An Angler of the American Civil War
An Angler of the American Civil War
Two weeks later I went back to the Saw Mill, even though I still wondered if I really wanted to be an angler.
Someone fished about fifty feet upstream of the fallen tree. He was tall and thin, and wore what looked like a blue, baseball cap. Hooked in the cap were about twenty different flies. The cap looked like a miniature birdcage. The angler lifted the line off the water. The line unrolled perfectly. The angler cast the rod forward, smoothly, effortlessly. The fly kissed the water near the bank. The man, I knew, was a real angler. He glanced at me and smiled. He was elderly. His long hair and thick mustache were gray.
[img2="left"] http://www.theflyfishingforum.com/forums/geek/gars/images/4/thumb_civil.jpg[/img2]I yelled, "I want to fish downstream of you?"
"Wade slowly. If you spook a fish - well at this point in my life, catching one more fish isn't going to matter."
His beautiful voice resonated like bass notes. I waded toward him. His hat, I noticed, was a Union, Civil War hat. Had he been a soldier in the war? He wore a green sports jacket. The jacket was old and dirty. The front pocket was torn. The angler didn't carry a creel.
"Are you new here?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I'm just learning how to fish." I stopped wading.
He cast about 45 degrees to the right of straight downstream- or three-quarters, as the books said. "Welcome to the club." He fed line through the guides. "I've been fishing this stream for forty years. I guess that makes me the senior member of the club."
"Were you in the Civil War?"
He seemed to read my fly rod as if it were a book, then he looked downstream. He retrieved slowly. "Is that a Leonard?"
Was resentment in his voice? Did I deserve such a good fly rod? "Yes, it's a Leonard."
"How did you get interested in fishing?" he asked.
"I saw a fly-casting tournament."
"I guess we all get here from different roads."
Did we? "Sir, may I ask: What road did you take?"
He shook his rod side-to-side. "I've always wanted to cast a Leonard."
I waded close to him and held out my rod. He smiled. His big blue eyes and his big, square jaw seemed too big for his narrow face and small nose. His face looked put together from parts of different faces.
He took my rod and handed me his. Its finish had several, varnished-over chips. The new varnish was a little darker than the original. The red thread-wrap that held one of the guides didn't match the other wraps. I reeled in all his line.
"What do you have on there, a wet?" he asked.
"Have you caught any fish with the rod yet?"
He pulled line off the reel and, at the same time, false cast, letting out more and more line. He let go of the line. The fly landed just behind a big rock. I was impressed. He smiled. "This rod feels like it casts on its own. Guys around here call me Doc. I fish mostly streamers. At my age I like to keep things simple."
"My name is Ian. Are you a doctor?"
We shook hands. Since he was a doctor, why didn't he have a better rod and a better jacket?
"And yes, Ian, I was in the Civil War."
Again I was impressed; maybe because instead of looking at a photograph of a soldier, I was looking at a real, live one. "My father used to collect and read books on the War."
"Yes, when my mother got cancer he stopped."
"How's your mother now?"
"She passed away."
"I'm sorry. I despise cancer." The fly floated downstream and away from the bank. Doc kept the rod pointed at the fly and fed line through the guides. "Do you read about the War?"
"Only for school."
The fly floated under the fallen tree. Doc pointed the rod tip up, but didn't say anything.
The long silence between us became uncomfortable. The chirping birds sounded as if they were screaming. I wondered if they, like me, were angry at the world. Finally, I said, "My father thinks Grant is one of the greatest generals who ever lived."
He laughed; sarcastically, I thought. Wanting to know how he had found the courage to fight in a real battle, I asked, "What's it like being in war?"
"What's it like?" His eyes seemed to go blank.
I cursed myself for asking my question.
