My name is Brad H–, and I believe in the power of shared experience. When you’ve shared meaningful experiences with someone, they’re forever bound to your memory, yet free from space and time. They house a dreamlike nostalgia through which you can tap into your childhood, or reconnect with someone who’s far away. Maybe the best way to explain what I mean by shared experience is to tell you a fishing story . . .
My dad and I have been fishing Michigan’s rivers together since I was old enough to wade. A few years ago he brought me up north, to the Au Sable River, where he and his father had fished regularly when he was a boy. It was the first time he’d been back in many years. All that morning he talked about being a kid; jump-shooting pheasants on the logging road to the river, and fishing by lamplight during the June mayfly hatches. Just before lunch he landed a nice brown trout that had a belly like a sunrise. I remember as he let it go he said “this one’s for my old man”. As we ate, he told me that a river really has two currents; one you feel with your legs, and one you feel with your soul.
That afternoon the sun burnt off the clouds and the trout stopped taking dry flies, so we split up in search of deeper water. Later I found him sitting downstream on the edge of a bank that overlooked a deep, swirling pool. At first, I thought he was looking for trout, but his eyes were more penetrating than looking. I like to think that he was searching for his father down there, and that somehow, they found one another.
My dad lives in Florida these days, so sometimes the river feels a little empty without him. Last April I was on the Rouge River, and spring was lying wet and cold along the muddy bank. I was half asleep when a steelhead suddenly devoured the tattered black stonefly I’d been casting all day. He leapt from the water three times before beaching himself on a shallow gravel bar. I know my dad would’ve loved to see that fish jump. I imagined him laughing and dashing clumsily downstream, net in hand like I had seen him do a hundred times before. Light bounced of the shiny gravel of the Rouge, and down into some nameless corner of my heart that had been missing my dad all spring. That’s when I realized what he’d meant about a river having two currents. In the one I felt my frozen blue toes curling up against the cold, and in the other I felt my father, and his father, and all those shared experiences curling up against my soul. I smiled as I let that fish go, and I thought to myself, “this one’s for my old man”.
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