The car practically drove itself. West out of town past the community park and over the cow pasture crick rumored to hold smallmouth of disproportionate size. Past the 55 MPH sign and up the rise that caused my stomach to flutter as it had as a child on the rear-facing bench seat of my parents’ station wagon. At the top of the rise the centerline disappeared, the road narrowed, and I left my formal education behind in search of a much more practical degree. Ten minutes to the state line, five more to the water tower. Left, right, left, RPM and BPM rising, Allman Brothers blaring, eyes peeled for state troopers tucked into their usual ambush points. Down one slope, up the next, cresting the top of the valley and coasting to the finish line. 23 minutes on a good day; 30 if I got stuck behind a combine.
It was my first internship, a proving ground for borrowed ideas and vise inventions that absorbed every ounce of my spare time at the other end of those 18 miles. In between courtship and calculus and fledgling alcoholism, there was a surprising amount of spare time left to experiment with.
Like all of my favorite drives, this one told the story of the changing seasons. Rays of light striking the windshield at varying angles forecast the days fishing. The windswept, snow-dusted panoramas of winter promised epic streamer fishing and the likelihood of an entire river reserved just for me. The 18-mile return trip, even in the dusk hours of December, always seemed a bit brighter after a good streamer bite. In time, sharper angles of light turned the drive from gray white to yellow green and suggested possibility: could the bugs begin today? Fair weather brought fair weather anglers, smarter fish and smaller flies. I thought I was the coolest cat on the river, taking thick browns on #26’s, until I discovered that somebody else was doing it with #32’s.
After spring breaks and summer vacations I found myself making the 260-mile trek back to school early, only to drive 18 more so I could clear my head before digging into the books again. After one extended absence I arrived to a favorite stretch of river as the sun was slipping behind the hills and caught the last of a late summer caddis hatch. I threw a sleeping bag in the grass, slept streamside for a few anxious hours, rose before sunrise to cast tricos at rising fish, and made it to my 9:00 AM class with time to spare.
It’s been too long since I’ve been back. Outside my front window this morning, big flakes are flying and a foot of snow covers the ground. A bitter wind rattles the door on the foyer coat closet. I bet the streamer fishing is going to be epic.