Doc looked downstream again. "Sometimes this stream looks like a road to me, a road where things flow one way. I like it that way. For me the start of this stream is the dry, dusty road that led to the battle of Cold Harbor." He again cast three-quarters downstream. "Ian, when I was about your age I loved two things: drinking and fighting. When conscription came in 1863, I was only eighteen. Since I was too young for the draft, me and my friend, Jim Mullen, decided to get three-hundred-dollars drinking money by going to a bounty broker and taking the place of rich guys who just got drafted. As soon as we were paid we got good and drunk and stayed that way until the money ran out. Then we reported for duty. We were assigned to Eighth, New York, Artillery Regiment. Our job was to guard Washington, DC. So we were known as just dress-up regiment. But our commander, Colonel Porter, wanted his chance to prove that we were real soldiers, soldiers of honor and courage who believed in the ideas of a preserved Union and liberty for all. And most of the men in the regiment wanted to prove it too. I, however, just wanted to get back home and start drinking again, but I guess feelings, even good ones, are like diseases: they spread. Soon I became infected with honor and courage and the Union cause. When Porter drilled us hard, day after day, I stopped cursing him and started respecting him. So in the summer of 1864 when we were ordered to march towards Richmond I was happy."
Doc stopped feeding line. He pointed the rod tip up and waited. "And so we marched under the hot sun, on desert-dry roads. The dust was as thick as fog. It dried and burned our throats. At every river we came to - The Rappahannock, The Mattapony, then finally the Pamunkey - we kneeled down and drank like wild animals. We crossed the Pamunkey and heard cannon fire. Suddenly we stopped singing, but the birds, I remember, didn't. I'm not sure what I felt. I guess a part of me looked forward to the fight, but another part - the part that wouldn't speak in my mind - was scared. The sun rose higher, blazed down on us like fire, as if it wanted to punish us and burn us into ashes and then into wind-blown dust.
"The sound of the cannons got weaker; so we thought the battle was dying down, but soon we saw the truth: we were lost. When Porter finally figured out the right way, he marched us all night so that we wouldn't lose our chance to fight the Rebs.
"When the sun rose we were surrounded by thin trees that looked like giant pencils. The leaves on top of the trees shaded us like umbrellas. We were grateful for the shade, but exhausted. Porter ordered us to rest, not realizing that as we rested the Rebs were digging deeper trenches. On top of the trenches they built defensive breastworks of dirt and long logs; so looking back, I often wonder if Grant should have realized that the tactics of the war were about to change."
There was another silence. Doc stared downstream. He didn't move the rod or retrieve line. I wondered if he was lost in his story.
Doc reached for his canteen and drank. "Still to this day I wonder, and I guess I always will. Ian, as my regiment waited, some men read the Bible for the first time, surprisingly even Jim. Other men reread letters from home or wrote new letters. As for myself, I just wished I had some whiskey. Finally the day turned into night. I lay on my back, and looked up at the stars. Somehow I just didn't believe that the next day I would die. I fell asleep and was woken by rain, a warm, comforting rain. Many of us took the rain as a good sign from God. But the Rebs, I knew, got the same rain."
Doc lowered the rod, finally, and retrieved line. He cast almost straight downstream.
I wasn't sure I wanted to hear more of the story, but I knew it was too late to ask him to stop what I had started.
"Ian, at first I thought I might sink and drown in the mud, but soon I got used to the mud. It almost felt like a soft bed. Finally the rain stopped. The sun rose and we were covered with a heavy, wet, fog that blocked our sight like a wall. Half-blind, we formed a long, long line and marched straight towards the Rebs.
"Through the fog I saw a long, dotted line of about a hundred small flashes. Then I heard a long, rolling explosion that sounded like thunder. No one in our line fell. The Rebs' first volley was too high. We marched on in a perfect straight line. The Rebs rifles flashed and thundered again. A bullet whizzed right past my ear. I heard a loud pitter-patter of thuds and a thunder of screams. The thuds were the sound of bullets tearing into flesh and knocking men to the ground. Some men fell straight back, others circled like tops. The fog, I saw, still hid the Rebs. 'Hold your fire!' we were ordered. 'March on!'
