A River In Time
By Jeff Woleslagle
He woke oddly refreshed and for the first time in a week, his back didn’t hurt when he rose from the bed. “You were dreaming again George” Nancy said, as he walked into the kitchen. He reached for the coffee pot to fill a mug already waiting on the counter. “Was I?” he grinned. The dream was fresh in his 80-year-old mind and he was a little startled at having it for the second time in four days. He had never been kind to have recurring dreams or to even remember them at all really. Sure, there was the occasional odd one, that somehow slipped from your slumbering subconscious to the conscious, waking part of your brain, but those were usually quickly forgotten. Flowing from memory like dry sand through parted fingers. Everything about this dream seemed so vivid. So real. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the landscape – all of it.
He recalled the first time he had the dream about three months ago. Back then, it wasn’t as clear. He remembered stringing his fly rod and making his way down a stone path to a beautiful river shrouded in the morning mist. The day held promise he thought. Gazing through the low fog, he saw there was another angler already thigh deep in the flow and he looked vaguely familiar. He knew he recognized this person’s unique casting form and the rhythm and cadence with which he worked the line. He tried to step into the inviting water and at that moment he woke up. The image would linger in his mind for much of the day and it was over dinner when he finally connected the casting form with the angler. His uncle James had been wounded in World War Two, on D-Day. Taking a piece of shrapnel to his left arm on the beaches of Normandy, but he was lucky to leave that place alive. Many in the platoon he stormed the shore with that day did not. He didn’t lose the function of his arm from the injury, but nerves and a tendon were severed, and they would never be the same. It gave his casting a jerky form, but he compensated amazingly well. He was one of the best George had ever seen at putting a fly right where it needed to be. James had been the one to introduce him to fly fishing and it ignited a lifelong passion for the sport. H Hh
The next time he had the dream, he waved to James standing in the middle of the river and James waved back. He went upstream so as not to disturb his uncle and at the base of the next pool was another angler already claiming it. This one had his back to George and again it was somehow familiar. When the fisherman turned to face the bank, George felt his chest tighten at the sight of his older brother. He hadn’t seen Max in so long he could barely remember. It had been what, 20 years since the accident? Probably many more than that. Max was known for his frugality and he wore an old tan vest that was threadbare in places. George had bought him a new one as a Christmas present, but it was a gift he never got the chance to deliver. The memories he had of the two of them fishing together washed over him in waves. There was the giant brown trout Max caught below the falls on a tributary to Lake Michigan that was as beautiful in coloration as it was large, stretching to almost 25 inches. George watched him fight the fish on the light tippet for almost 15 minutes before it came to the net. Max would wear the smile from that encounter for over a week. There was a time in the Adirondacks that they both took one step too many into a river that was running high. They lost their footing at the exact same time and were swept downstream to a small spit of sand jutting out into the flow. There were some lost fly boxes as well as bruised bodies and equally bruised egos, but they were ok. They sat on the bank for a time in silence, cold and soaked to the bone, and then Max began to laugh that infectious laughter of his. Before he could stop himself, George too was busting a gut. They laughed until their sides hurt and then Max said “Lets dry out and go get a cup of coffee. My treat.” George shot back with “You didn’t hit your head on a rock, did you?” in disbelief at his brother’s offer to buy. Again, a hearty round of laughter ensued. It was after that trip that they got matching wading sticks so they could always check the depth in front of them. Overcome at the sight of his brother, George lifted a foot to step into the current and make his way over and suddenly his eyes shot open. He looked at the bedroom ceiling and smiled. It was great to see Max again, if only in his sleep.
A week later, again the dream came to visit. This time the air held that freshness that only the early morning hours can possess. A grouse was drumming on a distant log and the trout lilies were in the splendor of full bloom. Again, he waved to James as he walked along the path and worked his way upstream. When he got to the next pocket, Max was concentrating intently on a fish rising in front of him and George felt compelled to move up to the next pool. Rounding a bend, he immediately recognized the angler who sat on the far bank with his back against a sturdy oak tree. George froze in his tracks as he watched in disbelief. His father lifted the old blue steel rod from where it rested in the center of a forked stick that had been placed in the soft earth to hold it. He gave the rod a quick sweep to set the hook and there was a brief battle before he netted a gorgeous specimen of a brook trout. The small hook that was attached to the black cotton line had been baited with a lively red worm. He watched his dad carefully remove the hook and then add the trout to a small rope stringer that held three others, all about equal in size. His father then became aware of George’s presence and looked at his son and smiled. He waved and George could see the calloused and rough hands of a man that had spent most of his life working hard to provide for his family. He didn’t fish much, but when he did he thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. In direct contrast to his hard-worn hands, he had blue eyes the color of faded denim that projected kindness and caring. When those eyes locked onto George’s, George was overcome with emotion. Here was the man who had taught him so much about the important things in life. So much of it George had learned just from his example, with few words being exchanged in the process. He went to wade across to embrace his dad and found himself suddenly wide awake. The best dream yet, George thought.
The following day as George was walking back to the house from the garden, he felt a sudden pressure in his chest. His left arm went from tingling to numb. Nancy saw him fall to his knees and she screamed as she ran toward him, already dialing for an ambulance. She cradled his head until she heard the wail of the sirens in front of the house. Time stood still.
At the hospital, the monitor showed a flat line and she clutched his hand tightly. Not wanting to let go. Never wanting to let go. She would stand in that pose for over an hour before succumbing to exhaustion. As her hand slipped from him, he was gazing at a river shrouded in the morning mist. He walked along the stone path and for the first time, when he stepped into the sparkling water he didn’t jerk awake. His uncle James motioned for him to come closer. He looked vibrant and happy. “One heck of a caddis hatch right now George. Got any in a size 14?”