has to offer.

Leaves turn, birches shimmer in the light afternoon breeze, colors dance in reflection over the cool, clear water. After awhile, I stood and strolled. I examined rounded stones, crept to the edge of a bank of them to look down into a pool and watch the fish rise and twist around fluttering bugs as they lit on the surface.

Initially I felt frustration—one more annoyance: Why didn’t I have a rod so that I could cast into this bonanza? Impatiently, I glanced downstream, over and over again in hopes of catching either son or husband—just let me make one or two stabs at these lovelies! Then after a time, I stopped looking for them and turned my attention to what could have been my prey but instead was my prayer of thanksgiving.

In the thick of confusion on a wearying planet, here before me was something surprising and simple, a glimmering grace granted freely in this quiet corner of peace, an Indian Summer afternoon on a river bank.

~Kathleen Clary Miller

Kathleen Clary Miller is the author of 200 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Times, Missoula Living magazine and The Christian Science Monitor. She is a columnist for The Missoulian, western Montana’s daily newspaper, and her monthly column “Peaks and Valleys” appears in Montana Woman magazine. Kathleen has also contributed to National Public Radio’s On Point.


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