"Like good soldiers we did. I saw more flashes and heard more explosions. Thinking back, the explosions sounded like the loud, fast clicking of a fly reel. Above the Rebs' line I saw small puffs of smoke. The puffs hung like balloons, then expanded and blended into the white fog. The deepened fog seemed to cancel out the sun. More friends screamed and fell. I glanced to my left, then to my right. Our line was full of gaps instead of soldiers. Since some soldiers attacked faster than others, our line had become a long, irregular wave. I saw the Rebs' rifles sticking out from their breastworks.
" 'Fire!' one of our officers called out. We fired, then quickly we reloaded. More friends screamed and fell. I guess the only thing protecting us from the lead bullets were the weightless fog and smoke.
"I thought of turning and running, but I knew if I did, everyone back home would know. Shame seemed worse than death; so I ran forward, yelling, 'One Union! Liberty!' And suddenly it was as if the explosions and the screams weren't real, or as if a steam engine inside me burned and melted my fear, and molded it into anger. I ran right at the Rebs. Again I fired and reloaded. The smell of gun powder burned my nose and throat and seemed choked me. I sucked in air and coughed. All of a sudden the soldiers leading our attack turned and ran towards me. 'Retreat!' they yelled.
"I turned and ran too, straight back to our officers who sat on beautiful horses. The officers ordered us to stop. Like good soldiers, we obeyed and reformed our line. Again we attacked, and again friends screamed and fell. This time, however, we got so close to the Rebs we saw the outlines of their faces.
"But again we retreated. We ran and ran, then stopped and frantically dug a long, wide trench with our bayonets. Someone yelled out that Colonel Porter was dead. When the trench was about a foot deep, we lay down, reloaded and waited for the Rebs to attack.
"And we waited. And the fog and smoke lifted. And we looked at hundreds of our fallen friends, who covered the field like the rocks covering the bottom of this stream. But even worse than looking, we listened to their loud, shrieking cries and pleas. Some of the pleas were for water, others for their wives. One eighteen-year-old, Johnny Briggs, pleaded, 'Mom, please, come get me. Please take me home. Please don't let me die!'
"In the trench, a few men prayed to God to end the nightmare. But God didn't seem to hear them, because the sun rose and burned, and the battlefield seemed as hot as an oven. Suddenly I felt like the reality on the ground was spinning like a tornado and sucking me up into it.
"I got real dizzy, Ian. The cries and pleas got louder and louder. But the Rebs' sniper fire pinned us down; so all we could do was listen. Without thinking, I prayed that Jim was alive, but then I realized that praying was stupid because, even though I didn't believe in God, I now believed in Hell. I cursed myself for joining the Union Army to get drinking money, and told myself that if I survived the war, I would never drink again, because after experiencing Hell, nothing, nothing would ever be worth drinking for."
Suddenly the fly line tightened. The rod bent. A rainbow jumped out of the water and shook its head. The line sagged.
I said, "He got away."
"I didn't set the hook, Ian. This is your fly rod. You're going to be the first one to catch a fish with it."
Doc retrieved line and cast straight downstream.
I waited for him to continue telling about Cold Harbor.
Doc didn't. He stared downstream. I looked into his eyes. He seemed to be in some sort of trance. I hoped he didn't come out of it, because I wanted to hear only the gurgling stream and the singing birds.
"Ian, where was I? Yes, nothing would ever be worth drinking for. We waited and waited, and urinated and defecated right where we lay. And we wondered why the Rebs didn't attack. For some reason I thought back to how my father only cared about card playing, and how he always yelled at my mother and me. At first I got really angry at him, and blamed him for my drinking and for my lying in the stinking trench. But then a strange thing happened: my hatred drifted away like the morning mist. I felt sorry for my father. Suddenly I wanted to see him again, not to hear him apologize, but to tell him I still loved him, in spite of everything.
