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John Knudsen

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Member Since: Jul, 2008

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My Best Work
By John Knudsen
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

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Ok, I guess this is going to be an ongoing theme. How do I get AD to add a genre called "creative nonfiction?" NOT a memoir, but a slice of my life anyway.

 Light. Violet yellow light. Sound. Water tumbling over rocks, and a gentle stirring high in the trees. Smells. The musty, bright smell of fresh moss, clean compost, fir and cedar. As I open my eyes I realize I am home. Oh not the kind of home that's full of stuff, and has couches and televisions and windows. The kind of home that feels comfortable because there's no time to rush you about. The kind of home that's not warm because of central heating, but because you have to work just to make breakfast. The kind of home where the ingredients for breakfast are kept fresh because they're still on the bush and in the stream where they live and grow, not in the refrigerator.
        The light is violet and yellow because my tent is, and the sun has to pass through it to get to me. The stream running off to the south is called Siouxon Creek. The trout are small brook trout, one of the ingredients for the best breakfast available on this planet. The huckleberries are tiny and red, and it takes a long time to get a half-cup of them, but they're worth the effort. The fresh huckleberry syrup I pour over my hot cakes is sweet and tart, and sets off the trout and bacon and eggs like a fine wine.  We come here every summer and live on just what we can carry, and what the forest can provide, for as long as a week at a time, sometimes two or three times before the winter rains come and turn the world into a mudpuddle. I'm in no hurry to do anything so I'm free to savor the act of catching breakfast—as delicious a task as eating it.        
        Fishing with a fly is a delicate affair. I first 'read' the creek to find out where the best fishing will be. Then I find the insects that are in or on the water, and try to figure out which of those are being selected by the picky trout. Trout are finicky, but fickle, and will change their diet in the wink of an eye if one bug becomes more abundant than another. God’s own population control program, they are. They take only the bugs that are in greatest quantity, even if that means the little ones, so as I select an imitation and tie it on, I try to stay aware of what is happening in the water. There! One fish comes to the surface! Is there a bubble in the ring expanding aroud his point of emergence? No? Then he must be eating bugs below the surface. I think the little brown nymph I have chosen will work fine. I tie a little dry fly about twelve inches above the nymph so I can see the instant the fish takes my little underwater imitation.
        The trees near the bank are a problem when casting a fly, and these lean inward as all trees seem to do, so I keep my line close to the water as I strip it out to get to where the fish is. The water is icy, having left its home on the glacier twenty minutes ago, but I wade in to get a better vantage to cast from. My line snakes out, first behind me and then in front, then back again. Finally, on the fourth false cast my fly is about ten feet upstream from the fish, and I let it settle in the current. My bug is just a little too close to the middle of the stream and flows past the spot where the fish rose, not through it as I was hoping. I let it drift down another ten feet or so and gently lift the line, fly and all, off the water so as not to startle the fish. Two more false casts and I lay it down again, in almost the exact same spot, but about a foot closer to shore. The fly drifts down to the spot where the fish rose; I pull in the line just enough to wiggle the nymph as though it were trying to rise to the surface. Suddenly the dry fly disappears! I gently lift my rod tip and there he is! Stuck on the end of my line is an eight-inch brooky, just beginning to realize that last bug wasn’t a bug at all. I give a light jerk to set the barbless hook more firmly into his lip and he pulls away from me, helping me accomplish my goal. The fight is not long, but he is a good fish. He hasn’t given up completely, even as I clean him up and send his entrails to his brethren.
        If you wait for rigor mortis to set in, your meal will taste 'fishy' and no one will truly enjoy it. I put a slice of a sweet onion and another of lemon inside his body cavity, sprinkle him with lemon pepper, wrap him in bacon and before he gets stiff he's sizzling in my pan.
        The aroma of the syrup cooking, the bacon and the fish is too much for my son, and he gets up. He stumbles out of his tent, running a hand through his short, dark hair. His words are slurred with sleep as he greets me:
        “That smells good. Is there enough for me?” he asks.
        “Yup.”
        “Can I have that one?” He looks hopefully into the pan.
        “Nope.”
        “Where’s mine?” He is getting suspicious.
        “In the creek.”
        “Gee thanks,” he grouses.
        “My pleasure,” I assure him as I hand him the fly rod, already rigged. “I saw another one rising about twenty feet upstream from the rock where we wash up.” I want him to be successful.
        “Okay.” Peevishly.
        He knows how to do this. He’s caught many fish before. So I’m totally at a loss when he walks up to the spot where I had seen the other fish instead of getting in the water 50 feet downstream. Once again the questions that my father asked me come to mind. “What is it that makes an intelligent twelve-year-old become a teenager? By what process is the grey matter totally neutralized so that everything we have taught them is lost for eight or nine years?”
        His fish has already been 'put down' for the day and he will have to find another. It takes two hours, but he finally stops thrashing the water for that instant gratification and pretends to be patient long enough to catch a fish. He has not discovered, yet, that time does not exist here unless you bring it with you. He cooks his fish himself and is every bit as conscientious about his cooking as I am. He’s learning the things that he thinks are important to him.
        In the meantime I load up another rod and catch two more for the girls, who finally crawl out of their bags about noon. The oldest is a real beauty, barely thirteen, with short dark hair and slim build. The youngest is still a child, but is nearly as tall as her older sister. As unlike each other as any two sisters can be, she is heavier and fair haired, and just as beautiful to me.
        This is the story of my life. At least since my marriage ended. I am a single father working my way through school. I have custody of two teenagers and one ten-year-old. I have learned patience and am learning more daily. My life seems to flow much like this camp-out. Of course I am not camping all the time, but this is how I provide for my kids and teach them to provide for themselves. Then I watch them forget everything I have taught them, everything they have demonstrated a working knowledge of, and figure it out for themselves all over again. I guess if I wanted to put my life into one short story, I would be that teenager: impatient, thrashing around and trying to force the world to be what I want it to be, demanding the fish be where I put my fly, and that it take my fly because I want to eat it, not because it is trying to slake its own hunger, for maybe thirty years or more, and then I would finally be the father. It takes some of us longer than others to get over those teenage years. I hope I have finally left mine behind.


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