Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

January 19th, 2003

Grown Men
By Roger Stouff

Grown men don't say such things to each other. But they should.

When the knock came on my door that Sunday evening, the Sunday before Christmas, I expected it to be one of the boys. But it wasn't. It was the brother of my soul, who has for over a decade now lived out of state. His current residence is on the east coast, and when we speak by phone, he tells me of fishing bronze-backed smallmouth bass in rivers, rivers the likes of which I have never seen and can only scarcely imagine.

We see each other about annually. That's not enough for brothers. But as soon as he appeared at my door, I was instantly calculating the weather forecast for the next couple weeks, figuring my time off for the holidays versus other obligations, and planning when we could get out to the water. That we would not go to the water was never even considered. It is a given, a singular constant in an ever-changing universe.

Throughout my days, whenever something important made itself known to me out there on Sheti, I have almost always been alone. The only exceptions have been when in the company of this brother of mine. When yellow finches swirled around the old boat in a maelstrom of fragmentary sunbeams, marking their exodus, the last time I would ever see them, the brother of my soul was there. When first the panther of my forefathers made itself known to my disbelieving psyche, my brother was there. Indians believe such things have meaning, import. I know no one else who is as attached to the waters and the earth here like myself. I know no one else who feels as deeply, as if his own roots were somehow as far-reaching as mine.

Grown men don't say as much to each other. They don't toy with niceties. We trade insults jokingly and tease each other's accomplishments condescendingly. He and I went to the water the following Friday and caught nothing. I was disapointed, to say the least. When he would tell me over the telephone about fishing the Rapidan for smallies, I'd tell him about the largemouth I took from still, black water.

The next Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, we took to the water again. The wind was up, howling, and my fly rod was uncooperative, flailing against the gales, but we caught a dozen or so small bass. Redemption. We returned again that Tuesday, the Tuesday before New Year's day, a new circle. We'd fish near each other for a time, barely within sight at others. The Tuesday trip resulted in several nice catches, all released. We'd stop now and then and talk, about river smallies and black-water bass, about Sheti instances and Co'ktangi moments, wooden boats filled to the rail with memories.

Grown men don't say what's in their hearts, but they should. The words may come from a reddened face, nearly a whisper of embarassment, in a world turned upside down, on its head with the backwardness of a culture gone amok. I didn't say so, but I think the brother of my soul knows it. We sat and shared scotch from a silver flask I keep in my tackle bag, watching sunset. A few more bass emerged, cold but feisty, taken on Clousers or custom streamers, respectfully returned to the frigid waters from which they were coaxed.

Many, many years ago, in seasons of discontent and days of despair, the brother of my soul appeared on my doorstep, unannounced, much the way he did the Sunday before Christmas. He handed me tobacco and said, "Let's go fishing." He's been appearing on my door, announced or unannounced, and we've been fishing, ever since. He is godfather of my son. He immerses himself in cold, running water chasing smallmouth, and I float along my ancestral native waters or stand aside shallow ponds. We are eleven hundred miles apart, but as close as the murmur of the waters, the voice of our fathers' fathers.

Sundown has much meaning to me. It's beauty aside, it's a circle closing inside the larger circle of the season, of the year, of a life, of the uncertain tenure of the future. As he and I stood, miniscule and unimportant, under a reddening sky blasting dragonfire across the water at our feet, I wished to tell him that in all my life, he has been the brother my mother never gave birth to. My tongue seemed to turn to sand as I tried, but when I passed him the silver flask, and the half-disc of the sun passing under the distant edge of the earth flashed Indian summer beams from the polished silver into my eyes, I knew there was no need.

Grown men don't say such things, but perhaps they don't need to. Perhaps, such things are simply known. Perceived and understood. Each arrival on my doorstep confirms the years we share, running like cold rivers and deep as still lakes. While other friendships have faltered and faded, grown distant and dim, those which need not be vocalized have remained fast and true. There are only a handful of these remaining, and they are all near and cherished. I know they are at the dialing of a phone, arrival on a doorstep unannounced, they are always within reach. These are the most treasured gifts of a life.

Yet of all, water flows only between this one and I. We shook hands and I told him to be careful on those long, sometimes treacherous highways which will take him back to river smallmouth and mountains. As his truck rolled down my driveway, I picked up the fishing tackle we had used and put it back in its place in the house. Glancing out the window, the truck was already out of sight down that winding, concrete spine.

Water covers most of this wonderful planet. Rivers flow across this continent in a web of connections. Standing in a distant river casting to smallmouth or in a wooden boat along Lake Fausse Pointe fly-fishing for bream, the brother of my soul and I are always tethered by water.

Grown men don't say as much. But eleven hundred miles away, I believe my brother knows this. It's spoken in the sound of water racing over rock, lapping against deadfalls, winds whisting through cypress needles and illuminated by fiery sunsets, closing circles, until the next unannounced knock at the door. ~ Roger


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