View Full Version : Touching You

06-12-2010, 08:48 AM
Years later Jen would have a PhD in bio-chemical engineering and she would lead a research team to develop drug therapies for a group of diseases of the nervous system. We didn't know that about her in the summer Jen was fourteen.

When Jen was fourteen she was a skinny late blooming honey blonde with a long pony tail. She had light blue eyes, and fair skin that freckled in July. When she talked or laughed she wrinkled her nose, and her slightly oversized mouth would open to show straight white teeth. The corners of her mouth would turn down when she was thinking. If you didn’t know her, you would think it was a frown.

Jen’s dad was a high school teacher, and her mom was the judge in municipal court. They lived in an old farmhouse a few miles from town, just within the city limits, on Gilson Road just above its crossing with Shepard Road. The farm had sheds and barns, and the family had cats and dogs, chickens and six horses. Half of the seventy five acres was pasture and fields, and half was hardwoods. A small stream ran through the woods and under a bridge on Shepard Road on its way to the center of town and the bigger river.

Jen wouldn’t have accepted the label of tomboy, but she had greater interest and skill in the outdoors than most girls her age. By fourteen she had shot two deer, and in the spring she killed a twenty seven pound wild turkey with her brother’s shotgun. Jen built bluebird houses in her dad’s workshop. She watched the hawks hanging on their wings high above the fields, then dropping down on a mouse or a gopher. She walked slowly through the woods, looking for the nesting trees of the barred owls that called to one another on still nights. She helped in netting and banding songbirds, and with each wild bird, before she released it she whispered “I touched you.” And she was interested in the stream and the lives of the animals that lived near it and in it.

In the spring Jen saw a mink looking for a meal along the margin of the stream. She followed the mink and found a den under a tree above the stream. She went back often to watch for the mink. That was how she found the brook trout.

There was one large pool between the stream source and the bridge on Shepard Road. The pool was just below the ford where the horses came to water. The water danced across the pebbles in the ford, quickened as it squeezed around three rocks and a log in a bend, and then ran thigh deep along the right bank under the branches of an old willow. The water slowed in the pool, curled around in a sandy eddy on the left, and then poured out at the tail of the pool, dancing again between rocks on its way to the river. Jen was watching for the mink when the brook trout rose from the bottom of the pool. It stuck its nose out of the water, and pulled in a drifting mayfly. The trout was big. It was a foot and a half long. Jen watched the fish through the spring and early summer, and the mink was forgotten. Jen decided the trout belonged, that it was at home in the pool.

On a Wednesday afternoon Jen was sitting in an oak on the left bank of the stream. From a fork ten feet above the ground she had a window though the willow branches and a view of the trout. Jen watched the leisurely rises, how the trout tipped up and drifted back under a floating insect, drifting back with the fly, then tipping up some more for the interception. The bug fell into a small funnel on the surface of the water, the fish moved back to its resting spot, and a bubble drifted down on the surface where the insect might have been.

There was movement downstream. A fisherman was working his way up from below. He was a brown haired man of about thirty, she supposed, wearing hip boots and a fishing vest, and he had a large canvas creel over one shoulder. He carried a long fly rod. She saw him catch two small trout in the pocket water below the pool. When he reached the tail of the pool, he cast a dry fly on a long line over the shallow water. There were no fish there, and the fisherman moved into the shallow eddy. He began casting sidearm to reach under the willow branches. With each cast his fly went further up the current. His fly was drifting over the big trout. The trout came off the bottom of the pool to drift beneath it. The trout rose higher in the water, and just as the trout opened its mouth, Jen wanted to shout “No!” Jen didn’t shout. The fish took the fly, and the fisherman pulled back with his rod. The trout thrashed once on the surface, and ran under the bank, pulling the tip of the rod under water. The fisherman tried to hold the fish away from the bank, and his tippet snapped.

The fisherman reeled in his limp line and sat on a log at the edge of the eddy. He sat there for a minute looking at the pool. Then he tied on another fly, stood up, and began to cast again. He moved to four different spots in the eddy to cast under the willow branches. Jen saw he was practicing for his next try at the big fish. After twenty minutes of practice, the fisherman stepped out of the pool, watched the current under the branches, and then turned to walk downstream to the bridge.

