By Miles Marquez
The southern heat envelopes me as I walk outside to the truck. It feels thick, tangible, as if air between all things is not just dead space, but a warm gelatin. It reminds me of the heat you feel when you are crossing the street in midtown Manhattan in the dead middle of the day, surrounded by a million other suffering people breathing heavy. A city bus pulls away from the curb, and you feel the back blast of bus engine heat. That is how we used to describe the hottest days, wherever we were, as summer, back-of-the-bus heat. And that is the only way I can describe the heat down here. My dark grey truck looks like a cooking pot sitting on a black asphalt stove. And it certainly feels the same inside. I open all the windows and drive on. I hit the freeway and drive north—north to the prospect of cooler weather. The wind flows through the car as I speed down the expressway. The towns, gas stations, and fast food restaurants seem to melt and fade away in my rear view as I pass them by. I feel like I am in a dramatic disaster movie, where I am running from an extinction level event right on my tail.
I have not yet arrived at my destination but I already feel the weight of all my stresses begin to lift off my shoulders and fly out the windows of my truck with the wind. Often the most freedom you feel on a journey is right after you’ve fled the coop. The prospect of solitude and native trout, all saturated in my mind by the green aura of the forest makes me smile. I am closer now, as darkness falls, I cannot see what is ahead of me, but I can feel it in the air that now fills the car. The fragrance of blooming and decomposing nature fills the cool air. I park my truck in the next small town on the road for some rest. All is still, but not silent. The forest speaks at night, when all else is silent. I stand, stretch and absorb the new, cool air, then crawl into my camper shell to get some rest before I continue on my journey.
I wake up before the sun rises, and step out into the cool morning air. I am shocked as I feel cold; a rare and almost forgotten feeling. I make myself a cup of coffee. All the warmth of the south that I escaped transfixed into a cup of coffee. It sure did warm me up. Everything feels surreal. Out on the lamb. An adventure. I know the mountain looms above me, but I cannot see it. I drive up winding roads, quickly rising in elevation. The road is masked by a dense fog. My headlights illuminate only the road directly before me. The road begins to plateau and I turn onto the Parkway.
I truly am high up now, it is not fog that envelopes me now, I am truly somewhere in the clouds. I pull over to finish my coffee. The black sky slowly transforms into a deep purple haze as a sliver of gold pierces the horizon. As the large golden oval of the sun breaks the edge of Earth, the sky explodes into a ball of fire. It is a sea of fire that illuminates the vast mountaintops around me that seem to continue on forever. As if the sky truly were burning, the space between the mountains are cloaked in an almost perfectly flat sheet of smoky haze. I am not a particularly religious person, yet I stare out over this surreal range of color and beauty I find it hard to relate my vision as anything less than heavenly.
Some small forest roads later and I am where I think I am supposed to be. I can hear the trickling of water and the cries of birds in the air. There is no sign of humanity besides this unimproved road where I park the truck. The sun is fully up now and illuminates the greenery around me. It is warm, but not uncomfortable. I throw a sandwich and some water in my backpack, string up a small rod, and grab a patch of my poorly tied, caddis type, yellow sallies. Only the basics; I’ll leave the parlor trick tackle behind. I strike out from the truck, and head up the mountain parallel to the sounds of a small creek.
I am on an adventure, yet I feel surprisingly at home. I am meant to be here. Quietly I slide through the brush like a trout moving between the seams of current in the water. When I feel I’ve gone deep enough into the expanse I cut left to the babbling of the brook. The forest opens up when I come to the creek. Creeks are like nature’s roads. Sharp rays of sun break the canopy and slice through the dewy air. The water cascades off of moss covered boulders strewn about the draw. The sound of moving water is soothing. Stepping into the water, the cold of the water surrounds my feet and legs, and it is a good cold. It is cold, and I can already feel the life teeming inside it. There will be trout here, there have to be.
Through the haze of sunlight and moisture, I can see some small bugs hopping on and off the water. Ahead of me, upstream, I can see a long flat pool above between two plunges. Making my way up with stealth, I find a good over watch where I can observe the glassy patch of water and yet remain hidden. I sit for what seems like only a few minutes, watching some yellow sallies struggle to fly off the surface. All of a sudden the glassy surface is broken by a leaping brook trout. I smile instantly. Even in the brief second the fish shows itself, I know what it is by its unnaturally bright, natural colors. Carefully, I position myself for cast in difficult cover, to a weary fish in crystalline water. I try to keep very little line out as I back cast by hauling the line in quickly, and in the same fashion let line out at the very last second to get a good drift, nice and high above the rise. The presentation is not as perfect as I had hoped and the fly slaps the water pretty hard. However, I believe the slapping of the fly almost seems natural of a bug that falls from high up. Maybe. At the end of the drift, the same brookie leaps up out of the abyss with my fly in its mouth. My light line tightens and I am surprised as I hear the hissing of my reel and he takes off up the pool; this is no fingerling.
Even though it is a small stream and relatively small fish, I play it carefully on my light leader and tight space restrictions. Soon the trout comes to hand. A twelve inch brook trout squirms in my hands. It is as if I reached into the sky and pulled out a sliver of the sunrise. Bright orange undersides and fins lined with pure white. The olive vermicular pattern on its back is like a roadmap to the mysteries of nature and evolution. The brookie’s flanks are speckled with vibrant spots of red, blue, and yellow. All those who travel to the tropics to view clown fish and other saltwater reef fishes for their beautiful colors are fools who failed to explore their own backyard. I release the fish back into the pool and watch it disappear as quickly as it came to me.
I push further and further up stream and bring many more beautiful brookies to hand. Crystal clear water, bright green forest, and vibrant trout. This is the divine fish and I am fishing for them in the heavens. Most of you know how sensitive these fish are. They can only exist in the purest of waters, and almost always high up into the clouds. To delve into their world, is to escape from ours.