Voices from the River: Alone

By Chris Hunt

 

Sometimes, being by yourself is all the company you need.

Stretched out in a camp chair in the night-time chill of the high desert, the crackle of a small fire and the enthusiastic yips from a family of coyotes break the wild silence. The full moon is about to appear over the horizon, and it seems that everything around me is waiting for it.

 

It’s spring, or at least that’s what the calendar says. The sunny day was spent casting to the big Snake River carp that are moving into the shallows after a winter spent lying nearly dormant at the bottom of the deep, green river. The big invasives migrate into the river’s little backwater sloughs when the water warms a bit—it usually takes a couple of sunny days in the spring, but once they move in for the spawn, it takes a serious weather shift to get them to move out. They’re like many of us fishers—once we start, it takes a lot to stop us. And, of course, there are parallels to the migration. They move about when the water warms. After a winter spent hibernating, so do we.

 

I had a bit of luck—carp can be notoriously picky and incredibly spooky. Sight-casting to them is as close to saltwater fly fishing a land-locked angler can achieve, but it takes patience and persistence. I stood in knee-deep water for hours this day, and I connected with a couple of burly fish as the sun dipped below the basalt bluffs to the west.

But the day spent in sweet isolation casting and stripping over and over again wasn’t really about fishing. It’s been a long winter in Idaho, and the sunshine was the remedy for a seasonally inflicted bout of the blues. It happens to a lot of us this time of year, and sometimes, it just takes a forced retreat to the wild to cure those ills.

And I’m happily tired as I sit with the fire. The desert breezes are schizophrenic, changing directions at will. I’ve given up trying to move away from the woodsmoke, because no matter where I put the chair around the little fire ring, I’m discovered. It feels purposeful, as if the smoke has a conscience and a plan. When it hits, I just close my eyes and let it wash over me and cleanse winter away.

These lonely sojourns to the desert go beyond therapy. They’re soulful. Preparatory. They fix more than the mind and the body—they heal the spirit. And, as winter keeps its grip on the high country for now, these trips to the sage and the backwaters are that stand between me and a straightjacket. Or so it seems.

I add a log to the fire and the coyotes, now curiously closer, up their song. The moon lifts off the mountains to the south and east and starts to climb. Songbirds awaken in the cattails and the occasional splash of a breaching carp carries across the sage. My world now consists of what I can see in the firelight and what I can hear in the moonlit night.

The desert comes alive at night. Raccoons wander the water line looking for crawfish—sometimes, you can hear them frolicking in the shallows and chattering at each other. The coyotes, now quiet after their moonrise song, have dispersed into the night in search of voles and rabbits, or maybe an unlucky rockchuck. Occasionally, a bat will dive close enough to be seen—miller moths are starting to show up. Over the water, mud swallows dive and dance, chasing midges. And the splashes. Always the splashes.

I’m feeling human again. Away from the office chair and the computer screen, I’m feeling like there’s real hope to a change in the seasons.

I stretch a bit, dive a little deeper into my sweatshirt and rest my feet on the rocks of the fire ring. I close my eyes and feel the smoke and ash penetrating my clothes and skin. It feels warm and welcoming.

It feels like … summer.

Chris Hunt is the national editorial director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Comments

 
said on Friday, May 26th, 2017

I spend 75-80% of my time on the water fishing alone. I've often referred to this as my time in the Church of the Trout Stream. It restores my soul.

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