Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fishing at Tioga

I’m sitting on the rocks near the dam on Tioga Lake. My dad’s fishing pole is propped up in the rod holder, the line disappearing out into the water.

I had a bad moment when I was putting the pole and line together – I couldn’t remember which way the water bubble float needed to go. And was that before or after the swivel with the lead line?

I had frozen, my breath catching.

Dad wasn’t sitting near by to remind me of the proper way to assemble my fishing line. Usually we would sit together outside his trailer and slowly build our poles and lines making ready for the next day of fishing. I counted on his tackle box having the right hooks and leaders.

This time, it’s my tackle box.

Staring at the pole and pieces in my hands, I had stepped through the memories figuring that I would quickly discover whether I had it right or wrong the first time I cast the line out. So far, it seems I remembered what needed to be done.

I didn’t bring down his best pole. I couldn’t bring myself to use it. Black and glossy, I remember him proudly bringing it home from the Fenwick factory visit he made long ago. Stuff happens to fishing poles. Tips break, scratches. The pole has its own leather case and is wrapped in a long flannel bag. Okay, so does the one I did bring with me – another Fenwick pole – but the black one, no, I couldn’t use it yet.

My sister is using my pole that dad gave me one year for Christmas. She purchased her first fishing license just for this trip and even though she hasn’t fished since she was a teenager, she still is able to cast like she’d been fishing her whole life. We both brought in a fish at Lundy and have plans to enjoy a trout dinner tomorrow.

Tioga Lake is breezy at 7 am and its cold. The sky is a brilliant blue and the sun is just starting to hit the mountains of Tioga Pass. Its difficult sitting here without dad. We’re both teary eyed and hollowed out by our memories and grief. He is everywhere – and nowhere. As I sit here pondering the lake, the pole, and the Folgers coffee in my mug, I realize how incredibly happy I am that this place – this  wild and natural pocket of space won’t change. At least not in my lifetime. Sitting here on rocks that I’ve sat so many times before, fishing in the same deep-water hole, drinking the same coffee – I realize that it is here that I feel closest to him.

I have countless memories of watching the sun come over the ridge mountains surrounding this spot. Dad taught my children to fish here. There were days when we caught dinner, others when we left happy and empty handed. It’s over 9000 feet at the edge of Tioga Lake and the hills around us are bare rock and slate. Copper, grey and white. Whitebark and Jeffrey Pines dot the landscape. Alpine meadows are golden brown this time of year and there are a few hints of the fall colors coming.

This is his monument, his memorial.
His resting place permeates these rocks and trees and water.

And that makes this the place that I will come when I need to feel his spirit. I carry his love in my heart – but it’s here and at Lundy Lake and back beyond Saddlebag Lake that I feel so close to him. I’ve whispered to the land, giving over my grief to this beautiful landscape. It’s hard right now to feel anything beyond the searing sense of loss; and yet, this stunning wild place brings its own comfort and peace. When I’m ready, this is where I can walk with him.

The fish aren’t biting at Tioga.
I turn to the water and say, “I’m here, dad.”

Even as I speak, a lone eagle flies along the water towards me, directly over my head, and back beyond the rocks. I’ve never seen an eagle up here in all the years I’ve come. I gasp. Smiling, my heart cracking open, I start to cry.

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