Just about six years old and a couple of miles from home, I was determined to catch a trout that I had seen in a pool that was part of a small stream. This section of the stream was located on the edge of a pasture. I returned to the stream by following an old logging road that intersected this small water course. I then followed the brook upstream to a point where it ran underneath an old barbed wire fence. Exiting the dark shadows from the tall coniferous forest and entering the green pasture where cows idled about on the opposite side about 200 yards away was an enticing experience. I knew that the trout would likely be held up in this pool because the water upstream and downstream was shallow due to dry weather. In effect the trout might be trapped. My bamboo pole was long and awkward, especially for a young lad like me. The thin cotton fishing line was wrapped around the tip of the pole and a hook dangled from the line as I climbed over the fence. A barb from the wire caught my shorts as I threw my right leg over the fence. I carefully pulled the barb out of the fabric. Torn clothes were not appreciated by my mother. On the other side of the fence I noticed that the green grass was dented from cow hooves. Dark earth shown up from the bottom of these impressions. I was impressed by their large size.
My mother was at work and my older sister was supposed to be watching me. I was pretty difficult to keep an eye on. And my sister who was only three and a half years older than me really didn’t care where I went as long as I came back before my mother came home. I shuddered at the thought of my mother finding out about my wanderings. I wandered to get away from things. I wandered because it kept my mind occupied. I wandered to see new wonders in nature. But most of all I wandered because I was curious; a trait that seemed to run in my family.
The pool was about three feet deep, four feet wide and four feet long. The stream that fed and exited this pool was so narrow that even a young boy could step across it. As I approached the pool I noticed that there was a shadow from a nearby tree that covered the water. I could see a crystal clear reflection of myself in the dark waters of the pool; the backdrop of a blue sky was also apparent. The mirror image was clear enough so that I could see my own facial features and the white clouds moving from west to east in the reflection before me.
I stood there silently and stared into the pool. I was waiting for any sign of movement to confirm that the trout was still in the pool. This quiet waiting was in stark contrast to something that just happened to me in kindergarten. My teacher asked my mother to not bring me to school anymore because I was too much of a distraction to the other children. I refused to take a nap. I talked incessantly. I was constantly in motion. And my most dishonorable trait; I fabricated stories like there was no tomorrow. Some of my stories about monsters in the woods were so outlandish that it scared the other kindergartners. My mother was mortified. She just could not understand why I couldn’t behave like the other children.
But in this place, deep in the woods where bird song filled the air, a breeze that cooled the sweat on your brow, and where trout just lay in waiting to be caught, I was completely at peace. I understood the woods. I was no ordinary child when it came to the outdoors. It was simply where I was meant to be.
After about five minutes I saw a quick movement. A dark shadow quickly passed through a shaft of light that pierced into the water. I leaned forward, careful to not take a step for fear the trout would sense or hear me. The pool was clear. There were oval and round light colored pebbles on the bottom. I could see dark shadows along the opposite edge of the pool indicating that the bank was undercut. It sure seemed like a good place for a trout to me.
I stepped back, almost to the rusty barbed wire fence, where I unwrapped the fishing line off of the bamboo pole tip. I dug a worm out of my pocket that I put there, along with a few others, to use as bait. Feeding the worm onto the hook I stuck my finger and it bled. Woodsman don’t cry I told myself and bit my lip. I stepped a few feet closer to the pool. I was still about five feet back from the edge. I flipped the tip of the bamboo pole so the bait landed in the water. Slowly it settled into the depths of the pool. A couple of minutes later nothing had happened. From my position this far back I couldn’t see the worm but I hoped it was getting the interest of a brook trout. I had never caught a fish on my own. I hoped that this would be the first one.
The next moment was my first conscious discovery that patience was truly a virtue. I felt a tiny tug and then another. I pulled up the tip on the long bamboo rod. I lowered it and let the line settle back down. Now there was a steady tug. I thought I might have caught a fish! I lifted the tip and walked backwards. The line was heavy. I could see a small trout dangling from the hook. I flipped it onto the pasture grass before it fell off and back into the water.