"I began to cry, but I didn't want anyone to see, so I rested my face on top of my arm and lost track of time. Then the sun, I realized, didn't feel so hot. I looked up. The sun had slid behind the trees. If the Rebs were going to attack, I knew, they had to do it soon. Looking down the barrel of my rifle, I stared across the body-littered field. Finally the sun set. I was grateful because I knew I would live another precious day.
"I tried to sleep, but couldn't. Instead I stared at the black, star-filled sky and wondered how the sky could be filled with such awesome beauty while the earth was filled with such bloody slaughter. Then all of a sudden, one by one, the stars seemed to brighten, then dim, brighten then dim; and soon it was as if the stars beat with life, or signaled to each other in their own way. Could it be possible, I wondered, that the stars, like we Americans, speak the same language? If so, would the stars, like we Americans, ever try to extinguish each other? I couldn't answer; so more than anything I prayed that the stars would go on beating and not fade into a brightening sky, and that the blackness of night would keep the slaughter from resuming. But somehow I fell asleep.
"The rising sun woke me to the chorus of crying and pleading men. But the chorus wasn't as loud as it had been. Many of the singers had died. Trying not to see the dead, I again stared down the barrel of my gun, across the blood-painted battlefield. The sun rose higher and burned brighter. We smelled rotten eggs. But the eggs, we knew, were really the dead. The sun inched to the top of its arc, and scorched my back. I cursed the sun and took another gulp of water from my half-full canteen. Maybe, I thought, we're all going to just die of thirst.
"The sun inched down its arc. I was grateful, until the smell of the dead got stronger, then turned into a putrid stench. To stop the smell, we tied kerchiefs around our faces, but the stench came right through the cloth. I wondered if the Rebs would attack and kill us all, or if we would retreat. Grant, I knew, hated retreats.
"So I waited and wondered, until finally the sun retreated behind the trees. The Rebs didn't attack. I would live another day; so even though the stench grew even stronger, and my throat burned as if the sun were inside it, I was grateful. I treated myself to one gulp of water.
"And so, Ian, for three long days we waited, until finally the chorus of pleading and crying men burned out like a melted candle and turned into a stench so bad I had to force myself to breathe. I drank the last gulp of water in my canteen."
Doc cast toward the bank, then stared at the fly as it drifted slowly downstream. He didn't say anything. I was disappointed. I guess in spite of the horror in his story, his soothing voice had sort of hypnotized me, like my mother's piano playing. Now I wanted him to go on, but knew I shouldn't force him to relive his past, I said nothing.
"Even in Hell, Ian, there are miracles. Grant, to his credit, called a truce. A few volunteers collected our canteens and filled them with water that tasted better than wine or beer. My thirst finally quenched, I walked up and down the line, looking for Jim. I didn't find him. Jim, I knew, was dead, and so was almost one-third of our regiment. And so we did what we had to: dug big mass graves. We walked onto the battlefield and picked up the rotting corpses that once breathed life and lived with us like brothers. Many of the dead had their mouths and eyes wide open as if they died gasping for air and looking up at the sky. One poor soldier had a gaping bullet hole in his stomach. Through the hole his intestines crept out like a snake. But the soldier hadn't died right away, because his bloody hand held a bloody harmonica in his mouth. I tried to pry the silver instrument out of his stiff fingers, but suddenly, even though no one was looking, I felt ashamed of my greed. I carried the poor soul to the mass grave. I covered his face and harmonica with dirt.
"We spent most of the day burying our friends and turning the battlefield back into a meadow, in spite of the blood. Then something real strange happened: Many of us, including me, walked across the meadow. The Rebs waved to us. We waved back. They got out of their trenches and met us halfway. We shook hands and shared cigars, cigarettes and stories of the war. Except for the color of their uniforms and their accents, they didn't seem any different from us, especially because none of us talked about the politics of the war. I guess for that hour or so we all felt we were on the same side: Hell's.