When the fisherman was out of sight, Jen climbed down from her tree and ran to the house. She picked up her bicycle and rode quickly down to Shepard Road. On Shepard Road she slowed, and in a few minutes a dusty, small SUV came up the hill. It was a gray car. The fisherman looked at her through his sunglasses, and Jen appeared to frown. As they passed one another, Jen looked at the back of the car and saw a sticker for an auto dealership in the city ninety miles away.

Jen saw the dusty SUV when it returned the following Wednesday afternoon. She had time to get to the pool first, and she walked slowly down the horse trail to the ford. At the pool she threw several rocks through the willow branches and into the water, and when she was in her oak, the trout was not in its regular place. The fisherman appeared as expected, fishing through the pocket water below the pool. When he reached the pool, he pulled his leader through his hands to test its strength, and then began to cast. His casts were accurate and his fly drifted lightly on the surface of the stream. The trout never came out. After a half hour, the fisherman climbed out of the pool again, studied the currents, and then turned back to his car.

The next day Jen asked her dad for help. He gave her a casting lesson on the lawn. When she had the basic casting stroke, she thanked her dad and said she’d learn what she needed alone. For two days she practiced on the lawn with her dad’s fly rod, and for three days she practiced short casts in the pocket water, and caught a few of the small brook trout that lived between the rocks. On Tuesday she went to the big pool.

Jen stepped slowly into the eddy, wading in old sneakers and jeans. The water was cold on her legs. The trout was rising about twice a minute, and Jen watched the fish slide up to intercept several flies. When she was ready, she cast her fly sidearm up the current. The first real cast put the fly above the fish, and the fish slid back under the fly and sucked it in. Jen pulled back sharply, and when the fish started to move toward the bank, Jen kept her rod low and to the side. The fish felt very strong through the length of the rod. In a few minutes the fish was away from the willow, out in the sunlight.

Jen steered the fish to her legs and she caught it and held it with her left hand across the back, holding it in the water. The fish was cold and muscled. Jen squeezed the rod under her right arm. She reached down with her right hand and found the leader tippet. She followed the tippet up to the fly in the corner of the trout’s mouth, and she twisted the fly free. Jen looked at the trout resting in her left hand. She reached out with her right, put her index finger on the trout’s nose, and said “I touched you.” Then she let the fish slip out of her hand. It rested on the bottom of the eddy, and then slowly swam back to its home under the willow.

Jen expected the fisherman on Wednesday afternoon again, and she had a plan. The plan did not work. Jen was brushing her big blood bay gelding when the gray SUV slowed at the turn onto Shepard Road. Jen watched the SUV, and it didn’t go down the hill to the bridge. The fisherman stopped the car at the edge of the pasture, parked by the side of the road, and got out. From a distance, Jen saw him open the hatch and sit on the back of the car. She knew he would be putting on his hip boots. He stood up, closed the hatch, and started walking along the edge of the pasture to the big pool. He would get there too soon. Jen had to change her plans.

Jen’s blood bay, a gift from her father, was rescued from a small breeder who had fallen to ill health. The breeder had been raising hunting horses, and the seven year old gelding, Doctor Know, was a tall Percheron and Thoroughbred cross. Doctor Know was dark red, almost black, with a heavy black mane and tail and black legs, and a large head. He was seventeen hands high and athletic. Jen threw a red saddle blanket on the horse, and his black western saddle. She brought out his black bridle and reins, and when he was ready she unhitched him from the rail and pulled herself up into the saddle. With her cues, the horse began at a trot and then moved into a full pounding gallop toward the edge of the pasture and the ford. The fisherman was out of sight on his way to the pool.

The girl and the horse slowed on the downgrade toward the ford, and just before they reached the water Jen pulled him into a turn, and Doctor Know crashed through the bushes on the bank. The fisherman was standing in the eddy with a frightened look on his face. Doctor Know splashed into the water. Jen pushed him forward toward the fisherman. The fisherman fell backwards onto his seat, and his hip boots filled with cold water.

Jen pulled Doctor Know to a stop in front of the fisherman, and she frowned down at him. He struggled to his feet. He still had his fly rod in his hand. When he was standing, Jen gave the horse a nudge with the toe of her left boot, and Doctor Know lifted his left front hoof and stomped it down in the water, splashing the fisherman. Then she held the horse quiet and looked down at the man.

