I performed the dressing ceremony until Kate was fully equipped with the proper socks, waders, boots, vest, hat and glasses. As she held the rod and I snapped the picture, we agreed that, regardless of whether she hooked a trout, she was quite the catch.
All the way down the path that paralleled the creek, I issued orders. I warned about this, advised about that, and instructed her on every detail. Here’s what to do to prevent wind knots. Look behind you before you back cast. If you see a fish rise pull up on the rod. When you feel something take the nymph, don’t rush it.
Kate patiently listened, her head nodding comprehension as she high-stepped through the tall grass ahead of me. We plopped down on our bottoms and slid down the bank to the water.
“I’ll hold the rod. You wade out as far as you comfortably can,” I said.
“It’s okay, Mom, I can do it.”
I reluctantly handed her the instrument and began to go over the rudiments of casting again. It’s all arm movement, no body. Don’t throw the line like you’re throwing a ball. Let the line run in the water behind you. Wait to feel the weight of the line behind you before you cast forwards. Achieve a natural drift of the fly or the fish will know it’s a fake.
“When did fish get so smart?” she asked as she moved swiftly against the current without losing her balance, unlike her mother who always fell and filled her waders.
She found her spot and took her stance, her feet firmly planted in the narrow space between larger rocks. Her back was turned to me where I stood on the shoreline, poised and ready to administer further essential pointers.
After her initial movements with rod and reel, I remembered about not making any noise because the fish would scatter, so, I cast aside my role as schoolmarm. The quiet felt somehow right. I sat, rested my elbow on one knee, let my chin fall into the palm of my hand, and observed my daughter’s dance.
She was suddenly stunning. The tall, gangly, rather awkward adolescent had vanished when I wasn’t looking. Here, I was afforded the rare opportunity to lean back and watch her from a distance. We were not at her debutante ball. She wasn’t wearing a designer gown. Her hair was not styled, and her face was clean of cosmetics. No one was throwing rice; there were no photographers to mark the occasion. Yet in the middle of what God intended, her nature was reflected in His most natural setting.
Across the creek, Aspen leaves shuddered, their glory of green backdrop to the water ballet before me. The girl whose shoulders I habitually took into my hands and pulled back into proper posture now stood confidently tall. Her arm rose to lift the rod gracefully and bring it forward, just enough to send the long line soaring in a ballerina’s arc.
She was exquisite. I was mesmerized, absorbed in her lovely form. The same little girl who had fought to master every dance step during cotillion, was, here, where one would least expect it, waltzing. Of course she could fly fish; the movement comes as instinctively as walking if you’ll only step off the shore and then let it be.
I focused on her long, slender fingers as she carefully unraveled a wind knot, and then cradled the long line of filament until it rested gently on the surface of the flowing creek. Her skin was porcelain, her hair tied haphazardly into a spun-golden knot at the nape of her neck. In the time it took for her to turn, I saw myself at her age—hopeful, romantic, on the cusp of forever. She had Chris, the boyfriend who, if she married, would be the right man. For this, my heart beat a fast and fervent prayer.
As she turned her head to follow the gentle drift of the dry fly, her soft, brown eyes widened behind her glasses, and held their steady gaze. Her profile was classic—an aquatic goddess in neoprene. A rainbow trout drifted lazily from his motionless rock quarry to study her. I watched him watching her and carefully did not move or speak. Her long, soft flight of line took air and spilled gently as it dropped the dry fly without a ripple. In an instant, her mouth mimicked his as it opened wide to opportunity and he was hers.
This was the unexpected moment I would return to—the day I learned she no longer needed me to tell her. Kate had crossed the river of girlhood. She was not mine; she was separate. She was herself, the emergent pupa. I sat frozen on the shore, in awe of the babe I’d once cradled. And I knew I was meant to bring her to this place of informal awakening—both hers and my coming of age.
~Kathleen Clary Miller
Kathleen Clary Miller is the author of 300 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, The Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, Orange Coast Magazine, Missoula Living Magazine, Flathead Living Magazine, The Johns Hopkins Memory Bulletin, and The Christian Science Monitor. She was a regular columnist for The Missoulian—Western Montana’s Daily Newspaper for the last two years. Her current monthly column “Peaks and Valleys” appears in Montana Woman Magazine. She has contributed to National Public Radio’s On Point.
She lives in Huson, Montana.
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