An Anniversary of Sorts

(Begging your indulgence if you’ve seen this before):

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

Despite the bluebird desert sky, the rich sage air, the gorgeous red sun rising over the canyon rim—in spite of the prospect of a perfect river day—I am angry. Angry at myself. Angry at my fishing buddy Steve.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

We chased steelhead up and down Oregon—the Clackamas, the Sandy, along the Deschutes. Fished stripers in Sacramento, shad in the North Umpqua, smallmouth bass in the Willamette. Today I’m swinging a Skykomish Sunrise through runs I know as well as my backyard, as little as my heart.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

I launched while the stars were still out, rowing hard to warm up. Dropped the anchor in Trout Creek, stepped into the river, the same river once. Rigged the rod with a Green Butt Skunk. This much I know how to do.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

I’m angry because I don’t know how to feel. Steve has brain cancer and all I can do about it is walk in the water, lose myself in the thoughtless rhythm of the wading, the rhythm of not thinking at all. What I’m most angry about is that I don’t know how to tell Steve I love him. This isn’t something most men say to each other. “You’re a mensch, Steve” is as close as I come.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

We froze our asses off on winter runs in the Sandy River, broiled in July on the lower Deschutes, got blown out by winter rains on the Trask and the Nehalem. He was there for the first August fish I hooked, the four-pounder on the short Scott rod I loved so much I sent it back for repairs to the factory three times. The startled power of that fish is eternal in my muscle memory—I dream it sometimes, though I didn’t know enough to steer him across current and lost him.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

By choice and necessity, I fish alone today, laying out the graceful casts a spey rod gives me. The leaves on the hillside are the burning yellow I love. The breeze shoving down the canyon—a true headwind later in the afternoon—carries the faint cold breath of winter coming.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

I turn my back to the river to watch a train on the opposite bank and only then comes the tug on my fly, that racing, muscular, unpanicked run.

“When I pursue happiness, I never find it,” Yang Wan-li says. “Then suddenly, when I’m not looking, it appears.” I release the fish—I want to kiss it goodbye—and flick out a long snap T-cast cross-current.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step.

Steve tells me over the phone he lost his fear of dying in Vietnam. What I haven’t lost, apparently, is my own fear of losing—losing fish, losing friends, losing life. Ave, Steve. I love you, brother.

Cast. Mend. Drift. Strip. Step on.

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
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8 Responses to An Anniversary of Sorts

  1. Loved it the first time I saw it, still do.

  2. memryrose says:

    Richard, Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your memories and most of all Steve with us. There are so many things I am feeling after reading this post twice. I am sorry this is happening to Steve and to you. I am thankful you have a friend who lived those memories with you. Sending thoughts of comfort your way.

  3. Dick, my friend. This is so powerful, beautiful, sad, loving. All such important things in our short lives. Thank you for starting my day on this note.

  4. Anonymous says:

    So lyrical and moving, Dick. I love that the fish comes in a moment of inattention. Did you ever tell Steve you loved him, or is that just a guy thing? In these crazy times, I am feeling more moved to say things. Life seems so fragile these days.


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