Tuesday evening, a fresh wind blew into town by the name of Rick Harrington. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to communicate with Rick over the past eight or ten years. I've got a very faded South Lima Steelhead Society sticker on the Alaskan camper, but I'm guessing that's more of an expression of Rick's fantastic generosity of spirit than my qualifications to be a member.
As most of you know, Rick's been stuck between Syracuse and Buffalo for a long time. However, he's a native son of Oregon, and has recently been repatriated to his native land.
I can't imagine anybody could be more happy about a homecoming than Rick is with his.
I'd contacted him to tell him that we'd be in the area, relatively speaking, over the last week in March and that I'd like to see him if it fit his schedule. He texted back shortly before I embarked, asking if it was OK to sleep in his pickup in the driveway at our Airbnb rental.
As it turned out, the rental was very nice, spacious, and the owners were totally cool with another guest.
After spending the day covering the Wilson and Trask rivers from bottom to top and back down again, I whipped up some chow. The smokies are compliments of three unfortunate ungulates who had the dubious pleasure of venturing too close to me this past fall.
Rick arrived, greetings and introductions were made. He brought two loaves of fantastic artisanal sourdough (not an option where I come from) and --holy crap!-- a chocolate pecan pie!
There are no photographs of the pie. They would not have done it justice. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I tell you that it must have weighed three pounds. It was simply decadent.
Rick's an amazing story teller, delivering narratives with the energy of three men and punchlines with contagious gusto. He related this fantastically vivid dream he had of being invited to the White House and spending quite a bit of time visiting with former First Lady Michelle Obama before being escorted in to meet with then President Obama. Michelle's parting advice to Rick just before his meeting with the President was, " Rick, put your mind in your bottom hand."
I have to confess: I didn't see that coming.
The next morning, we decided to leave Jake's raft and hit some runs on the Trask that Rick suggested. Jake and Rick were rigged up and ready to go. The looked like the Bobbsey twins, with matching outfits right down to the Patagonia Foot Tractors.
I'm primarily a drift boat fly fisherman. That's going to be my excuse for what I'm about to confess. As I mentioned, both Jake and Rick were fully rigged (read: rods strung and flies tied on) and ready to go. I'd spent too much visiting, and not wanting to hold up the show, decided to rig my assembled rods after we got to the river.
Some of you likely see where this is going.
We headed down the trail.
We'd gone nearly a half mile when Jake came up behind me and said, "Kelly, are you aware that you're missing the tip section of one of your rods?"
It was in the purest sense a rhetorical question.
Rick's effervescent personality left us momentarily. He said flatly "You'll never find it." He was, of course, right. The rain forest tangle of trees, blackberry vines, ferns, and bushes made the likelihood of finding the missing rod section very, very low.
"I'm gonna try anyway." I said, and headed back down the trail, cussing myself for violating a cardinal rule of stream fishing by not stringing up my rod.
I walked slowly, cautious, trying to visually sort through the thick vegetation when Michelle Obama whispered to me "Put your mind in your rod tip." It then occurred to me to look at what the end of my 13 foot spey rod would likely have snagged on as I followed Rick down the obscure trail along the river. I moved with less careful scrutiny through the more open areas, and slowed down where overhanging limbs, thickets of alder or willow, or sharp bends in the trail would have had the rod tip susceptible to a plucking limb or a snagging branch might have grabbed my rod tip.
...and then, there it was, glistening in the rain, lying atop some cushioning fern fronds.
Jake had decided to fish further downstream, and Rick was already working a nice run when I returned. I'm not sure who was happiest about my good fortune.
I rigged up my sticks and stepped into the top of the run above Rick. I would stop casting occasionally to watch him effortlessly firing out cast after cast, and attempted to emulate the simplicity and efficiency of his casts. "Put your mind in your bottom hand." I found myself in a hypnotic rhythm, and the casting just fell into place.
After an early lunch break, Rick give me first shot at the next run downstream.
I worked my way down to the tail-out below a short pool, and when I turned to speak, I found Rick fast asleep in the rain.
After a couple of fishless hours in an increasingly heavier rain, we hopped in our trucks and headed upstream to fish one final run.
Rick, killing it.
We fished another 90 minutes and decided it was time to call it a day. Walking back downstream in waist-deep water, I lost my footing and went straight
down. I was buoyant enough that I couldn't get my feet underneath me, and bobbed downstream past Rick. Later, when telling Jake about going in "up to the brim of my hat," Rick corrected me. "No dude--you were COMPLETELY submerged."
It sure was nice to be at a place with a dryer.
It was now Thursday, and I would only have through Saturday to find The Tree. There was another river near by that I had yet to explore, and several of the suggestions I'd received from online acquaintances pointed in that direction. It seemed like a good compromise, and we headed out to explore it more fully.
It did not contain The Tree. And yet, it did not disappoint.
Jake is the only one of us who had any action that day. Near the hang down at the end of a swing, he had a grab. He patiently waited, allowing the fish to pull a couple rotations off the reel. Unfortunately, the steelhead dropped the fly. On the very next cast, what we believe was the same fish savagely slapped at his fly in nearly the exact same location, but did not stick.
The rain had returned, and it was going to be well after eight by the time we got back to town. Rick was already packed, and we said our goodbyes riverside. He headed east, and we headed west. And while I had not found The Tree, I was beginning to adjust to the very real likelihood that I would never find it.
The Tree had become a symbol for me, a guiding force that had brought me in search of itself due to its incredible beauty. For eight long years, I longed for the day when I would find it, see it, stand beneath it, touch it, perhaps even commune with it. What I hoped it might impart to me is something I had yet to identify, and much less define. I had found it at a time when I was in a very dark state, but those days were long past.
Over the past several days, a new thought had been developing in my mind. What was becoming apparent to me is that these rivers, and the forested valleys in which they flow, were also places of spectacular beauty. It seemed perhaps even a little disrespectful that I might not be fully appreciating them for their beauty in my singular focus of just The Tree. The Tree had been the catalyst to my search. My search had brought me to This Place. And, This Place had so much more that was yet to be discovered. I might spend the rest of my life taking it all in, and still not see it all.
Perhaps that was the reason I was here, now, and present in a completely unanticipated moment.