Is this what mortality feels like?
They’re in the deep pools, the ones that are filling now with yellow alder leaves. They come up easily to a humpy or an elk-hair caddis, bright browns and brook trout flashing the colors of autumn.
At least that’s what I suppose. I don’t know for sure, actually.
It’s been a gorgeous season at the foot of the Rockies. Canadian air drove off the summer’s smoke, bringing crystalline days so clean and still you’re afraid they’ll shatter. Snow is sticking up high in the Indian Peaks, and the hoppers left in the dry grass down here are as big as your thumb. Despite a recent drought, the creeks falling down the canyons still carry enough water, and even though the mornings are cold, the sun packs a punch.
There’s something deeply atavistic about hunting and fishing in the fall. Our lizard brains tell us to get ready—winter is coming!—to bring in firewood, gather the harvest, can tomatoes, fill the freezer with meat. To stalk spotted fish through the glory of an autumn day is to feel like you’ve spent your time well; that you have done what you’re supposed to do.
This season, though, my visceral itch to prepare has gone unscratched. This season belongs not to rod and rifle, but to Edgar.
Edgar was a gift from Doctor Parks, who on Labor Day Weekend took a look at the X-ray of my left foot and handed him over. He’s a beauty: 22 inches of molded black plastic, closed-cell foam and Velcro, all strapped around my lower leg and foot. He’ll be there until the break in my fifth metatarsal heals, an open-ended arrangement. He goes with me everywhere now, even to bed. Like conjoined twins who don’t like each other, we are constant, unshakable companions.
Edgar is a memento mori of a moment that has arrested time, a moment that involved Tevas, competition, and bad judgment in pursuit of fun.
Ah well, I thought, after the bone cracked. A few weeks on crutches and I’ll be back at it. I pushed my planned September trip to the Roaring Fork into October, then cancelled it. My October trip to the headwaters of the North Platte slipped into November. When I got yet another X-ray at Halloween, the North Platte trip morphed into a vague idea about some sort of winter tailwater expedition. I called a nice lady at the Division of Wildlife and exchanged my elk tag for a later season. Then I asked Dr. Parks about my prospects. She just gave me a look. I sent the new elk tag in and asked for my money back.
Weeks have turned into months as that little bone has stubbornly refused to knit. When I’m driving, I almost forget about it. Each time I cross a bridge, I still look. Maybe I’ll see a rise. Maybe I’ll find a pool I can fish on crutches. I’ve figured out how to carry a pitcher of beer this way.
I am trying hard to be Buddhist about all this, to tell myself that a broken bone is neither good nor bad, it just is. I’m certainly getting a lot more work done at my desk. I’ve watched more football than in past years. I’m not putting any new holes in my waders. Look at all the benefits!
“You should take up tying,” one of my buddies told me.
“I don’t want your pity,” I replied.
He had come over to borrow an ice pack. He’s taken up golf recently—a requirement of a recent corporate promotion—and found that it causes excruciating pain. A bone spur in his elbow is the problem, the product of a lifetime of slinging flies. He’s going to modify his cast, but he isn’t about to quit fishing.
I’m going to get back out there. Maybe next month. Maybe the month after that. Perhaps you’ll see me standing in midstream this winter, solid in the current on my one good leg and a pair of iced-up crutches, with Edgar trailing in the eddy behind me.
[Hal Clifford takes his calcium pills every day in the shadow of the Colorado Rockies.]