We’re all just part of the flow.
Last week, I went to my folks’ house and fished a familiar little trout stream. I hadn’t been there in a few years, but little had changed since the last time I’d fished it–in fact, little had changed since the days when I had entire summer vacations to fish it. The current still tumbled brightly around odd-size stones, collecting in quiet pockets and shaded glides. The trout were still eager, scrappy, stream-bred browns. But what I noticed particularly was the trail along the bank. It still turned and twisted in all the same places. I could have walked it with my eyes closed.
For some reason, on this day, the trail seemed more interesting than the fish or the fishing. I looked at the leaning hemlock branches, and I remembered scampering beneath them as a kid, trying to keep up with my older brothers. I walked around the next bend and could see myself sprinting past the alders, racing my high-school friends for the first cast. Now, when I reached the clover field, I seemed to be walking behind my grandfather, following his slow-paced footsteps toward the willows that still shade what was his favorite pool.
It occurred to me that some of the finest moments of my life took place on this trail. And now, following its familiar course, I felt as if I were on a walking tour of those moments. Right there, in the middle of that brushy bank, my friend Jo Beach and I cowered beneath a lightning storm and talked about the things we were most afraid of. And when the lightning quit, we drifted nightcrawlers in the off-colored eddies and hooked one good brown after another.
I looked down at the path again, where it dipped into a muddy flat studded with skunk cabbage. In the mud were the footprints of another fisherman, and I wondered how many times he’d walked this trail–if it occurred to him, too, that he had left brilliant little pieces of his life scattered along its course.
Then I wondered how long this trail had been here. And I began to imagine the countless fellow fishermen who’d left their footprints–and moments in their lives–here. I hadn’t given them much thought before, but now their lives and their times spent here seemed very real: schoolkids chasing summer dreams down this same path, busy adults rounding this same bend to find a day’s peace, and old men slowly walking, perhaps toward my grandfather’s pool.
Again, I looked at the trail. In the loose stones and scattered pine needles under my feet, and on the breeze brushing over the clover field and moving the willow branches, I could imagine my moments mixing with theirs.
About a dozen years ago, my grandfather walked this trail for the last time, and the day will come when I do the same. It’s a little comforting to think that perhaps someday a fisherman about my age will suddenly see brilliant moments of his own life flashing along this trail. And with any luck, he’ll see that mine are here, too.