By Bradley Thornton Riffee
We crept up a beaver creek on a cool fall day filled with nothing but sunshine. The colorful leaves in all their glory brightened our world as we set out to find our native brook trout friends patrolling their mud-packed ponds. Dragonflies of October danced across an eastern breeze as we headed upstream, and all we could do was smile because we knew we were almost there.
Every dam we crossed or hiked around was a carefully constructed masterpiece. Sticks upon sticks neatly stacked to slow the flow. The quality of engineering put into their construction was clearly visible, and I couldn’t help but think of their importance in our quest. Thistles as big as fists brushed along our waders, but the thought of snagging a hole was small compared to the grand goal of the adventure.
As we approached the rim of the upper pond just below the lodge, my friend prepared his line. I still remember the fluid motion of his fly rod as it swung against a backdrop of all that’s wild and everything wonderful. Then, as he set the hook after his third cast, the muddy water who waited patiently for us to arrive gave up her bounty, and so the session began.
Brook trout after brook trout greeted us with hit after hit. Clearly the flies whipped up during breakfast passed the ultimate inspection. We quickly began to lose track of our aquatic encounters. Our finned friends, so perfectly painted, reminded me of Nature’s steady hand. Gently netting each fish, it was impossible to miss the deep orange, black fading into white tips, bright red dots surrounded by turquoise blue, and the unforgettable almost-heaven-yellow halos that illuminated the space around them; it seemed as if their colors spilled into our hands.
“I circled the birch to find,
Again, my source of life; my stream of wonder,
The swift beast that captured my mind back when
I, weary from astonishment, tied my heart to a line, – Where my understanding of truth dissolved
And there I learned to see below the surface
A wild will to persevere with proper grace.”
— Bradley Thornton Riffee
Then, almost as a congratulatory gesture, the great brown builder of the grand environ before us emerged from her lodge to clap her oval tail. Perhaps, at first, she thought we meant her kits and family harm, but she quickly realized we were of no threat and calmly retreated to the depths of her front door.
Making our way around the pond, past the spring head to the left of the lodge, we were captivated by our coordinates and reflected on our experience as dusk kindly ushered the sun to its next horizon. Standing on the edge of a grassy bank between the vast firmament and ponds below, familiar words came to mind to greet an old familiar feeling.
As we hiked back to the truck down the canals we carefully meandered, I was left with one last thought: I sure do hope we have beavers in heaven, and our native friends, too.
A native of Michigan, Brad Riffee lives in Doddridge County, W.V., and is the community impact director for the United Way of Harrison County, Inc. He’s spent the past 10 years refining his fishing techniques while knocking around West Virginia with his best friend, Dustin Wichterman, Trout Unlimited’s mid-Atlantic program manager.