A KINGDOM FAR AWAY (conclusion)
|Part 7 can be found here|
Looking back I am amazed how quickly that winter disappeared, but as I marked the days off my calendar until the opening day of trout season it seemed like it would never come. Letters between Joe and I and the occasional phone call just heightened the excitement and anticipation of that magical day. In the late 50's we did not have the Internet or the Weather Channel on television so I grabbed at any snippet of information that I could get concerning the long ranged weather forecast for opening weekend. As the day approached the weather forecast for the North Country held out only a minor hope of favorable weather. A storm could be moving down out of Canada bringing north winds and even the possibility of snow.
Finally, after what seemed at the time to be an eternity, the day arrived. Joe arranged to pick me up the day before the opener, which meant that I had to take a day off school, which was an additional treat for a soon to be 13 year old kid. I didn't sleep much that night and I had all my gear assembled in a pile near the front door at least an hour before Joe was scheduled to show up. I tumbled out of the front door as I saw his vehicle come around the corner and was standing at the curb when he pulled to a stop. We soon had all my gear stowed in the car, I kissed my mother and dad good-bye and we were off for a grand adventure.
The miles flew by as Joe and I drove north. We had a winter's worth of talking to do, and I had lots to talk about. What did he think the weather conditions would be like, would we find some hatching insects, would we catch lots of trout? To each question Joe just smiled and said, "We'll see."
I had never been up to the lake this early in the season and I was a bit surprised that it looked quite different than it did in the summer. The closer we got I noticed that there was more and more snow still lingering in the woods. The trees were all bare and brown, and nothing was even slightly green. As we drove passed the lake I could see that much of the surface was still covered with ice. It appeared to me that everything was dead, so unlike the vibrant greens of summer.
Joe had been up to his cabin the previous week to get things ready for our opening day visit. He also had done a little scouting around the local trout waters. Before long the heat of the big wood stove in the front room was permeating all the corners of the cabin and Joe was busy preparing dinner on the wood cook stove in the kitchen. Hunter was lying on the rug next to the wood stove and I sat looking out the window at the stream across the road. Unlike the inviting clear water that I was accustomed to seeing during the summer months it rolled along gray and cold.
"Will we find any trout tomorrow?" I said.
"Oh, we'll find some trout, but the real question is will we be able to give them something that they might want to eat. Right now come and eat dinner, and we'll talk about our strategy later."
Full of fried chicken, dumplings and hot apple pie with fresh whipped cream on top I slid into one of the big overstuffed chairs in the front room. I was surprised how quickly it was getting dark outside; again I was expecting that the days would be long like they are in the summer. When you're young you think that certain things never change, and I guess that in my mind that it was always summer 'up north.' We never went to our cabin in the winter so I had never seen what it was like here in the winter or even in the early spring. Joe broke into my thoughts as he came in and settled into the other big chair and began to talk about tomorrows fishing.
"This will be the 50th year that I have opened the trout season from this cabin. My dad built this place and he taught me how to fish with a fly when I was even younger than you are now. We came here every April to open the trout season. I spent some time fighting for Uncle Sam back during the war but the first year that I came home Dad and opened the season here again."
Joe paused and he got that faraway look that I had seen him get before when he started talking about some old memory.
"That was Dad's last season," Joe said his voice low and quiet. "The next season I opened the season alone, as much in tribute to him as anything. Since then I have continued that tradition until this year when I have someone to open the season with me. Now I get to pass the torch to another generation. I guess now I have come full circle."
Our conversation turned to tomorrow's fishing, and later, as I snugged down beneath the quilts, I could hardly contain my excitement. What a day tomorrow would be.
Indeed, that first opening day was a great day. After a hearty breakfast we loaded up in Joe's car and drove several miles further north where we struck off down a barely discernable two-track forest road. After several miles we turned off and parked the car. Beyond the trees and down a gentle slope a crystal clear stream flowed through the alders. We donned our waders and fly vests; assembled our rods and marched off to do battle with the streams inhabitants. Nothing was showing when we first arrived but within an hour or so the first mayflies of the season began to dot the surface followed closely by eager trout. The sun was warm on my shoulders and the smell of spring was in the air. What the trout lacked in size they made up for with eagerness, and to a boy not yet thirteen years old the combination was intoxicating. The memory of that first opening day is as sharp and clear in my memory as if it were yesterday.
Looking back on that opening day it somehow seems impossible that 40 opening days have come and gone and once again I'm at Joe's cabin getting ready for another opening day. It seems equally hard to believe that Joe has been gone 10 years now. The fire is burning in the old wood stove and I just finished eating dinner. In one of the big overstuffed chairs in the front room my son is soaking up the heat and looking forward to opening day tomorrow. It will be his first. Joe left the cabin to me as his final gift. I walk outside into the cold spring air and stand for a moment on the porch. Tack sharp stars sparkled in the clear cold air and the call of a great-horned owl was the only sound to break the silence. I thought of all the nights that Joe and I had shared this porch and of all the fly-fishing adventures that had started and ended here. What blessings I had known from that causal encounter that had taken place so many years ago.
"What are you doing Dad?"
I turn to see my son standing in the doorway.
"Oh, I was just thinking about Joe and of a time and a place where I was once but where I can never go again."
"Where was that Dad?"
"It was a kingdom; yes a kingdom that existed long ago and far away."
I scooped him up in my arms and taking one long last look across the road and the dark lake beyond I turned back toward the lights and the warmth of the cabin and the anticipation of yet another opening day.