Jen wouldn’t have much authority with this man if she was on foot, but Doctor Know made the difference. “You’re on our land. You’re trespassing.”

The fisherman realized he was not hurt, and he grew angry. “You have no right to ride your horse at me.”

Jen said, “I guess this is our land, and I’ll ride my horse where I please.”

The fisherman was embarrassed, wet, and indignant. “You can’t harass a fisherman who’s fishing legally. It’s against the law.”

Jen had thought through the possibilities of the encounter. She had an answer. “I’m riding my horse of my own land, and you’re trespassing.”

The fisherman took a step back toward the bank. “People can fish in the stream, as long as they stay in the water.”

Jen nudged the horse to take one step forward. “You didn’t come up from the bridge. You trespassed on our pasture. That’s against the law.”

“Well, I’ll have you in court for harassing me when I’m fishing.”

“Are you going to tell my mother on me?”

“No. I’m going to take you to court.”

“My mother is the judge.” Jen saw the fisherman’s jaw drop, and she knew she had him. Then she said, “There’s no fish worth catching in this stream anyway.”

“I lost a big one in this pool. A big brook trout. I would like to take its picture, and release it.”

“You have a creel. I think you would have killed the fish.” Jen leaned forward to keep the pressure on the fisherman.

“The creel is so I can pick up trash. Not to keep fish.”

“We won’t have trash on our land. Besides, the fish you saw? It was a brown trout, not a brookie. My brother caught it last week. It was delicious.”

The fisherman didn’t say anything, but he didn’t move. Jen nudged Doctor Know with her toe, and the horse picked up his hoof and brought it down with force, splashing the fisherman again.

Shoulders down, the fisherman asked, “Is it okay if I walk across your pasture back to my car?”

“I’ll let you do that today, if you don’t come back.”

The fisherman sloshed out of the stream, and then through the woods to the edge of the pasture. Jen turned Doctor Know around and rode him back to the ford. Out in the pasture, the fisherman was walking toward his car. Jen followed him on the horse, about twenty feet behind, frowning. He got to the road and crawled under the fence. Jen turned around without saying a word, and nudged Doctor Know into a gallop. She rode fast back to the barnyard.

In the autumn the big fish moved upstream. She found a bed of pea gravel in a riffle above the ford, and that’s where she dug her nest. With the attentions of two smaller males, she left her legacy in the bed of the stream. The big trout retreated to the pool to wait for winter, and in the spring she was gone.

06-12-2010, 09:45 AM
I sit, transfixed...mind on a Driftless stream....Jen has touched me, too.

06-13-2010, 02:10 PM

that is a really nice story! I like it, like it, like it!!!



06-17-2010, 05:07 AM
Thank you, Sirs, for your comments.

06-17-2010, 10:42 PM
Excellent! Thank you for sharing.

06-17-2010, 11:19 PM
Enjoyable, I read it and I enjoyed the perspective.

06-21-2010, 03:42 PM

This is a made up story, but it has roots.

In the Midwest we have more small streams than you'd know. Some of the best fishing is in the Driftless Area, a green and gentle land of small farms and spring water rills. Many of the creeks run through private property, and there is often a culture clash of landowners vs city fishermen, bait fishermen vs fly fishermen, catch and kill vs catch and release, and so on.

The locals see the city people as interlopers. The city fishers see the locals as simple. They would both be better served if they tried to get to know one another. But they often don't.

It's amazing to see what the city fishermen will say in the exercise of their legal "rights." I remember the Midwestern city blogger who argued that the farmer had no right to have a bull in the pasture; the farmer's use of his own land was supposed to yield to the fisherman's right to fish the stream.

We know where the narrator's sympathies lie. Jen has a name, and the fisherman doesn't. Jen, the thinker, teaches herself to catch the fish, while the fisherman repeats variations of his first approach. Jen is protective of the family farm and the big fish, and the fisherman thought it was okay to trespass, because no one would be hurt by it.

The story would have had a different ending if the fisherman had stopped at the house and asked if he could fish the creek in the woods. He won't do that, because he's standing on his rights, he doesn't want to bother, and he thinks he's the only one who knows the fish is there.

Jen wins out this time. The locals win out much more often than the city fishermen seem to realize.