Have you ever been in a place that left you speechless? A place where you almost literally stood there with your jaw on the floor? A place that took your breath away?
Several examples come to my mind: Memorial Stadium on a home football Saturday is certainly one of those places. Yes, I am a huge Husker fan, and recently had the same reaction when I walked into the new Husker volleyball arena in the remodeled Devaney Sports Center. My first visit to the Hall of Mule Deer at the Kansas City Cabela’s also was a religious experience, and as you can imagine, when I enter almost any aquarium my jaw drops, my pulse quickens and I start slobbering.
It happened to me again last week, but it was not at any man-made venue. I was in north-central Nebraska last week; out there to help with a Master Naturalist training session. Of course you know I snuck away to do some fishing while I was there. When I am in that part of the state, there are some cold-water streams I like to fish. They are special places.
I would like to think I am a patient person, good anglers certainly need a large dose of patience, but I gotta tell you that when I am on my way fishing, when I am en route, I am not a patient man. Stay out of my way! Last week I hurried past the hundred-billionth irrigated corn field; the last one had a center pivot spraying water on the gravel road (Hey, I thought that was supposed to be illegal?). Not soon enough, I left the manicured ag fields in my dust and slowed a bit as I admired acres and acres of beautiful Nebraska prairie. It seems there is a bumper crop of annual sunflowers all over those hills this year. I had to slow a little bit more for a couple broods of turkeys to cross the road, and for a sharptail or two and a few dozen doves to flush from the side, but then I rushed on towards the ribbon of green I could see in the distance.
Finally, leaving the gravel I turned down a trail; started bumping along over prairie towards the trees up ahead. Did you know if you drive fast enough those trails are not nearly so bumpy?
The trail narrowed, the grass got thicker, and eventually I found a familiar parking spot beside a patch of just-starting-to-turn-red sumac. Almost frantically I stopped the vehicle, bailed out and started getting my gear ready–“Whoa, slow down, Hot Shot. Make sure you take your time and do not forget anything.”
Hastily, I changed my boots, rigged my rods, filled my pockets, slung the tackle bag over my shoulder, grabbed the landing net, and headed down the trail. After a few dozen yards, at last, I caught my first glimpse of holy water at the bottom of the canyon.
Thankfully it was all downhill as I rushed towards that water. I do not recall that my boots even touched the trail. I think I took one big stride and glided to the bottom of the canyon. The altitude I lost so flippantly on the way down would be paid for in sweat and tired muscles at the end of the day.
The breeze sighed through the Ponderosa pines. I love that sound. If I stopped and held my breath, just faintly, down below me somewhere, I could hear rushing water. “Hurry, there’s a trout waiting for you.”
My descent leveled out on a bench just above the creek. The sound of the wind in the trees was drowned by running water. “Almost there!” As it warmed I could smell the pines as well as hear the wind through their needles. A thermal rose from the creek bottom and carried the unmistakable odor of some species of wild mint. I stopped and thought of my Gramps Roth. On many late summer fishing trips he would find some of that wild mint on a lake shore someplace, roll it up between his fingers and inhale a nose-full. Then he would hold it out to one of my cousins or me, gesturing for us to take a snort too. “Frog peppermint” he would say.
I am alone on this little trout fishing adventure.
Or am I?
I ducked under the boughs of some red cedars and as I straightened, there it was, finally–cold and clear rushing water, filled with gravel and rock, beds of watercress along the margins, overhanging trees that surely hid big trout. I was out of breath. Was it because of the hike, or because of the specialness of this place? I believe it was the latter.
Nervously, I unhooked the #12 Husky Jerk from my rod and stealthily approached the day’s first likely-looking spot. “Make a good cast, get it in there tight, but don’t get snagged.”
Jerk, reel, jerk, pause, let it hang in the current. . . .
There was a flash and a violent tug on the line.
I caught a nice brown on my first cast.
And heard angels sing.