The trout, about 7 inches long, was beautiful. It had a nearly black body with loads of lighter colored splotches that covered the body. There were several red dots that ran along the mid line of the fish. Its belly was pink and the fins were salmon colored adorned with pink and black stripes. I thought about tossing it back into the pool but no one would believe that I had caught it. It didn’t take me long to decide to bring it home.
I left the trout dangling from the hook and leaned the bamboo pole up against the barbed wire fence. I thought the most convenient way of carrying this prize home might be to leave it where it was. The journey back, a victory lap in my mind, was going to be glorious. In my fantasy world there would be some sort of parade to commemorate this event. Surely I would be carried on someone’s shoulders to the house! My mother would be so happy to see the parade that she couldn’t possibly be mad at me for wandering off into the woods in search of trout.
As this fantasy worked its way through my head I became aware of the sound of pounding hooves. I turned around and about half way across the field there was a black bull running directly towards me! At first I thought it was being playful and then I could hear it snorting. I knew that this was a warning and I suddenly came back to the real world. I tossed my pole over the fence and tried to crawl under the fence to safety before the angry bull stomped me into the ground. The butt of my pants go hooked on a barb and my forward progress was halted. I could hear the pounding hooves get louder and louder. Now in a complete state of panic I lunged forward. I tore my pants. Thinking about my mothers reaction to this and the fact that I had wandered a long way away from home was almost enough for me to jump back in the pasture.
The bull was now at the edge of the fence. He dug at the ground with his front hooves. He snorted and made a very angry bellow. I knew I was safe. Seven strands of barbed wire attached to two maple trees stood between me and the bull. I realized there were tears running down my cheeks. Woodsmen don’t cry I told myself and I tried to stifle my emotions.
I picked up my pole. The trout, now long since perished, was still hanging from the hook on the fishing line. I wrapped the line so that it was secure. As I walked home I knew there would be no parade. When my mother saw the trout she would know that I had wandered away. I walked very slowly on my return journey. I was no longer looking forward to any coronation or celebration. In my young mind I imagined I was about to be skinned alive.
As I walked along I considered making up a fabulous lie. I would tell my mother that I was practicing with my fishing pole in the yard and saw a puppy limping up the road. I followed it into the woods where I had a hard time catching it. I would tell her that after a long, long distance I finally got it cornered against a barbed wire fence where I caught my trousers and ripped them. I saw the puppy was hungry and caught a trout to feed it. And then I found out that puppies don’t eat fish. When I got back to the road the puppy ran away again, presumably finding its way home.
This lie comforted me for about fifteen minutes when I remembered that just the week before I had been caught telling a different lie. A whopper of a lie for the ages. I was late for dinner and had told my mother that I was in the woods when I found a sleeping giant. He was so large and I had to be so quiet that it took me an extra half an hour to get around him. I was in more trouble for lying than I would have been for just being late for dinner.
My big lie was probably not a good idea.
After a long, slow walk home I got to our house. My mother’s Hudson was parked in the driveway indicating that she was home from work. I thought about just walking off into the sunset but my hungry belly persuaded me that this was not a viable option. I had no choice. I would just walk into the house and see what happened.
I went in the kitchen door. I left my pole and fish outside. My mother was standing at the sink pealing tape off of her fingers. She used to put adhesive tape on her fingers everyday to protect them from abrasions as she worked the machine line at the match factory. She was smoking a cigarette as she did every day when she got home. I sat at the table and tried to figure out how to tell her about my torn pants and the fish hanging from my fishing pole.
My mother turned around. She stared into my teary blue eyes. I burst into tears and ran to her side. She hugged me. I told her the whole story. I told her the truth. She asked me over and over again about the bull, each time hugging me harder. I looked at my Mom and she was crying too.
That night my mother cooked my fish in corn flakes and butter. It was the best meal I had ever eaten.
There was no parade but it sure felt good to tell the truth.
And one more thing; woodsmen do cry and so don’t their Moms.
Written for www.wildramblings.com for Mother’s Day in May of 2012.