"One of the young Rebs had a baseball and asked if I wanted to have a catch. As we threw the ball back and forth he told me his name was John Turner, and his family owned a big farm in Arkansas.
"I told him my name and that I was from Lockport, New York.
" 'Are you a farmer?' he asked.
" 'I'm really not much of anything,' I answered shamefully.
" 'Yank, I'm a man of the soil and of the lakes and the rivers. I can't wait to plant seeds and to fish. Yank, do you like to fish?'
" 'Never have.'
" 'When I fish I feel close to God.'
"Now Ian, the idea of fishing and being closer to God seemed real strange. So I hoped the Reb would explain it. 'If the good Lord is willing,' he said, 'after the war, when the blood has flowed out of these rivers, I'm going to come back up here and fish. What are you going to do, Yank, when you get home?'
" 'Don't really know yet.'
" 'Soon I reckon you will.'
"Suddenly we were ordered back to our trenches. I carried the ball to the Reb, shook his hand, looked into his eyes and thought of how strange it was that in another hour he might kill me or I might kill him. We turned and walked away from each other.
"We lay in wait in our trenches for five more long, endless-like days.
"Finally, before the sun rose on the sixth day, we were woken and ordered to retreat down a narrow, dusty road. A few days later, we figured out the road led towards Petersburg. Grant had changed his plans, and also his tactics. You see, from that point on, Ian, he didn't order any more frontal attacks.
"Now because my regiment was so battered, we were moved to the rear of the army, and luckily didn't come under any heavy fire during the next nine months of the war.
"One more thing I should tell you. During our march towards Petersburg, I wrote to my father, and told him that I couldn't wait to see him. I waited for his reply. It never came. When I got home I learned why. My father had been killed when he was caught cheating in a card game. My uncle then told me that, over the years, my father had invested all his winnings in railroad stocks. My uncle gave me the certificates. They were worth a small fortune I thought of selling them, but instead I took a job on the Erie Canal. But no matter how hard I tried to stop them, the cries and stench of the dead soldiers, their frightened stares, kept going through my mind. Often I lay awake all night, scared that the sun would rise and that the killing would start all over again. Then one morning I got a notice from the post office. I answered it and was handed a long, thin package. The young Reb I had the catch with had mailed me one of his handmade fishing rods. Luckily, I worked with a guy who taught me how to fish, and on the first day he did, I forgot about Cold Harbor. So I fished almost every day; then I landed a big fish and I looked into his eyes and realized that, after seeing so much death, I wanted to save life. I released the fish and decided to become a doctor. I sold some of my stock, thanked my father and went back to school."
Doc looked at me. He smiled suddenly, turned and cast three-quarters upstream.
I turned with him. "How do you feel about the war now?"
"On one side of the scale are 300,000 dead boys, robbed of the most precious thing on earth: their lives. On the other side of the scale are the Emancipation Proclamation and a preserved nation. Who knows which way the scale will tip a hundred years from now. But what I often wonder about, Ian, is who really knows why in war one man lives while another, perhaps even more moral, dies. Is it because of where they kneel in a battle line? And who knows why a battle is won or lost? Is it because an officer misreads a map and gets lost? Or is it because a pouring rain slows an army's advance?
"And who knows if the fate of a battle, and maybe even the whole war, will turn on some small act, and if this act is random or the will of an unseen God." He stared at my fly rod. He ran his fingers over its smooth finish. "Leonard gave up making guns so he could make rods. He was an artist. Thank you for letting me use his rod."
"Sir, thanks for the story."
"I hope you always will."
I wondered what he meant, but I didn't want to sound foolish. I didn't ask.
