The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 3, 2014

Get on up, or you’ll get left behind

By Larry Case
For The Register-Herald

— “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” —

William Shakespeare

The lone fisherman stood and looked down the hill. There was a path that cut through the brush and rocks that lay between the road and the stream. He did not remember that it was this steep. Studying the pebbles and sticks in the path he knew that if one of them rolled under his foot, wham, he would go down and this little adventure would be over before it started.

As he eased forward and felt the gravity push at his back, he thought of how not that long ago he would have hurled himself down the path. Whatever happened, he could have handled it. His strength and balance would have served him and he would jog down to the stream with nary a scratch. Now he feared a fall as he never had.

Finally reaching the big rock at the bottom of the Snake Hole, he stood as in the past and studied the water. Ray felt some of the old spell wash over him. Here was the dark swirling current of his dreams, the rocks that were obvious and some barely visible, all of which he knew from a time in the past. There is a fish there, I know it, can’t be a rock like that and not be a trout there, waiting in ambush. He brightened some, maybe he could do this, a feeling arose felt like he was getting some of it back.

Putting the rod together and stripping some line, he glanced down at his arm and felt himself pull up short. He stared as if he had not seen this arm before. Of course this was his arm, he knew that. Not like the knotted and bronzed arms that he had once had. Not like the arms that could do anything, any kind of work, this arm was pale and thin, almost translucent. He felt a bolt of terror for an instant. Could he still cast a fly rod?

After Ray had tied on an Adams and a dropper, he stood and held the rod forward, sighting it across the river. He gathered himself, trying to remember the steps in a process that was once as natural as breathing air and required less thought. Out of nowhere the face of the doctor flashed in his mind. The doctor, the first of many that sat and told him about cancer and treatments and his chances with no more emotion thandescribing yesterday’s weather.

The demons took him to a very bad night 14 months ago when he lay as sick as he ever thought he could be. The words of his old river mentor, Rob, had come to him that night. “You got to get up Bud, no matter what, you got to get up. If you don’t, you just get left behind.”

The first few casts were as clumsy as he expected. Rob would have growled, “Looks like a cow on roller skates.” After a few more though, the rod seemed to take over and help him, as if showing him how to allover again. For an instant he wondered if Rob was there, holding the rod for him. No, he didn’t believe in that.

He was learning to cast again as if he was learning to breathe again, live again. He had not one thought of hooking a fish, he was watching the line slice out anddescend gently to the water. Grading every cast, givinghimself no leeway. One long cast and he made the Table Rock. He watched the fly land beside the rock and start with the current. Then just like that, no warning, no pretense, a brown trout over twenty inches took the fly with an audible slurp. He felt as if he had been struck by lightning.  

Ray would have bet the farm that he would miss this fish, but as he brought up the rod, it was there, heavy and throbbing. With a grimace he applied the pressure as he knew he must. If the fish got behind the Table, that’s all she wrote. Then again, just like that, here comes the fish up and out of the water. Beautiful and terrible at the same time, he remembered to give it a little room and then whispered in a trance, “Please……”.

When the fly came out it whizzed past his ear and he tried to duck and sprawled over the rocks backwards. He went down hard and wondered if he would wake up from a dream or if he was he dead. He lay there for a minute and took an account of what was left of him. He wasn’t dead, as far as he could tell, the rocks were hard, but he didn’t think anything was broken.

For the first time in two years he exploded in a gale of laughter, he didn’t know where it came from and he didn’t care. It was uninhibited, forceful laughter that left him out of breath. He raised and wiped the corner of one eye, “OK Rob, I’m gettin’ up, ‘ol bud, I’m gettin’ up.