Bruce G photo

photo ©William Dziuk, 2019


I ride on water,

Not a boat ride, but I sit,

I do not use my arms,

I glide on water, but I’m neither fish nor fowl,

But I see both,

Rainbow trout slurp midges from the surface or ambush struggling mayflies,

They jump periodically—jump for joy,

Osprey circle twice then vanish,

They reappear and crash land, talons first— drones that take unsuspecting fish in an instant.

Families to feed. 

 

I ride on water. It’s a low ride because I’m sitting in a float tube. Some call it a personal watercraft, a “belly boat” or “kick boat.”  To fly fishers who spend time on lakes it’s simply a “tube.”  With swim fins on my feet, and waders on my body, I ride lakes with names like Timothy and Trillium, Three Creeks, Manzanita, and Gold.  It’s a slow process and mostly peaceful until the wind unleashes its desire for direction.  Then I ride the water…in struggle.  Better yet, the water rides me. Eventually though, I get where I need to be.  I embrace the tradeoff.

I can ride the water for hours.  While fishing, there is always something to see, or think about.   I can follow the flight of a heron, an eagle, or a pair of osprey as they converse while circling above my head, laser eyes visible. Ducks visit me.  It is all very relaxing but I never forget to remain alert.  Things happen quickly on water. 

Much of what I’ve learned in this life has come by way of water. It forms a timeline of emotion and accomplishment.  If, as psychologists tell us, our earliest memories are seeded deeply in emotion then my first recollections are steeped in fear.

I see a 7-year old child standing in a line in the shallow end of the Sun Valley Park swimming pool.  The water here is labeled 2-3 feet in depth. One morning, early summer of 1955, and I want to learn to swim.  In this pool it is necessary because there are predators who might throw you in to the deep end if you aren’t aware in the afternoon.

Rudy is a 12-year old with curly hair who is the most dangerous.  When not intimidating the vulnerable, he spends his time making loud belching noises with the water.  He is ubiquitous and very scary.  If I become his victim, I will need to deal with being tossed into the section of the pool with the number 9 marking the depth.

In my swimming class we grasp the pool ledge and kick our feet.  This isn’t so bad.  Then we are required to line up from left to right.  The line numbers15 kids and I’m just south of the middle about 9th from the first person who is to perform the instructed task.

“I want you to go down the line and when it’s your turn, put your chin on the bottom of the pool,” the instructor says. Blinding fear surfaces for most of us. I have never put my head deep underwater and I don’t want to make this the first time.  Yet, my desire to be a good student wins the battle and I do as requested.  It all passes quickly, but the memory never fades. The clarity of the chlorine treated water, the loss of sound, the feel of the smooth cement pool bottom.

I learned to navigate the water and the dangers of the public pool that summer, but a strong swimmer I was not.  A careful swimmer; a very careful swimmer. 

Five years later I’m faced with the necessity to become a strong swimmer.  I’ve begun the journey to become an Eagle Scout with a close friend of mine.  To complete this challenge we must earn both the Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges. My skills need to dramatically improve. There are two requirements that frighten me the most.  One involves jumping into a pool or lake fully clothed and making a floating device with your pants, blue jeans.  The trick here is to tie the legs in knots below the knees and to haul the pants over your head so they can fill like sails.  Then you can place your chin in the crotch and begin to stay afloat or swim away from danger.  That’s required for the Swimming badge.  For Lifesaving, the stickler for me involves approaching a struggling adult swimmer, correctly supporting and hauling the drowning victim to shore.  My merit badge counselor, all 6 feet 200 lbs of him, plays the subject to be “saved.”

With all the grit I can muster I get over these hurdles and go on to complete all the requirements.  It is the first time I experience a tremendous sense of overcoming fear.

Young adulthood, college, travel, and the need to make a living all separate me from   water. Once or twice a decade I do manage to snorkel in Mexico and Hawaii, swim in a few lakes, and take advantage of a friend’s swimming pool. 

With middle age comes the realization that my time on or in water might be limited.  Climate change, ageing, and the need for solace find me standing in rivers with a fly rod in my hand. The learning curve for fly fishing is humbling for a teacher. Poetic justice, perhaps, but well worth the time invested. 

A time spent in the headwaters of the Deschutes River best illustrates this idea.  This world class stream that bisects half the state of Oregon begins as a meadow stream flowing out of an alpine lake high up in the Cascades.  Taking a position just off the bank is akin to being in a cathedral. Majesty and awe abound. The sound of the water bubbling by, a dragonfly’s buzz, or a raptor’s call are the only distractions.  And then two eyes pop up from the depth about 15 feet to my right. Is that a beaver? Am I having the quintessential Oregon experience? The whole body emerges to reveal a curious otter.  We converse and then he submerges only to return minutes later with his family. Two otter pups, their mother and father cross in front of me and quickly glide downstream along the bank.  A new kind of contentment follows.

With retirement, I renew my relationship with water.  No more boulder hopping or waist-deep wading. It’s easier on the legs. Standing in rivers gives way to sitting in lakes. I’ve learned that stillwaters have their own invisible rivers and streams.  In many lakes made from dammed rivers or creeks, the original rivulets run underwater along their original stream beds. Often these streams are composed of rivers who have acquired the flow of other drainage systems. They are said to be “captured rivers.” Even after human hands have attempted to change the landscape, nature’s will remains. The fish know and frequent these underwater passageways. They often produce the most food for foraging fish.

Anxiety is no match for nature.  They cannot compete with one another.  The only stress afloat is what I bring with me.  I try to travel light.  There will never be enough days to fish, but the sage has taught me that most who fish are unaware that it is not fish they are after. 

©Bruce Greene, 2019


Bruce Greene taught for 33 years at El Cerrito High School. As a teacher-consultant for the Bay Area, Oregon, and National Writing Projects, he’s offered many workshops on the teaching of writing and literature.  His specialty is using Blues music in Language Arts and Social Science curriculum.

In his eclectic writing career, Bruce has been a correspondent for a national thoroughbred horse magazine and published everything from poetry to creative non-fiction and memoir.  Recent credits include the anthologies The Pressures of Teaching, and What Teaching Means:Stories from America’s Classrooms.He was the 2010 winner of WORK Literary Magazine’s memoir competition.  A founding member of The Guttery, a Portland based writing group. He currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

           

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