The Longest Winter

Your iPod shuffles on to some Springsteen. You don’t mind this at all as it’s settled on a favourite classic. 

“You waste your summers praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets.”

It doesn’t exactly fit what you’ve been thinking about, but its close enough to have made a connection.

The winter was a long one. Every winter is long as you wait for the river season to reopen. It sounds trite and forced when you see it on the page, but it’s true and you force down the urge to delete the line. You think to yourself that as you’ve grown a little older (you want to think that you’ve matured, but you know that it’s a lie) you’d have learned some patience. Sadly this isn’t true and the wait for the season is still as unbearably long as it always was. You want to use the kid on Christmas Eve metaphor, but that would be forcing it.

This winter was the longest one in your memory. You wonder why that would be and settle precariously onto the conclusion that it is because the previous summer was such a great one. Last season you spent a lot of time on the water. You felt more at ease than you ever have and while your fish count didn’t necessarily rise – you’ve never counted them or maintained a diary so this is a guess – it just felt right. 

Your last outing of the season was in its last week and while the conditions were not perfect you raised a few fish and enjoyed yourself more than you have in many years. Coincidentally you fished it with a local guide. This was the first time in your life that you fished a river seriously in the company of a like-minded adult. That the guide moved on to becoming a friend has left you feeling that perhaps there is something to be said for the company of other people. But you don’t want to overthink it and accept the feeling superficially. 

When you cleaned your lines and serviced your reels at the end of the season it was with a feeling of deep contentment. Contentment. It’s not a feeling that you experience very often and you are not quite sure how to come to terms with it. You remind yourself again that that there is no requirement to come to terms with it and you choose to look at it without prejudice; as though you’re staring at it through a window of ambivalence. 

During the late season and throughout winter you are dragged into participation on social media forums. To your surprise you enjoy this. You become quite active on them. It’s probably not a great thing, but it’s not a bad thing either so you just do what is natural to you. 

You write a bit – or rather you publish what you’ve already written – and it’s mostly met with approval. It results in some people thinking that you know more than you really do so you try not to take yourself seriously and you hope that it catches on.

Bending a few landing nets from exotic timber also catches a modest amount of attention. Your mother and wife are proud of you and you have to admit that you’re a little proud of yourself too. For a fleeting moment you imagine that you could make a living from all of this but you’re a very conservative thinker and laugh off the idea almost as soon as it crystallises in your mind.

You meet some well-known anglers and socialise and correspond with them. You find this quite daunting and very fulfilling. Two in particular are very supportive and you’re not too sure sometimes whether to thank them or chastise them for egging you from out of your cocoon. The jury is out on this so you let it go and stare at it through that window that you’re starting to gaze out of a lot lately. 

 You’ve fished a few stillwaters with one of these friends and enjoyed it. At various times you’ve discussed fishing a stream with the other but you’re not sure that your anxiety will allow you to – streams are special places to you and to let yourself down on one in the company of people that you like and respect would be something that you’re not too certain that you could recover from.

All of this gets you through the winter. You’re alternatively writing, crafting or raising hell on social media. When you’re not doing these things you’re talking about them. Winter snowfalls are above recent averages and you’re gearing up for what may be a stellar river season.
As the last weeks of winter draw to a close any reasonable snowfall stops.

 You get nervous as the spring rains don’t come as they should. Spring rainfall has been erratic over recent years and you start a daily countdown on social media in the two weeks leading to the opening of the season in spring. You joke about prayer and rain dances and cloud seeding but it’s clear that this season will again start late.

After a small smattering of early spring rain you venture onto a stream. The first time is with a new friend. It’s a desperately cold and blustery day and you see one fish rise all day and raise none. On the drive home you cross the bridge adjacent to what you refer to as ‘poachers pool’ and two good fish are rising where they always are. You are caught red-handed by the land owner while casting to them, but it turns out to be a good meeting. He doesn’t shoot or assault you and you’re pretty incredulous at how you seem to get away with that so often. He even invites you back – but you’re not sure whether it will be as much fun without the added pressure of avoiding long range rifle shots.

The second outing finds you more or less guiding a more or less stranger. When he starts paying attention to what you’re telling him you put him onto his first wild brown. You don’t fish much that day but you take a couple of fish with one of them being bigger than average. The water levels are really low but are fishable (you’re borderline but don’t think that you’re hurting the fish). You post online some hopefully sage sounding wisdom that October will be the month. Maybe late October; but you have faith.

October comes and goes and you haven’t cast a line. The same applies to November and the words of this article occur to you on the first of December – it is now summer and ground temperatures are rising steadily. You see a few pictures posted of fish recently caught and thoughts of mortality rates in warm, thin water come to mind. You want to grab a rod and scout around but you know that you may not be able to stand what you might see. You stay at home and bend even more nets and read and write and sketch like a madman. It’s a lot like jogging on the spot. A lot of furious effort that gets you no further from where you started out.

They come and go, these cycles, you assure yourself. But this time you’re not too sure. You’ve been close enough to the land to understand that our hands are changing it irrevocably – you see it and feel it deeply. Like stalling a car on a railroad crossing you’re waiting for the season where it all goes to hell and stays that way. 

 You don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth and can’t remember when last you backwashed the pool. You tell yourself that soon we will have thunderstorms to provide flow and oxygen but you also shudder at the thought of the damage that they are going to cause as they run down dusty hillsides. Images of brown streams and cancerous erosion flood your mind.

You find yourself starting to wish that it was still winter.

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