Doc reeled in the line, reached into his pocket and took out a small, tin box. The box was full of flies. The flies were about an inch long and rainbow-colored. "I tie these streamers myself, some backwards; so when I drift them downstream, they swim headfirst. My streamers may look strange, but they're my secret weapons. Take four. On a narrow stream like this, fish the backwards ones like a wet fly, except move the rod tip side to side. When the fly swings directly below you, jiggle the rod side to side, wait, then retrieve. Now when you get downstream, just past the long pool, you'll see an opening on the west bank. Take that opening and you'll be two blocks south of the train station."
"Maybe I'll see you next time."
"Ian, my wife had a stroke, so I really don't get out here much anymore."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Hell, we're just happy to be alive." He smiled. His teeth were crooked and yellow.
"Doc, did you ever come to believe in God?"
He looked into my eyes and smiled. "Ian, in my office I have notebooks with the names and the weights of the 2,011 beautiful babies I brought into this world. And with each birth I am awed by the magnificent, complex make-up of every living creature. It defies imagination. So every time I am awed, I thank a power, whether I call it God or not." Doc put his hand on my shoulder. "Ian, it's time for you to find your fishing way."
We again exchanged rods. I didn't want to leave someone whom I suddenly saw as a real friend, but I knew he wanted me to. I waded downstream, ducked under the fallen tree, and thought of how strange it seemed that I learned more about the Civil War on a stream than in a classroom or from my father. But I wondered about Doc's old coat, and his old, chipped fly rod. Weren't fisherman supposed to be great tellers of tall tales? Maybe Doc hadn't really fought at Cold Harbor.
I waded around the bend and into what looked like a different stream. This stream's banks were low and lined with mushroom-shaped bushes. The sun, unblocked by overhanging trees, burned a narrow trail all the way down the long, smooth pool.
Squinting, I looked for seams to cast to, but didn't see any. I decided to follow the instruction of the fly-fishing books and fish the deeper, cooler water. Stepping on the flat, gravel bottom, I waded toward the middle of the pool. When the water was above my waist, I stopped wading and pulled line off my reel. Way downstream the river seemed to shrink into a circle that got smaller and smaller, then disappeared into the meadow. Suddenly, in my mind I saw and heard Union soldiers attacking, and falling, and crying out to their loved ones. Maybe, I realized, it doesn't matter if Doc made up some of his story. It seems to have enough truth to be real. But what about me? Do I have the courage to attack in a bloody battle like Cold Harbor?
I don't, probably. Do I deserve to hold this beautiful rod and to fish when so many boys fought and died in wars? Maybe not, I decided. But I'm here. And maybe I really was a good son to my mother and, therefore, should just forget about wars and enjoy what's left of the day.
I fished for two hours without a take. Discouraged, I thought of turning back, of wading toward Doc and fishing some of the broken, shaded water. But I didn't want Doc to think I gave up so easily, especially now that the sun was sinking and now that the bushes shaded the water along the west bank.
I took out Doc's fly and wondered if it really worked. I tied it on and cast toward the shaded bank. My fly drifted slowly downstream. I raised the rod tip up and down, then side-to-side.
I waded 5 feet downstream and again and again cast toward the shaded bank.
Still no takes. Maybe I was foolish for believing Doc.
Again I cast. The line slid away from the bank. It snapped tight and pulled on the rod tip.
A fish was on!
I raised the rod and quickly reeled in line. Electric-like surges pulsed down the rod, my arm and through my body. The fish bolted downstream. I squeezed the rod handle. The fish pulled line off the reel. The reel clicked, faster and faster, then shrieked.
I pulled my elbows in and pressed them against my chest.
The fish didn't let up. The rod throbbed. The reel shrieked like a frightened pig.
Slowly, I raised the rod tip and put more pressure on the fish. I tried to retrieve line, but the fish fought back hard. Afraid he'd break the thin tippet, I quickly lowered the rod tip and reeled in slack line. I again raised the rod.
The fish slowed. The line and the rod went dead, suddenly. I held the rod still, hoping to feel a pulse. I didn't.
