Dusk settled over the landscape, the wind calmed and the forest became quiet. Only the river stayed constant, flowing soft and pewter under a darkening sky.
I fossicked (rummaged) about in the deepening gloom for a few more sticks of driftwood with which to feed dinner’s fire, then sat in the sand and watched as color and form seeped from the day.
Two hours earlier, as the shadows had lengthened across the river, I’d fought and lost a big rainbow A red welt on my left clavicle still glowed hotly from where the weighted fly had snapped back from the rainbow’s mouth and opened my skin with its impact. No more than I deserve, I thought.
I’d decided to make camp then and there, at this place where a gentle riffle flowed over a shelf, curved across the river like a quarter moon, before emptying into a pool of deep indigo. The far bank rose steeply out of the water in a sheer cliff face studded with the shapes and shells of ancient marine creatures, trapped in the mud that had hardened to rock as what was once seabed had lifted and become land.
Being three days without a shower, I’d dived into the pool and swam across to the cliff face to look closer at the shells and shapes, then turned upstream into the current and swam in place, feeling the constant press of the water and realizing how perfectly suited is a fish to such an environment, and by comparison how clumsy, like a fish out of water, was I.
The embers having burned down, I set the pan directly onto them and, with a splash of beer in lieu of oil, placed a couple of lamb chops to sizzle and waft into the night air.
Next morning, I would rise with the sun, perhaps fish a couple of hours then load up my raft and continue downriver, emerging from the steep-sided gorge into open farmland where the stamp of humankind lies heavy upon the land. With this would come the feeling of having left something intimate and personal behind, a passing from one world into another, and which one is the real?
Where I now sat, I may well be the only person to linger here for weeks or months to come, the only trace of my passing a few scorch marks and footprints in the sand. I recalled a late night, whisky-fueled conversation I’d had with a friend, many years past.
“What would you do,” he asked, “if you woke one morning to find you were the only person left alive in the world? Would you succumb to the pointlessness of your existence, or would you spend your days in search of someone, anyone, with whom to communicate, to share your story?”
The answer seemed to me obvious. “I’d search,” I answered emphatically. “Otherwise, what point would there be to your story, or to mine?”
By now it was late, no trace of the day remaining in the sky overhead. I crawled gratefully into my sleeping bag and lay, heavy-lidded, looking at the stars. My shoulder smoldered softly like the embers. Tomorrow, I thought, I leave this place, taking with me my story to share.
Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.