The world is a circle.
Feelings and memory orbit around you, unseen stars, and then one night the heavens are lined up, and you can see a bright planet that has been long forgotten. That happened today.
Four Years Ago. . .
I came here to the banks of the Madison River in Montana. Alone, on my first trip to the West, driving in a car I borrowed from my brother. The trip had been good, full, rich, but somehow incomplete up until that point.
After a long day's driving I came here to Montana for the first time. The sun was low in the sky behind the mountains. All of the mountains were golden, glowing with the kind of light that before I had only seen in Tuscany. There was the sound of the rush of the water. And there was the Madison, a mythic fly fishing river, one of the most beautiful waters I had ever seen.
I dipped my toes in and made my first fly casts of the trip. A nice rainbow came up to take my dry fly, and a few moments later he was squirming in my hand trying everything he could to make it hard for me to photograph him.
The universe spoke something to me. “WELCOME TO MONTANA”, she said. “THIS IS WHERE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE”, she added. She spoke in a language of rushing water, golden light, and wind. But I could understand her just fine.
The Young Man by the River - Part I.
There’s another memory from that night that has stuck with me. In the fading light I saw another fisherman, a young man. Maybe it was all of the solitude, or the setting, or that STRANGE VOICE in my head, but in the briefest instant of seeing him I thought about my youth, and getting older, and all that lie in front of that young man. On August 4, 2013, I wrote this in my journal:
The young man at the river looked at home. Like he was from here. Like he fit in. Well worn. The waders and net hung off him, made him look lanky. There was a dog by his side. When he left in his van with Montana plates he left the dog to run behind, and I figured that he lived nearby somewhere. Turns out he was just moving to another spot down the road.
There's something about a young man alone. I see my lost youth, and wonder if I ever looked that natural or comfortable doing something. His cast was a thing of beauty. I've seen some good looking casts out here, but his was the best. It makes me think of youth, of young manhood, of growing up in such a beautiful place and what sort of man it would make you.
As it turns out the universe was not done talking to me here.
The Young Man by the River - Part II
Last night, almost four years later, I was standing in almost the same place. A younger man was fishing upriver from me. About 14. We had seen him unload with his family one cabin over, and said hello. He was not from Montana - you could tell.
But he looked like a fly fisherman, and like he knew what he was doing. He had a good cast. He moved like a fisherman.
Glancing upriver, his rod was bent. “Good for him”, I thought, and turned to my own line. A few moments later I looked again, and his rod was bent. Really bent. He was excited, you could tell.
He started playing the fish. It was huge. It drove downstream for the current and he ran along the bank toward me to keep from breaking off. It was gong to be a struggle for him.
And, in a cruel twist of fate, this young man had forgotten his net and his camera in his rush to get his line into the river. Now this magnificent fish, hooked on almost his very first cast in Montana, was threatening to break off in heartbreaking fashion - or to be caught and not photographed, which is not heartbreaking but has a certain sadness to it.
I had a net. I ran downstream with him. “Do you want me to net it for you?” I asked. I didn’t want to presume. He was probably perfectly capable of horsing the fish in on his own. “Absolutely” he said. He was a smart young man. It’s better not to take chances with certain things in life. This was one of them.
The young man won the battle with the fish. He showed patience and skill. His poise conquered his adrenaline. Maybe one day he’ll make an excellent fighter pilot or brain surgeon.
I think that fish was almost 24 inches. A long, sleek, powerful brown with bright red spots. A beautiful fish, by anyone’s account.
I took photos and videos. His mom and sister came down, and so did Kelly and McKenna.
The young man’s name was Cole. He’s 15. He and his family are from Little Rock, Arkansas. He is already an accomplished fly fisherman. He works in a fly shop at home. He caught the fish on a nymph he tied himself.
This was his very first time fishing in Montana.
After he calmed down, and heart stopped beating, if he listened, I bet he heard something.
“WELCOME TO MONTANA”, she said again. “THIS IS WHERE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE”.