Damn! I thought. I lost him. What did I do wrong?
I reeled in line.
Bang! The line snapped tight, jolted me like lightening and bent the rod into a half-circle.
The fish jumped out of the water, shaking its head. It was a huge rainbow. It dived.
The line sagged like a loose clothesline.
Reeling as fast as I could, I wondered if the rainbow was still on. I stopped reeling and stood still. The rod pulsed weakly.
The rainbow was still on!
Slowly, I raised the rod tip. The rainbow bolted downstream again, this time toward the east bank.
Keep him away from the bank, I remembered. Don't give him any slack!
The reel shrieked again. I tried to pull the rod tip and point it toward the middle of the stream. I couldn't. The rainbow seemed to weigh a ton. My heart seemed to hammer the inside of me. I fought to hold the rod tip up and wondered, is this what it feels like to be in battle?
Deeply I breathed, waiting, hoping for the fish to tire. Was the rod, I wondered, throbbing in sync with my heart? Were the rod and the line some sort of umbilical cord connecting my spirit, at least, to the rainbow's?
Again I tried to turn the rainbow. Again it fought back hard.
My arms felt heavy and tired. The rainbow pulled my elbows out from my body. He was winning the tug of war. Fighting back, I pulled my elbows in.
I was bent over.
Slowly, I straightened up, wondering, will I ever get him in? Keep the pressure on him! Keep the rod tip up!
The reel shrieked. The rainbow pulled my elbows out again. I closed my eyes. My back ached. The rod seemed to turn into heavy lead. I thought, is this why I became an angler - to be in a small war? Don't I hate war?
The rod felt lighter, I realized. The rainbow was tiring too!
I inched the rainbow away from the bank, then lowered the rod and reeled in line. The rainbow broke toward the other bank.
Surprisingly, I easily turned him. My rod pulsed weakly. It was time, I knew, to try to bring the big fish in.
Holding the rod tip high, I slowly, steadily reeled in line, expecting the rainbow to bolt again.
Finally, I brought him close to me. He swam to my right. I easily turned him. He swam to my left. Again I easily turned him. I reeled him close to my feet. He was over a foot long.
I kneeled down and grabbed his tail. He seemed to look at me.
I wondered, did he ever see a person before? And what do I look like to him? An evil monster?
I said, "Don't worry, Mr. Rainbow. I'm not going to hurt you. After a fight like that you deserve to live. And so do I."
I tucked the rod under my arm and pulled out Doc's fly. For about a minute I pushed and pulled Mr. Rainbow back and forth to get water through his gills. Finally Mr. Rainbow tried to break free. I let go, expecting him to swim away.
He didn't. Scared, I wondered if I hurt him. I splashed water. He darted away and disappeared into the pool. Grateful, I stood up. My heart still beat fast and hard. I told myself, now I'm a real angler! But I'm alone. Will anyone beside Doc and my father believe I caught such a huge rainbow? Well I believe it. For now, I guess, my belief will have to be enough.
Strangely, I didn't feel like fishing any more, but instead wanted to tell Doc about Mr. Rainbow. I reeled in the line and waded upstream.
Doc wasn't there. Disappointed, I told myself I again would see Doc. I climbed out of the stream.
As soon as I got home I told my father about Mr. Rainbow. "And I met this old guy who told me about, about -"
"About what, Ian?"
My father, I realized, probably didn't want to hear about the Civil War. "About how he loved my Leonard fly rod."
Later, I went into my father's study, picked out a Civil War book, and started reading about the battle of Cold Harbor. Suddenly I didn't care if the book's version matched Doc's. In my mind Doc's version would always be the true version; and after hearing it, I was now sure I really wanted to be an angler as much as I wanted to be a long-distance fly caster.
I closed the book and started counting my father's Civil War books. I counted 57. I told myself that, even though I still hated war, I would keep all the books until the day I died.
This excerpt is from my historical novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World.